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Davis: Putting People First

It's a pleasure to be shadowing the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. We've got more in common than you might think. He represents a seat in East Yorkshire. I represent a seat in East Yorkshire. I hate New Labour. He hates New Labour. He's got two Jags. I've got two Toyotas.

We've both been on overseas trips this summer.

We both went to English-speaking countries.

So obviously, John took a phrase-book.

He was in South Africa, at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

Environmental protection was top of the agenda.

No doubt that's why Mr Prescott swept away from the airport in a modest motorcade of seven Mercedes.

Hundreds of trees were cut down to widen the roads.

The top suite was ready at the 5 star Michelangelo Hotel.

There was lobster, oysters, caviar.

But still the Deputy Prime Minister looked furious. No-one could understand why, until someone spotted the words on the pass round his neck.

It didn't say "John Prescott, [Deputy Prime Minister]".

It said: "Made entirely from recycled bottles".

Do you remember John Prescott's first job in government? He was given a shiny new super ministry all of his own.

"Give me an integrated transport policy", said Tony Blair.

The policy never arrived. And soon neither did the transport. And everything that had been integrated - well, just, disintegrated. In desperation Tony Blair replaced him with a better man - Stephen Byers.

So John turned his hand to the environment. There he showed how much he was listening to the countryside by thumping a rural protestor. John Prescott is already one of the worst things ever to hit local government.

No one understands that better than our Councillors - who do a sterling job of delivering the best possible services under the toughest possible conditions.

There's more bureaucracy than ever before. More central control than ever before. Council tax on Prescott's watch soared by nearly a third. And he's planning to force it up further this year.

But, incredibly the Prime Minister has given him his old job back. Yes, super minister is back. And this time it's personal. His latest political dream is to build a whole new layer of government. Regional assemblies in England.

Regional assemblies

Dream? Nightmare, more like. A nightmare for council tax payers who will foot the bill for yet more bureaucracy. Across England regional assemblies would cost £200 million a year. That means £200 million of extra bureaucracy. £200 million of extra paperwork. £200 million of extra talk.

The Government says regional assemblies will be good for jobs. They're right.

Good for 300 new assembly members, many of them Labour cronies who can't get a proper job, and missed out on one of Tony's peerages because they couldn't afford dinner with Lord Levy.

They say regional assemblies will be good for pay.

They're right.

£35,000 a year for Mr Prescott's friends to do a job already done much better by our Tory county councillors

They say regional assemblies will be good for regeneration.

Again, they're right.

Good for regenerating the career of professional politicians.

But bad for everyone else.

Ask any businesses what they want from government and they'll soon tell you.

Less of it. Less interference. Less red tape. Lower taxes.

The last thing they want is more government, more cost, more regulation.

But that's exactly what they'll get from the regional assemblies.

But they won't get a single new job that matters. Not one extra doctor. Not one extra nurse. Not one extra teacher. Not one real measure to improve the lives of local people.

The Government claims regional assemblies would devolve power and decision-making. But county councils would be abolished. Taking power away from local communities.

Decisions now made in Hereford would be taken 60 miles away in Birmingham. Decisions now made in Kendal would be taken 75 miles away in Manchester. Decisions now made in Truro would be taken 90 miles away in Exeter. That isn't handing power down. It's grabbing it back.

But this isn't just about geography.

If we take a genuinely local voice away from identifiable local communities, we take away something fundamental - and precious.

Democracies don't work simply because everyone has the right to vote. They work because they reflect communities that have a common interest, a common identity, a common history and tradition.

When people vote in elections they must feel that the outcome will reflect their interests, and the interests of their community.

When people accept the outcome of elections, they implicitly accept they may have to make sacrifices on behalf of their fellow citizens.

Sacrifices that range from paying higher taxes right through to risking lives for each other in war. Those sacrifices are easier when there is a real common bond. That's why Conservatives believe that the nation state is a moral concept. It is the strongest manifestation of democracy. It binds us together, irrespective of creed or colour, race or religion. It creates a sense of community greater than any other.

It is no accident that the long history of our nation state has led to the longest-lasting, and most stable, tolerant, liberal democracy in the world.

And on a smaller scale this sense of community applies to our historic counties, our ancient boroughs, and our parishes.

This is what John Prescott's drive for regional government threatens.

It's not just about money or interference. It's about unpicking the very threads of our communities. It's about riding over local people. It's about tearing up a county history hundreds of years old.

It is wrong. We oppose it. And we will fight it every inch of the way.

