Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Duncan Smith: Leadership with a purpose

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2002

Renewing the politics of hope

Between now and the next General Election we have to persuade millions of people up and down the country that this Conservative Party is fit for Government.

That this Conservative Party is fit to govern this great country of ours.

People say that we as politicians do not live in the real world. We don't deal with the problems that they face on a day to day basis.

That we spend more time lecturing … than we do listening but most of all that we make promises that we know we cannot keep.

This is the sound of a people tired of politics and crying out for change.

And that is our challenge.

That is my challenge.

To listen to what they are telling us and to deliver.

And by deliver, I don't mean going out and saying 'just trust me'.

That's not enough … and it does not work.

If we as politicians do not show the people of Britain that we trust them to lead their own lives, then they will never again trust us.

Trust them to choose their schools and hospitals, trust them to look after their families and trust them to run their businesses. Trust them.

That is the message I will take to the people of Britain, every minute of every hour of every day until we take on this Government head to head at the next General Election.

Conservatives in a time of change

A generation ago the Conservative Party took tough and often unpopular decisions. We laid the foundations for the prosperity that many enjoy today and now we face a new generation of challenges.

Millions more people own their own homes, but they fear to walk down their own street.

We have more money - but we have less time for the things in life that are most important.

Almost everyone here knows someone whose child is struggling with drug addiction.

Our streets - once the safest in the world - are now dirty and dangerous.

Britain has a successful economy. And yet our society seems more troubled than ever.

We must first understand the way life in Britain is lived today, and not the way it was lived twenty years ago.

We cannot remain the only part of Britain untouched by the changes that we ourselves unleashed.

Yes, it is right to be proud of the past, but it is wrong to try and live in the past.

This country has moved on and so must we.

Being honest with ourselves

Our great achievement in the 1980s was to give people the power to fulfil their own economic ambitions.

We made people financially better off but money isn't everything and in other ways, the quality of their lives declined.

The challenges changed but we did not change to meet those challenges.

That is precisely what Theresa May said on Monday. What an excellent speech.

All of us here want to remember the good things we did and there were many - but beyond this hall people too often remember the hurt we caused and the anger they felt.

Well I say this to you: Never Again

Never again can we take the people of Britain for granted.

Until people see that our Party has learned the lessons of 1997, we will go on getting the result of 1997.

The Party that I lead will live in the present and prepare for the future.

So to those who want to re-fight the battles of the past, and to those who want to live in the past, I simply say this: You stay in the Past; we are moving on.


Five years ago, Tony Blair managed to catch the national mood.

People felt he had changed his party.

Then he promised to transform Britain.

Remember what we had to endure?

Cool Britannia? The Third Way? The Millennium Dome?

He promised so much to so many.

How sad it has all come to so little.

Last week, Tony Blair spent most of his speech asking a lot of questions.

But just as he does every week at Prime Ministers Questions he then refused to answer any of them.

Well I have some questions for him:

Why are our hospitals so crowded?

Why are our streets so dangerous?

Why are our schools so troubled?

Why is our countryside so neglected?

And the most important question of all:

Who does Tony Blair think has been running this country for the past five years?

Public service failure

And in those five years our public services have deteriorated.

Today our schools, our hospitals, and our criminal justice system are barely adequate at best, and truly shocking at worst.

The quality of everyone's life is suffering as a result. But it is those for whom our public services are a lifeline - the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society - who are suffering the most.

We live in an era of prosperity and employment, but one fact remains as true today as it was a generation ago:

Britain isn't working.

It is not the fault of those employed in our public services. They are the neglected heroes of British life.

Think of the exhausted nurse working long hours in unacceptable conditions dealing with angry and often confused patients.

The demoralised policeman trying to catch arrogant and aggressive criminals without adequate support.

And the overworked teacher at an understaffed school comforting students who have just lost their place at university.

They are not to blame.

And if more money were simply the answer, Britain would have some of the best public services in the world. Sadly we do not.

Today the Government is spending money more quickly than the nation can earn it.

Taxes are rising for those who can least afford it: for people on fixed incomes and for small firms who are the job-creating and wealth-creating engines of our economy.

The plea is always for more time and more money, but too often new money is used simply to cover up for the failure of the money this Government has already spent.

And as Michael Howard made clear on Tuesday our public services are suffering from the same problems that afflicted our economy a generation ago.

Now as then, policies are dreamt up in No 10 and imposed across the country.

Now as then, too many decisions are taken too far away from the people who provide services and the people who use them.

It is time to take that power and give it back to these who run our public services and those who rely on them.

It is time to start trusting people.

Because it is only by trusting people that we can begin to make Britain work again.

Policy Renewal

In the last twelve months we've travelled the world. We've talked to patients and parents, doctors and teachers, police officers and hundreds of other professionals, both here and abroad.

We've taken the time to understand the problems, to study what works here in Britain and in other countries and to develop solutions.

