Speech by Rt Hon Theresa May MP to the Party Conference, Blackpool, 2003
"This is the most important conference we have held in a decade. As we meet here in Blackpool, the eyes of the country are upon us. People are starting to look for a new government and they want to know if we can do the job.
The battleground for the next election is already set.
The people of Britain are fed up with failing public services.
They're fed up with paying more and more in tax.
They're fed up with a Prime Minister who covers up his government's failures with spin and deceit.
And one thing has become abundantly clear.
Labour isn't working again.
Our task this week is not to tell the British people how Labour have failed. They know that already!
Our task is to tell them how a Conservative government will succeed.
Because for the people of Britain, we are the only alternative government of this country.
We are the only party that can bring an end to Labour's years of failure.
But people need to know if we are ready.
And this week we must give them a resounding answer -Yes we are!
Everything we say and do must show that we are united in purpose.
That we understand people's lives and share their values and concerns.
And that we have the policies, and the experience, to govern Britain better in the interests of all our people.
And then there will be one more thing left to do.
If we want to govern this country, we will have to win.
And if we are going to win, then from every member of the party to every Member of Parliament, we all must have the will, the drive and the determination to win.
No politician has the right to be elected. No political party has the right to hold power.
There is no such thing as a natural party of government.
So if we are to win, we will have to earn it.
We can never forget that we are the servants of the people - and they are increasingly critical of the way that politicians behave.
People want an end to the sniping, the point scoring, the ranting and raving that often passes for political debate in Britain today.
They want a different kind of government.
A government that admits when it's got it wrong.
A government that owns up to the fact that it doesn't have all the answers.
A government that knows that people's lives are too important for politics to be conducted like a playground game.
As Conservatives, we should take the lead.
We should leave the yah-boo stuff to others and instead behave in a way that gives credibility to our promises.
Politics has changed.
The world has changed.
In today's Britain, we all know that the old binding ties of family or class…
…the old habits of deference and unquestioning loyalty
…the old tribal allegiances of party politics
…all these have gone.
So today's political parties win not because they only hang on to their traditional supporters, but because they understand how the people of Britain live today, and because they offer them solutions that can work in Britain tomorrow.
We have to show we understand the problems parents face just to get their children to a decent school.
We have to show we recognise what it's like to watch an elderly parent suffering in pain, because a government target says they're not a priority for treatment.
We have to show we care…
…about people's pensions being reduced year by year
…and about the student who wants to go to university, but can't afford to pay Labour's tuition fees.
Because these are the things people care about.
They're tired of politicians who parade across the world stage making high-minded promises when all they want is someone to make their lives a bit easier.
Our leader, Iain Duncan Smith, has lead the way in listening to people in some of the most difficult parts of our country.
He has shown that this Party's message is for everyone in this country.
People want a government that will know when to act and when to stand back.
Not like Labour - who think government alone has the answers to all our problems.
And that's why Labour have got it wrong.
And they will never get it right.
So what's the alternative?
The Liberal Democrats?!
I don't think so.
Now you might say that some of their policies are a bit loony.
But the last time we said that we got into trouble.
We received a letter from a member of the Monster Raving Loony Party's Shadow Cabinet.
He wrote to object to our description of the LibDem's policies as loony.
We wrote back and we told him that it was official Liberal Democrat policy…
…to give votes to convicted rapists but criminalise parents for smacking their children;
…to allow anyone to use any hard drug at home but to ban smoking in public;
…to make it illegal for teenagers to buy pets but compulsory for seven-year-olds to get sex education;
and even to outlaw goldfish from being given as prizes at funfairs.
He replied - let me read you what he said:
'I am afraid that kind of nonsense would find no place in the Official Monster Raving Loony Party manifesto'.
'We're loonies, not nutters'.
But the Liberal Democrats don't win votes because they have good policies.
What they're good at is taking the credit when something gets done, particularly when somebody else has done it.
And what they're best at...
…is being all things
…to all people
…all of the time.
So it's not good enough for us to sit back in Westminster and simply try to shout them down.
We have to take them on …
…on the ground…
…and show them up…
…for who they really are…
…and what they - really - stand for.
Because the truth is they stand for nothing. They have no answers for Britain.
But we do.
We know what we stand for and we know it works.
Respect for those who help themselves.
Support for those who can't.
Smaller government. Bigger citizens.
A belief in the innate good sense of our people and in the enduring values of our nation.
That is what I stand for.
It's what we stand for.
It's what we've always stood for.
But today we have to apply those beliefs to new problems.
And we must redefine them to match the world we live in.
As Conservatives we actively pursue freedom.
But that can't mean leaving people to fend for themselves. Because there will always be those who for whatever reason need a helping hand.
What it does mean is finding new ways to set people free from the interference of government. Because people always make better decisions for themselves than politicians or bureaucrats ever can.
That's why choice should no longer be a luxury for the rich but a reality for all of us.
And that's why Conservatism is as vital today as it's always been.
Our beliefs teach us to accept how people live and to make no judgements beyond those that are essential to ensure the greatest degree of freedom for all.
It's Labour that seeks to herd people into groups, to label them and deal with them collectively.
It is the Conservative Party that respects people for who they are and welcomes them as individuals on their own merits.
Rich or poor. Straight or gay. Black or white.