Decentralisation

This summer Iain asked me take up the battle on decentralisation, on giving power back to the people. It may be one of the biggest battles we face this parliament.

The Left have always believed that governments know best. For them, power can only be passed from one set of politicians and bureaucrats to another. That's what Labour and the Liberal Democrats mean by decentralisation.

You know, I laugh when I hear Tony Blair talking about it. He's centralised more power in Downing Street than any Prime Minister in history. He's recruited an army of unelected policy advisers, marching through Whitehall, dispensing orders. They're Tony Blair's galaxy of tsars.

There's a museums tsar.

A hospital food tsar.

An internet tsar.

A building tsar.

A children tsar.

A drugs tsar.

A rail tsar.

A rural tsar.

An export tsar.

A film tsar.

A heart tsar.

A homelessness tsar.

A mental health tsar.

An older people's tsar.

An education tsar.

A transport tsar.

And finally the red tape tsar. He's the one who says that there are too many tsars and we should try and cut back on them.

That's more tsars than the Romanovs. Whitehall doesn't need another tsar. It needs a revolution. They're unelected, unaccountable, and they exercise power that belongs to the people.

Oh, I forgot the emergency tsar. I think his job is to prepare for disaster when the Prime Minister is away and John Prescott is in charge of the country.

Housing

I mustn't be too hard on Mr Prescott. At least he says what he thinks. I mean - do you remember his famous boast about the Green Belt?

"The green belt was a Labour achievement and we mean to build on it".

For once we can take a Labour politician at his word.

If John Prescott has his way 3.8 million houses are to be built over the next 20 years, almost half of them on greenfield sites.

200,000 houses to be built in four new areas in the South East.

Thousands of acres of countryside are to be turned into acres of urban sprawl.

So much for New Labour's empty promise to protect our green fields.

And if local people don't want it? Tough. John Prescott is going to make them.

That is why he is stripping counties of their planning powers. In future, vast numbers of planning decisions will be taken in Whitehall rather than by local councillors. That's just the kind of power structure this Government likes.

They cannot bear what they cannot control. That's why, to their eternal shame, the Labour Party opposed the right to buy.

Right to buy

With the right to buy policy, Conservatives helped transform the lives of some of the least well-off in society.

We helped two million people become homeowners for the first time. To take more control over their lives. To build financial independence. To work hard, save and leave something to their children. It was a truly revolutionary policy - a policy of empowerment. But it took control away from politicians. That's why the Labour Party has always hated it. So it's no surprise that now they want to end it.

There has been no policy announcement, of course. No White Paper. No statement to Parliament. We first learnt about the Government's plans as we always do. From their spin doctors, their Jo Moores, from their anonymous briefings.

Then came the denials. The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman said "there were no plans to end the right-to-buy. Full stop. Period. End of story."

Well, we all know that with John Prescott there aren't many full stops.

And in Blackpool last week he owned up. He wasn't going to end the right to buy. He just wanted to suspend it. He says that the right to buy reduces the availability of low cost housing.

Well I'll tell you one reason why there aren't enough low cost homes.

Because there are 87,000 council houses standing empty, that's why. And we all know where most of them are, don't we? In Labour-controlled councils.

And what has happened to the number of empty council houses since 1997? You've guessed it. It's gone up.

In July the independent Audit Commission criticised one particular council for having the highest proportion of vacant council homes of all. The Commission said financial realties had been ignored. The housing revenue account was approaching insolvency. There was a bullying political culture. Can you guess the council? Hull.

And you know who the Member of Parliament for Hull East is, don't you? I gather he said it was nothing to do with him because it wasn't in his constituency. Well, John, let me tell you something. It might not have been in your constituency. But it was in your back yard.

So I have this to say to you, John.

If you really want to provide housing for vulnerable people then tell your crony-infested, high-spending, low-quality, dreadful Labour Councils that have dominated our cities for too long that now is the time to clean up their act.

Today housing associations are replacing councils as the main provider of social housing.

There are more than a million housing association tenants who do not have the right to buy.

It's a lottery, because if they had been offered a council house they would have had that right.

That must change. That will change.

And that's why I give this conference this pledge.

We will give more than a million housing association tenants the same right as council tenants to own their own homes.

That is practical, modern Conservatism in action - extending opportunity to the many, not the few.

The contrast with Labour couldn't be more stark.

They want to take away the right to buy. We want to extend it.

They want to see fewer homeowners. We want to see more.

They want to lock people into dependency. We want to set them free.