The result has been our policy document published today. It sets out our immediate priorities and the approach we intend to take.

With important elections coming up for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, our parties there will decide exactly how to translate our principles into Conservative policies.

But our direction is clear.

There have been no short cuts.

No gimmicks.

No clever wheezes.

Just hard work.

Work that doesn't always grab the headlines.

But work that has unearthed the real problems that face the people of Britain today.

Real problems that start when people are too young to know anything better.

Real problems that start in our schools.


A society unable to educate its young doesn't deserve to call itself civilised. But in many parts of Britain today the state of education is a scandal.

The 'learning gap' between our inner cities and the rest of the country is growing wider every day.

Too many schools are suffering from a breakdown in authority, a lack of teachers and poor results and too many children are paying the price.

Thousands of young lives are being written off before they've scarcely begun.

These are the children Labour has left behind.

I want those children who are stuck in schools that are failing in our inner cities to have a way out. I want their parents to be able to do what others have done for their children. I want them to be able to choose excellence.

The Conservatives will give them that chance.

This means breaking with the dogma that says because the state pays for education it must also run every single school in the land.

In Holland, in Sweden and in Denmark they've already broken with dogma. And that is what we must do here.

So Damian Green has announced this week our plans to give parents real control over how and where their children are educated.

Popular schools will be allowed to grow to take on more pupils.

But far too many children are locked into failing schools.

So we will help parents and other groups establish a new generation of independent schools funded by the state.

We will give state scholarships to pupils starting in our inner cities. That way parents can educate their children in schools that are paid for by the state but not run by the state.

And my aim is nothing less than to make sure no child is left behind.


And if we can do that for parents and pupils, why on earth can't we do it for patients?

Just like the pupils in failing inner city schools, the people who suffer most from the crisis in the NHS are the people who can least afford to do so. They are the old, the chronically sick, mothers and young children.

They can't do what a quarter of million people a year do now. They can't use their life savings for treatment outside the NHS because they have no life savings.

These are the patients Labour has left behind.

As Liam Fox pointed out, these people have just as much right to excellence and just as much right to be treated quickly as anyone else.

We need to give them a helping hand.

The Conservatives will give them that chance.

This means recognising that you cannot deliver twenty-first century healthcare using a 1940s system.

No other country puts the demands of its health service before the needs of its patients.

So we will maintain the commitment of the NHS to provide comprehensive care on the basis of need. But we will go further than that.

We will help those who have already contributed to the NHS but who are unable to get their treatment in the NHS on time.

And we will give all patients greater choice about how they are treated and by whom.

My aim is nothing less than to make sure that no patient is left behind.


But it is not only schools and hospitals where Labour has failed the people of Britain.

Today our streets and our homes feel less safe than they did even a decade ago.

Parents are unable to let their children out to play, women are frightened to walk alone after dark and the elderly are frightened even to go out at all.

Rising crime hits defenceless people the hardest.

These are the victims that Labour has left behind.

I want to reclaim the streets for the young and the old and for all the decent people of Britain.

And that is what the Conservatives will do.

In Mayor Giuliani's New York crime dropped by two-thirds in ten years because police response times were forced down to two minutes and people could see officers on patrol catching criminals.

In today's Britain, for every 40 crimes committed only one results in someone receiving a criminal record. That is not good enough.

We must bring Giuliani-style policing to every city in this country.

As Oliver Letwin says, crime is not a single act, it is a conveyor belt stretching right back to a child's early years at home. And we need to give young people every opportunity to opt out of a life of crime and to opt back into society.

So we will help parents with problem children provide the framework of discipline and affection that every child needs and deserves.

And we will deal with persistent young offenders by giving more purposeful and longer sentences.

We are also determined to break the link between crime and hard drugs.

That's why we have pledged a ten-fold increase in the number of drug treatment places in this country.

Young crack and heroin addicts will face a stark choice: accept rehabilitation and rescue your own lives or face prison where you can no longer blight the lives of others.

Rewarding responsibility

As Conservatives we believe in freedom, but we also believe in society. It is our sense of responsibility that makes social beings out of free individuals.

But Gordon Brown is doing his best to undermine responsibility.

His policies have trapped nearly half the people in this country on income-related benefits, including the pensioners he has taxed into dependency.

People are penalised for working harder and saving harder.

These are the families Labour has left behind.

The Conservatives will give these families a chance.

We will give people the flexibility to save when they can, to draw on funds when they need to and to save again later in their lives - all without losing support from the taxpayer.

The lifetime savings account announced by David Willetts this week will be the biggest boost to responsibility that we can give this country.

However old you are, whatever you earn, we will reward everyone in this country who works hard and who saves hard.

But we will do more.

A generation ago Conservatives gave council tenants the right to buy their own homes. Some two million people became property owners and gained control over their own lives.

As David Davis made clear this week, home ownership still remains the ultimate dream of most social tenants today.

Helping them realise that dream means giving them a helping hand.

