Speech to the Conservative Local Government Conference in Coventry
Thank you for inviting me to speak at your conference today.
It's a great pleasure to be here with you in Coventry, and could I begin by paying tribute and saying thank you to the Mayor, Cllr Taylor, for his years of dedication to the Conservative Party and for his welcome here today.
I notice that on the council website his biography says that he was born during an air raid on London, so I can only presume this background somehow meant he was marked out for a political career from the start.
Coventry itself is of course a city we associate with rebirth after the destruction it suffered during the Second World War.
And the decision to hold this year's conference here does I think allow us to focus on rebirth as a very suitable theme for us to pursue.
This is not the only Conservative conference taking place over the next two days.
As we meet here, our friends in the Scottish Party are gathering together in Glasgow where they will be hearing from Iain Duncan Smith and others.
And tomorrow, I shall be travelling down to Cardiff where the members of the Welsh Party are holding their annual conference. Iain will be speaking there too.
And of course he will be with you tomorrow morning.
Three big conferences. Three symbols of an active and thriving Conservative Party.
All three groups have something else in common: elections in May.
Consider what's at stake on May the 1st.
Every seat in the Scottish Parliament.
Every seat on every council in Scotland.
Every seat in the Welsh Assembly.
And more than half the council seats in England.
Apart from the European elections, these are the biggest set of elections in this Parliament.
And with the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and local councils responsible for many of the public services that are top of people's concerns, they are without doubt the most important.
You will, understandably, be particularly interested in the English local elections.
The media will treat them as nothing more than a glorified opinion poll. In the past, our Party has been guilty of the same thing.
Not any more. Doing well in local elections is important in its own right.
Winning council seats and control of councils means more and more local communities across our country benefiting from competent Conservative leadership.
It means more and more people being able to see for themselves how Conservative policies deliver better public services and support the most vulnerable in society.
It means bringing back Conservative representation to those areas of the country that have been without it for too long.
Winning council seats also strengthens our organisation and weakens our opponents' organisations.
We know to our cost the damage that was done to our Party when we lost over 4,000 councillors in the mid 1990s.
When you lose a council seat, you don't just lose a councillor, you lose their family and friends and, in many cases, the activists in their ward.
And finally, gaining seats and councils in May will provide a boost to the morale of the Party and put us on course for success at the next General Election.
I know that wherever the elections are, Conservatives will campaign harder, better and longer than their opponents to deliver the best possible result for our party.
But I know too, that many of you are deeply frustrated at the actions of some in our party who seem to be doing everything possible to damage our chances in May.
I can only begin to imagine the frustration you feel when you have been out campaigning hard all day, but the evening news only carries stories about turbulence within the party at Westminster.
Well I can assure you, if you find it dispiriting at times so do I.
As Party Chairman, my job is to ensure that everyone at Central Office is focused on helping our candidates in these elections. We should not be distracted by anything else.
And from now on we shall not be. Instead, we're going to focus on helping you win elections.
Helping you financially to print and, if necessary, distribute campaign literature that you would not otherwise be able to deliver.
Helping you to communicate your messages effectively in that literature by offering a copywriting service.
Helping you to campaign effectively by running a training event in your area for councillors, prospective candidates and activists; and by providing an updated manual containing advice on every aspect of campaigning and a new pack of template leaflets.
Helping you to find candidates.
Helping you to get better coverage in your local media through visits from our frontbench team in Parliament.
Helping you to design a website or improve an existing one.
And helping those of you fighting the Liberal Democrats. In the past, we have ignored the Liberal Democrats in the hope that they will go away. That was a mistake. We need to treat them seriously.
One of Iain's first acts as Leader was to set up a Liberal Democrat Unit at Central Office to monitor what they are doing and provide advice on how to beat them.
There is no magic bullet but the new Unit has made a good start; if you aren't receiving their material, get in touch with them straight away.
I hope you agree that this is an excellent package of support far in excess of anything Central Office has provided in the past.
I am determined to see that we are no longer distracted from our main ambition.
So I say to all those in our party - whoever they are, wherever they are - now is the time to get behind our leader Iain Duncan Smith and to focus our fire on our opponents.
All the evidence shows that when we do this we are hard to beat.
And all the available evidence also shows that when we are trusted to govern we do it better than anyone else.
That's what the Audit Commission found when they looked into the performance of local authorities in England recently.
Conservative councils, they found, deliver public services to a better standard than either Labour or Liberal Democrat councils.
Their schools are better. Their streets are safer. Their environments cleaner.
And all this delivered for lower levels of tax than councils run by our opponents.
Even though Labour have used council tax as a stealth tax, Conservative councils still charge lower levels of tax than their opponents.
And we're not going to let Labour get away with fiddling the figures and penalise good councils for their success either. We are going to campaign strongly on this issue so that everyone knows just what this Labour Government is up to.
The Audit Commission report tells us one thing: we may not be in government in Westminster but all over England our record in government is a record of success.
Take, for example, the success of our colleagues on Solihull council where members of the public actually signed a petition praising councillors on their 'Streetcare' initiative which produced a dramatic turn around in the state of the environment in and around the town centre.
Simply changing their approach to deliver a holistic and integrated service made things significantly better for the people of Solihull.