In a seminal speech at Toynbee Hall recently, Iain described the five giants that blight Britain today.

Failing schools.

Crime.

Sub-standard healthcare.

Child poverty.

And insecurity in old age.

Every one of them is made worse by poor housing and dependency.

And that's what our new policy will help to change, creating thousands more homeowners, creating opportunity for all,.

Your place

Labour stole our slogan "opportunity for all". And, let's be fair, they have given opportunity to some.

Lord Hollick. Lord Levy. Lord Alli.

They're the multimillionaires in New Labour's court. Now, I don't begrudge the fact that these men have made money. But I do object to the fact that Labour are happy to let their rich courtiers make money while trying to stop council house tenants from doing the same.

I don't mind if someone makes a paper profit on his council house - it only gives them a deposit for their next house anyway.

I don't begrudge the fact that John Prescott has four homes. His house in Hull, his flat in Admiralty Arch, his union-sponsored flat in Clapham, and his ministerial country house - complete with butler - at Dorneywood.

But I do object to the fact that while the Deputy Prime Minister tries to buy his flat from his union, he wants to stop council house tenants exercising their right to buy the homes they live in.

I know something about being a council tenant. I grew up on council estates. First a council prefab in York. Remember those? Then a council house in London. I rather liked them, actually. They were home.

But all around me, for other people, life was tough, and I saw a lot of people fail. And I can tell you this: the great majority of people who fail in their lives lack one thing more than luck. They lack hope.

They just don't see even the narrowest opening, the faintest glimmer of light. These people don't need a handout. They need a hand up.

That was another Conservative slogan, Mr Blair.

And we understood the meaning of it. Because my family didn't have the right to buy. My stepfather was a lifelong Labour supporter. But he would have loved the right to buy his council house. But under a Labour government he never had that opportunity.

Labour steal our lines.

But they don't understand their meaning.

They promise opportunity.

But their real instinct is to control.

To keep you dependent.

To keep you in your place.

With New Labour its' just the same old story.

Your place is to be trapped in social housing.

Their place is to tell you: you can't own your own home

Your place is to wait months for treatment at your local hospital.

Theirs is to tell you: that's where you've got to go.

Your place is to sit in five-mile motorway tailbacks.

Their place is to tell you: you shouldn't be in a car.

New Labour's politicians are Britain's new elite.

The people who know what's best for you.

Conservatives take the opposite view.

We want to see people take control over their own lives.

Yesterday Liam Fox and Damian Green announced bold new plans to give patients and parents more choice over their healthcare and childrens' education.

You can imagine the Government's response.

Give parents the choice - nationwide - of which school to send their children to?

No way: Estelle Morris would lose control.

It works in Holland - but to Labour choice is a foreign country.

Let patients choose their consultant or hospital?

No way: Alan Milburn would lose control.

It works in France - but to Labour freedom is another language.

Labour put their trust in government.

We put our trust in the people.

Conclusion

I know it has not been easy being a Conservative these last few years.

But remember this. Ten years ago, after the 1992 Election, people said that the Labour Party was finished. We all know what happened next. So now is not the time for us to lose heart. But for people to believe in us, we have to believe in ourselves. We must not be afraid of saying what we know to be true. To win an argument, you have to make a case.

John Prescott has thrown down the gauntlet, on regions, on planning, on council funding, on the right to buy. I intend to pick it up. The fight will not be easy.

I warn you now that we will be attacked by every vested interest, every left wing newspaper, and of course the vicious Labour spin machine.But there are no magic levers to get us back to power. There are no golden roads to government.

There is only hard work and more hard work.

Remaining united.

And most of all, having the confidence to argue for what we believe in.

Giving people a clear, attractive alternative to a Government that spends more, bosses more, interferes more, lectures more and thinks it knows better than any in history.

Every ounce of power that government takes for itself is an ounce of freedom lost to the British people.

And we must win that freedom back.

Our mission is to return power to the only place where it truly belongs. To the people.

That is a Conservative agenda which makes us as relevant today as we ever have been.

150 years ago Benjamin Disraeli saw two nations - the rich and the poor - and set the course for a Conservatism that speaks for everyone in this country.

Today there's still a gaping divide in Britain. It is between those who are locked in dependency, trapped by failing public services. And those who manage to step onto the upward escalator of opportunity, ownership and responsibility.

Our vision is of a country where everyone has the chance to take that step up.

Where everyone has the power of owning their own home.

The power of choosing a decent school

The power of choosing the best healthcare.

The power of being safe in their own streets.

The power of opportunity for all.

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