So the Conservatives will again make that dream a reality and extend it to a new generation.

The right to buy is back.

But it's no good having your own house if you lose it through ill health in old age.

All over this country, people who have worked hard, saved hard and bought their own homes find that they might as well not have bothered.

If they need long term care the state seizes their homes and their life savings without offering them any alternative.

This has got to stop.

We need to give people a helping hand.

That's why we will find a way of enabling people to insure against the loss of their homes and savings if they have to go into care.

And while we are at it, we are going to abolish that ridiculous annuity rule.

We will offer security to the generation who built and defended this country we live in today.

They deserve more than our gratitude, they deserve their dignity.

Society and the family

As Conservatives, we realise that care, compassion and security are central to all our lives. And the place we find them first is in our families.

But today many families are increasingly fragile.

This Government seems oblivious to the importance of family in supporting people, no matter who they are or what they do.

They have undermined the family in our tax and benefit system.

They have undermined the authority of parents in our schools.

The more we can help families to flourish the richer our society is.

No one in society gets stronger by making families weaker.

We are never more fulfilled than when we join together to make the community in which we live a society of which we can be proud.

But the key to success in anything we do together is the energy, imagination and commitment that comes from having the freedom to set priorities within our own community.

I know from my own experience that one volunteer is worth a dozen conscripts.

In every charitable, voluntary and community group across the country you'll find Conservatives showing compassion - without ever feeling that their hearts have to be stitched onto their sleeves.

We should be proud of that because we are playing our part in making our vision of a decent society a reality every day.

A politics that is honest

The strength of the Conservative Party has always been that we bring to politics the experience of lives lived outside politics.

I've worked with British people from every part of these islands and from every kind of background, first in the Army and then in private business.

I've known danger and I've tasted disappointment.

I was made redundant in the tough times of the last recession and I had to start all over again.

Try being told you've just lost your job. Try telling people they've just lost theirs. I've been through both and it puts the world of politics completely into perspective.

So when I was told I had no future in Parliament because of my determination to keep Britain's independence as a nation state and because of my determination to keep the Pound, I did not waver.

Those who do not know me yet, will come to understand this:

When I say a thing, I mean it.

When I set myself a task, I do it.

When I settle on a course, I stick to it.

Do not underestimate the determination of a quiet man.

I will continue to do what I believe to be right.

I am not here to waste my time or yours going through the motions of opposition for the next three years.

I am here because I believe that decent people can make a difference.


There are times when the needs of our country are more important than the demands of party politics.

The situation in Iraq is one such time.

I have been warning of the danger of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction for the last five years. I am glad that the Prime Minister has now come to the same conclusion.

No one should ever contemplate war without thinking of the ultimate price that individual servicemen and their families might be called on to pay.

But there can be only one calculation we should be making. Is it right to move against Iraq's arsenal now. The answer has to be yes.

Those who genuinely seek evidence in support of potential military action in Iraq will find there is plenty of it; those who oppose intervention at all costs will never find enough.

We cannot wait until we have irrefutable proof that Saddam has nuclear, biological and chemical weapons targeted on the British people.

Because we already have proof that he is the kind of man who would use them.

With nuclear weapons Saddam and his terrorist cohorts would hold us and the world to ransom - ushering in a new dark age of global insecurity.

We must take action now before it's too late.

We must have a clear UN resolution that spells out to Iraq a clear timetable for ridding itself of its weapons and the clear consequences if it fails to do so.

Saddam must be left in no doubt: disarm or we will disarm you.

This Party of all parties has never flinched in times of international crisis. The Party I lead will not do so now.

Some of you may not like this, but let me be clear.

I will not play political games with our national security.

I will always put our country first.

And that means living up to all our international responsibilities Prime Minister, not just in Iraq but, as Michael Ancram says, in Zimbabwe and Gibraltar too.


My friends, if a week is a long time in politics, then a year sometimes seems like a lifetime.

I know you have been waiting impatiently for us to come forward with fresh ideas that would set our Party on a new course.

Now we have begun to fulfil those expectations and through your enthusiasm you have shown that we are moving in the right direction.

This will be remembered as the week when the Conservatives began the slow, hard road back to power.

So the next time you are asked what Conservatives stand for these days, tell them this from me:

We believe that when people are given the power to choose they choose to do the best for themselves and their families.

We believe that just because the state funds our public services it doesn't need to run our public services.

We believe that the privileges of the few must be turned into the opportunities for the many.

Above all we believe that to build a better society you must trust people.

Not governments.

Our principles must be for a purpose.

And that purpose is simple.

To make Britain a better place than it is today.

I love my country.

For me, this is the greatest country on earth, and the tolerance, the decency and the strength of the British people are worth fighting for.

That is why I am here.

That is why we are all here.

To build a Britain that respects decency.

A Britain that values compassion.

A Britain worthy of all its people.

This week we have rediscovered the courage of our convictions.

So go out there and tell the world … the Conservatives are back.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech