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Bourne: The antidote to the outdated socialism that prevails in the Welsh Assembly

Speech at the Welsh Conservative Party AGM at Rhayader's leisure centre

They said we would lose seats.

They said Conservatism in Wales was in terminal decline.

They said the Liberal Democrats would be challenging us for third place.

They were wrong. Boy, were they wrong.

The battle wasn't for third place, it was for second.

Conservatism is not in decline, it is resurgent.

Seats were not lost, they were won.

In ten more constituencies than Labour, the Conservative share of the vote increased.

In every region of Wales, unlike any other party, our share of the vote went up.

It was a night when people returned to the Welsh Conservative Party.

It was a night when the hard work and tireless campaigning of Conservative activists throughout Wales was rewarded

It was a result that bears testimony to the superb work of our Assembly Members over the past four years.

It was a victory that states loudly and clearly: the Welsh Conservatives are back.

I am absolutely delighted to welcome Brynle Williams, Lisa Francis, Mark Isherwood and Laura Jones to my team. They have already proved to be fast-learners and I am sure will become invaluable assets to the group.

Across the rest of the UK Conservatives have made impressive gains.

In Scotland, David McLetchie and his team made a significant breakthrough winning 3 constituency seats outright, with 18 seats in total.

In the English local elections the Conservatives gained 27 councils and won over 500 seats.

This success is not a high watermark, but a turning point - and one we have all worked for.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who contributed to this success - in every area of the party and at every level. Above all our thanks go to Carole Hyde, our superb Chairman who led from the front with spirit, character and conviction, as she always does.

Next year, we will be fighting the European and local elections.

More stepping stones towards victory at the next general election and more seats at the Assembly elections in 2007. It may seem a long way off, but this must now be our focus.

I am confident that we can build upon our recent success and make even more gains. We are well placed to add to our hardworking team of councillors and MEPs.

Jonathan Evans has been fighting passionately for Conservative principles in the European Parliament.

Calling Labour to account for the mishandling of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Fighting against mismanagement, waste and unnecessary regulation.

Above all, making sure we are in Europe, not run by Europe.

We now have a platform from which to drive forward and win more seats in elections at all levels.

But in order to achieve future victories, work must start now.

In the Assembly, we are now just one seat from becoming the official opposition. And in reality we are the only true opposition.

Plaid Cymru, dejected and divided, are the party of yesterday upon whom the people of Wales have delivered their verdict. Plaid's decline will doubtless continue because in a modern, vibrant country such as ours, there is no desire for parochial and divisive nationalism. The electorate has driven another nail into the coffin of that most misguided of notions: that the remedy for a failing government is more powers. That is missing the key point - the Assembly does not need further powers - it needs to make far better use of the ones it already has.

Also clamouring for a Welsh Parliament are the Liberal Democrats.

Remember them?

I'm sure most of you had through your letterbox one of the Lib Dems' campaign leaflets, urging people to 'kick the Tories out of Wales'. That one backfired a bit didn't it?

This is the party that promised to campaign positively on the issues but then appealed to people to vote tactically.

This is the party whose manifesto pledged to 'maximise drug prevention,' but who support the full decriminalisation of cannabis.

This is the party whose manifesto stated that the elderly 'must have the opportunity to lead their lives with independence and dignity' but who voted against the Conservative proposals to increase the allowance for the elderly in residential care.

This is the party whose manifesto demanded 'lessons must be learnt' from the foot-and-mouth outbreak but who voted against Conservative demands for a full public inquiry where we could have learnt those lessons.

This is the party that campaigns for the euro but deals in the devalued currency of deceit and hypocrisy.

It is little wonder Labour chose to sever the Liberal Democrats from their coat-tails at the first opportunity.

But they couldn't have made a worse start to governing alone.

In the six weeks since the elections it is clear that Labour will offer the people of Wales four more years of the same waste, dithering, and arrogance that have become the hallmark of Rhodri Morgan's governance.

The business statements are woefully lacking in substance and the government's plan to halve the number of committee meetings betrays its fear of opposition scrutiny.