In Amber Valley, Conservative councillors have delivered a four-fold increase in the amount of paper sent for recycling - a success rate that has allowed them to reintroduce a general recycling service that the previous Labour Administration was forced to cut when it was in office.
And in my own area, the Conservative leadership of Wokingham Council is now implementing policies which will make the streets safer for all the residents of their area, with neighbourhood wardens and CCTV schemes finally coming on stream after opposition from Liberal Democrat councillors.
And Conservatives on the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead have recently extended recycling facilities beyond anything our opponents ever offered.
All over the country, Conservative Councillors are delivering real results in the real world.
So we need more, and tomorrow you will be hearing from Gavin Barwell about what you can do to maximise your chances on 1st May.
But there are two things I would like to mention.
The more leaflets you deliver, the more votes you will get. Never assume that you have got your message across.
In all of the areas where we have carried out research in recent weeks, we have checked with the relevant Conservative Group Leader beforehand to find out what the local issues are and what position local Conservatives are taking. In every case, the Group Leader identified the right issues but not one person we spoke to knew what position local Conservatives were taking.
Second, make sure that we field a candidate for every seat unless there are exceptional circumstances.
We would never deprive people of the chance of voting Conservative in a General Election.
As a rule, we shouldn't do so in local elections either.
We must convince Conservative-supporting Independents who represent wards we would win in a straight three party fight to stand for us.
If they won't, we must oppose them.
I want to see many more Conservative Councillors because Conservative Councillors deliver results.
And the principles they apply as they do so are the same principles we seek to apply nationally.
Principles of responsibility, freedom, choice and innovation.
A belief in better services with low taxes.
A commitment to smaller, less cumbersome government and more local responsibility and community action.
These threads flow through the policies we have announced so far and those we will go on to announce at next week's conference in Harrogate and beyond.
Later today, Greg Clark and Gavin Barwell will be holding two workshops to take you through the party's policy review process so far.
I hope you will be able to take part.
Because the things we have found through this process are truly encouraging.
We found that other countries often do things so much better because they do so much differently. They recognise that what matters is standards, and that the best way to achieve better standards is to allow diversity and choice.
They know that reducing the reach of government encourages innovation and difference.
It is a lesson that our target-obsessed Government has to learn and a lesson that we, as Conservatives, readily acknowledge.
Because we have always been the party that encourages difference and rewards innovation.
And these are themes found throughout the policy document, Leadership with a purpose, that we published last year.
Already, the flavour of the next Conservative Government is becoming clear.
After six years of Gordon Brown's taxes and regulations, many people and businessmen are beginning to worry about the future health of the nation's finances.
So the next Conservative Government will be one that returns Britain's economy to the health it was in when Labour came to office, because we recognise that low tax, low regulation economies provide the surest foundation on which everything else is built.
After six years of Tony Blair's rhetoric on public service reform, and after 53 tax increases, people know that things are not getting much better. They know it when they can't get the treatment they want, when their children can't get the education they deserve and when they can't walk their streets at night.
So the next Conservative Government will be one that is prepared to make the changes necessary to deliver results in the public services. Because unlike Labour, we know that it's not just about more schools and hospitals, but about better schools, better hospitals, better transport and safer streets.
And after six years of preaching about healing the divisions in society, people know that those very divisions are only growing wider under Labour.
So the next Conservative Government will have a duty to heal those divisions by pursuing just and fair policies to help those who are - or who feel - vulnerable and neglected.
This is a Conservative Government worth fighting for.
The reality is that only we can overtake Labour to form the next government. The choice is a clear one - us or them.
You and I both know that a vote for anyone else is really a vote for Labour. In the past few weeks we have seen the very worst of Liberal Democrat hypocrisy.
Two weeks ago, they published their Alternative Budget. All it revealed was a mass of contradictions: promises to cut tax here, pledges to increase tax there. Not the fully costed, sensible document they promised, but a half-baked plan which would simply mean people paying more in the long-run.
Altogether, they talk about lower tax but propose higher income tax, higher national insurance taxes and the introduction of a fresh tax on new homes.
They talk about cutting council tax, but actually propose to increase the number of council tax bands thereby costing people more - and their long-term policy of a new local income tax will push costs up still further.
And, of course, unmentioned in their Alternative Budget but still official party policy are: the toll tax, the parking tax, the energy tax, the inheritance tax, the water tax, the landfill tax, the development tax and the regional income tax.
All the things I suspect they won't be talking about this May. But we will be talking about them - in the run up to May and right up until the next general election.
We are the alternative to Labour, and we are determined to win.
We know that the reality of today's politics means that the election won't be won on the floor of the House of Commons but on the pavements and doorsteps of Britain.
It won't be achieved simply by appealing to a London based media, but by speaking to local people through the far more effective method of the local press.
And just as importantly, it won't be done if those whom we choose to be our candidates do not have the necessary skills to represent Britain effectively.
So in all these areas we are changing the way we do things. We are making ourselves more professional, learning from people in the business world and adapting to a new kind of audience.
We have the vision, we have the candidates and we have the ability to go on to win the next general election.
We have done it before. We can do it again.
You have proved Conservatives can be trusted to govern for everyone.
You have proved Conservatives in government deliver results.
On May the 1st let us show that Conservatives can win.