Whoever you are, wherever you're from, the Conservative Party is for you.
Our trust in people will shine through each and every policy we announce this week.
From David Willetts' proposals to tackle the pensions crisis and end the indignity of means testing through Liam Fox and Damian Green's plans for more choice in health and education.
To Oliver Letwin's innovative ideas for giving people more say in their local policing and David Davis's plans to give power back to local councils.
The reforms we are outlining go with the grain of our times.
For a world that's more competitive, for a society grown more demanding, for a people who deserve better.
We'll deliver a Britain freer, fairer and stronger.
…once teachers are free to serve parents not bureaucrats then school hours can be set to help working families.
…once patients are given greater choice then appointments and treatments can be set to suit them.
…and once the police are made more responsive to local people's demands then elderly people will not have to feel that the streets are a no-go zone.
These are just some examples of how today's Conservative Party could make people's lives so much better and deliver a fair deal for everyone.
It's why we have begun rebuilding our support among the British people - just look at our success in May in the local council elections in England, in Scotland and in Wales.
But people have only just begun looking around for an alternative to this government.
There is still a lot to do.
But have no doubt.
Under Iain Duncan Smith's leadership, there will be no going back.
There is no future in the past.
Under Iain's leadership, the Conservative Party has set out on a new journey.
We are on the right path.
We are moving in the right direction.
We've asked people what they want.
And they want a fair deal for everyone so that people who build our communities, drive our economy, pay their taxes, and run our public services are not held back.
They want a fair deal for everyone so that people who are disadvantaged, dependent on others, or who need a helping hand are not left behind.
A fair deal for everyone.
It's the theme of our conference.
It's the mission of our party.
It's what we stand for.
When you came into the hall today you were given a document.
It's not a manifesto.
It's not a policy proposal.
It's not a roadmap.
It's a message of Conservative belief and ambition for our country.
And after every speech this week, you will receive fair deal cards that spell out how each major policy area fits into that message.
Take them. Use them. Spread our message.
Because remember that in an age when less and less attention is paid to what we say and do in Westminster, you are the main channel between the Party and the voters.
I want to thank you for the work you already do.
In many parts of the country the fair deal message is being lived out by Conservatives in local government and local communities.
We've made a great start.
But I want to ask you for more.
We need to build a 21st Century Party to complement the 21st Century policies we have in place.
…turning a structure that was designed to support the government of yesterday.
…into a vehicle that can deliver the government of tomorrow.
Between now and the next election, I will be focusing on nothing else.
If we are going to build a party to win, we are going to have to challenge and change the things that hold back our ability to win.
Last year, I challenged the Party to think about the sort of candidates we should be choosing for today's Britain, to think about finding the right people to represent our party.
You responded, and as a result the face of our party is changing.
What better example can we have than Wolverhampton South West? Enoch Powell's old seat where they've selected an Asian woman - Sandy Verma. Well-done Sandy.
And congratulations to Adam Afriyie who has just been selected as our candidate in Windsor.
We have made progress.
But there's still more to do.
And we have to make progress in other areas too.
When we campaign, we must use the most up-to-date techniques. It means using email and the internet, using new media, being willing to embrace new ideas and not just relying on our tried and trusted methods or the way we've always done things.
It means adopting different methods for different groups.
Look at Conservative Future.
They're running a national text message campaign to tell people that only the Conservatives will scrap all Labour's university tuition fees.
This is the campaigning of today.
We must look at how we target our resources too.
I was keen that in this year's local elections we targeted our resources carefully and the great success of those elections proved that it works.
But we can't leave it there - not if we are serious about getting back into government - If we're going to win.
We must take the fight to our opponents, not only in seats that we already hold, but in places that we need to win if we are to be the next government of this country.
We must support the seats that will make the difference.
This is our challenge if we want to win the next General Election and not just fight it.
We must deliver the campaigning and organisation to win.
It's the task Iain has charged me with completing.
And we must all do it because we firmly believe this party - the party I joined as a teenager…
…the party I have always been proud to call my home has the answers to the problems Britain is facing today.
My only interest is in winning the next election so that we can make Britain a better place to live.
That's why I'm here.
That's why we're all here.
We can win the next general election. But let's not allow ourselves to think the hard work is over. Let's not allow the speeches you hear this week to remain merely words. Let's ask ourselves what must we do to turn those words into action?
People care about the things that affect their lives.
They care about their families and the places they live.
They don't care about the things that obsess the Westminster village.
Bill Clinton may have got a lot of things wrong, but he was not wrong in saying this:
"People don't care about the rhetoric of left and right…
And liberal and conservative…
And who is up and who is down…
They are real people… They have real problems… and they are crying desperately for someone who believes the purpose of government is to solve those problems".
Ladies and Gentlemen: we must be that government!
And we can be that government.
But one question still hangs in the air:
Labour have done enough to lose the next election.
Have we done enough to win?
Have we done enough to earn the right to be in Government once again? Or could Labour win the next election by default? Our country cannot afford another five years of Labour Government and we are the only party that can put them out of business.
So as the eyes of Britain focus on us this week, let us show them the real Conservative Party.
A party of hope and aspiration.
…of freedom and social justice.
…of fairness and opportunity.
A united party - for everyone, and of everyone.
A party of today.
A 21st Century Party.
A party that can win…
and be a 21st Century Government."