Compared with the Scottish Parliament which has published a complete programme of Government, agreed two pieces of legislation, made a parliamentary statement on charity reform, held debates on dental services, and published two Bills— Labour's sloth and arrogance are making the National Assembly a laughing stock.

Hiding behind the success of populist election gimmicks, Labour is failing to grapple with the problems that matter.

In education, Jane Davidson must accept that the ELWa saga will not go away until she faces up to her own responsibility for this troubled quango.

There must be a full Assembly Investigation into the running of ELWa, the way it handled its contracts as well as the role played by the Minister and Department responsible.

It is staggering that she has admitted to having no idea if there are any more ELWa projects like the Pop Factory that have contravened fundamental government accounting rules.

This is the same Minister that tries to run every minute of every school day for teachers, governors and pupils.

And no amount of rhetoric will hide the fact that schools across Wales are facing financial crisis. As teachers are presented with redundancy notices it is hard to believe the Minister is simply waiting to see how the chips fall.

In health, the first waiting lists figures released since the election show rises in both inpatient and outpatient lists. Specific targets on orthopaedics, cardiac and angiography were also missed.

For four years the government has failed on health, and the disastrous trend is continuing into the new session.

The government is spending more money on the NHS but delivering less and less at the sharp end of patient care.

Meanwhile, Labour has still failed to come clean on their view on further Assembly powers and the revised cost of the new Assembly building.

In this new term, even more than before, it is down to the Welsh Conservatives to show the people of Wales that there is a real alternative to Labour. And we are more than equipped to meet the challenge.

We will fight against top-up fees - Labour's tax on learning.

We will fight the incessant closure of small schools that jeopardise the future of many rural communities.

We will fight to halt the regulatory juggernaut and put profitability back into farming with measures that respond to the challenges facing Welsh agriculture rather than those which suit the farmer in Spain, France or Poland. For the Welsh Conservatives devolution is about defending the interests of Wales, not promoting the wishes of Europe that are most often expressed in regulations and directives.

It is absurd that while the Labour government does virtually nothing to prevent illegal meat flowing into Wales from the continent, it is more than happy to impose regulation after regulation, from draconian measures on the disposal of fallen stock to the 6-day rule on Welsh farms.

Welsh farmers want Welsh solutions to Welsh problems, not blanket regulations imposed from behind desks in Brussels and Cardiff Bay.

They want the government to get off their backs and trust in their judgement, knowledge and responsibility, rather than seek to legislate at every turn.

Our doctors, nurses and health professionals want very much the same thing - the room to breathe and an obsessively centralising government kept very much at arms-length.

At present the NHS is afforded about as much chance to innovate and show enterprise as a Soviet tractor factory, with doctors and nurses stifled by politicians who seek day-to-day control over every aspect of health care. Under Labour, managers and bureaucrats have been employed at three times the rate of doctors and nurses, clogging up the system and diverting money away from the front line of patient care.

As a result, waiting lists continue to grow. Since 1999 the number of patients waiting over 6 months for outpatient treatment has increased by over fifty thousand, despite the Labour government's promises to cut it by twenty-five thousand. We have a care homes crisis, with instances of bed-blocking up 38% in two years despite the Labour government's promises that it would be reduced by 25%. On top of this, the number of patients being treated in Welsh hospitals is falling and many areas of Wales face staff shortages. All because of Rhodri Morgan, Jane Hutt and Labour.

Considering the amount of taxpayers' money the Government is pouring into the NHS, this record of failure is a damning indictment of this government's policy.

The Welsh Conservatives will continue to demand a step back from Labour's centralising and interference in health, in education, in business and in agriculture.

In doing so, we are the antidote to the outdated socialism that prevails in the Assembly.

For those people who have returned to Conservatism we will not let you down.

We mean to make use of our louder voice.

We will be a constant thorn in the side of this Labour government.

A Labour government that is driven by spin, waste, bureaucracy and mismanagement.

We have begun to restore the trust of the electorate and the message of the Welsh Conservatives is simple: we will return that trust by putting patients, pupils and parents first.

We will return that trust by fighting against over-regulation, waste and the growing interference of the EU in Britain's affairs.

We will return that trust by addressing the everyday issues that concern the people of Wales.

We will return that trust, and in 2007, we will win again.

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