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Collins: A Modern Transport System

Speech to Conservative Party Conference

"Transport is the greatest failure and the most serious indictment of this Government.

We are the nation of Stephenson and Brunel, the land which invented tarmac and the jet engine, the people who brought the world its first iron bridges and railways. Yet Britain today is grinding to a halt.

Our nation's transport problems didn't start in 1997. But they have got a lot worse since.

Under New Labour:

x Official figures show that British commuters face the longest journeys to work of anyone in Europe

x The highest petrol taxes in the industrialised world pay for the worst maintained roads in the EU

x The smallest number of new road projects have been built in any five year period since the War

x Delays on the London Tube have doubled, while industrial unrest has exploded

x and

x An orgy of buck-passing, delayed decisions and escalating costs have paralysed our rail network.

But don't worry. The Prime Minister is on the case.

Last week in Blackpool he addressed the nation. And this is the whole, every last word, of what he had to say about transport - no deletions, no omissions.

"Transport is probably the worst of our public services. Over the coming months, we will present long-term proposals".

Well, thanks a lot Tony. There's no "probably" about it. And after five and a half years in office don't you think you should have done something about it by now?

In Stephen Byers we saw a Transport Secretary whose very name became a byword for dishonesty, for political manipulation, and for eye-popping incompetence. He and his notorious special adviser Jo Moore contaminated the reputation of this entire Government.

And I for one will never forget that it was Tony Blair personally who said Jo Moore should keep her job, Tony Blair personally who stood by Stephen Byers when he told lie after lie, and therefore it was Tony Blair personally who debased our entire public life.

Right up to the end the most loyal supporters of Stephen Byers in the House of Commons were the Liberal Democrats. Month after month they opposed our motions of censure of him. But of course after he'd gone they claimed full credit for removing him.

Now that's what you might expect from a party who produce more fiction per square inch in their leaflets than anyone since Enid Blyton.

But we might have a bit more respect for the Lib Dems if their sudden discovery of the importance of the national sovereignty of Saddam Hussein's Iraq hadn't come after years when they have shown utter contempt for the national sovereignty of our people and our Parliament and our country.

But it's not enough for us to criticise other parties, essential though that task is.

For politics should be about passion, excitement, energy and above all optimism.

We won't regain public support just by waiting for the swing of the pendulum.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, "things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle".

That is why Iain Duncan Smith is absolutely right to call for us to reform and update our party, just as Conservatives have always done.

And we will earn public respect by the quality of our ideas, the strength of our convictions, and, yes, the attractiveness of our policies.

The problems in transport are daunting and few have short-term solutions. But Edmund Burke said, "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little".

Detailed policy work is under way, and we plan to publish a transport policy document before the end of this year. So there's more to come, but let me give you some ideas right now.

We will proceed from clear Conservative principles.

Our first principle is that we believe that individual choice is a virtue not a vice and using the car is not always a sin.

We know that for millions of our fellow citizens - rural residents in areas from Cornwall to Cumbria and across Scotland and Wales, for the elderly, the disabled, and many commuters into our big cities - the car isn't a luxury. The car isn't a frivolity. It's about time that their Government realised that for them the car is an absolute necessity.

So we'll call off Labour's war on the motorist.

We'll aim for faster-moving traffic - speeding up and better co-ordinating road works, examining ways to accelerate the removal of broken-down vehicles blocking traffic.

And in London, Mayor Ken, we know about your cynical little game to keep traffic lights on red in order deliberately to slow up the motorist - and we will stop you doing it.

We'll work to improve the signposting of this country - bringing an end to the Magical Mystery Tour round our towns and cities which adds so much time to journeys and so much frustration to so many.

A word about speed cameras. Research by Autocar magazine says that 33 per cent more cameras have been positioned on our fifty safest roads than on the fifty most dangerous stretches. Just eighteen cameras monitor more than 500 miles of the most hazardous roads.

Putting the cameras in the wrong place can be deeply counterproductive. Motorists lose faith in the fairness of the system.

Perhaps that's why the latest figures show that while speed cameras are proliferating, the number of road accidents is rising not falling for the first time in years.

We will make sure that speed cameras are used, as they should be, to make our roads safer - not as just another mechanism to milk the motorist yet again.

And Conservatives will oppose congestion charging, that backdoor flat-rate tax which penalises the poor and the elderly while barely affecting the wealthy and the comfortable. The Left in this country should stop treating every motorist as a criminal and every journey as an excuse to levy more and more taxes.

My constituents in the Lake District like many others don't have access in some cases to more than one bus a week.

They have no choice but to use their cars to drive many miles in order to get to work and to access the dwindling number of public services which this Government provides to rural residents.

So none of us are going to take any lectures on using public transport from John Prescott who when he was last here in Bournemouth used one of his two Jags to travel the 300 yards from his hotel to this conference centre.

Motorists are the majority. We will speak up for them - and in doing so we will be the true People's Party.

Our second principle is that we should help the vulnerable first, not as an afterthought in policy.

We will work closely with disability groups to improve access for the disabled to all forms of transport.

And we know that needy and vulnerable groups in and around London are hugely dependent on the Tube and particularly hurt when strikes shut the system down - so we will work for a no-strike agreement.

But I warn the unions today that we will not allow the right of millions to get to work to be held hostage by the greed and stubbornness of a few militants - so if we cannot get a no-strike agreement on the Tube then we will look at legislation to restrict or ban such strikes outright.

Our third principle is that transport policy must play its part in improving the environment of our communities and of our world. We'll work with the motor industry nationally and internationally to promote cleaner, greener engines. We will be unambiguous enthusiasts for rail.

And while we pay tribute to the immense success of our aviation industry and the many thousands of jobs it creates, we will be very sceptical about Labour schemes to demolish homes and green fields all over our country in order to build ever more runways.

Both today and before today I have met people from Stansted and Rugby and many other places who are understandably worried about the future of their communities.

Let them be in no doubt. Conservatives remember that people must come first.

Our fourth principle is that safety is of critical importance. We'll review the case for seatbelts in all school buses, because our children must be safe. We'll make it easier for local communities to get speedlimits near their homes altered on dangerous stretches of road.

And we will make sure that public money devoted to improving safety is spent as effectively as possible - mindful that while it is a tragedy that on average a couple of dozen die each year on our rail network, it is a far greater problem that thousands die each year on our roads.

And an absolute scandal that every day avoidable accidents occur because some bureaucrats refuse to spread a bit of tarmac about where it's needed.

Our fifth principle is that we believe that no long-term transport strategy can be complete without recognising the central importance of rail.

We should be proud of the fact that the privatisation of train operations has resulted in the first sustained increases in half a century in both freight and passenger traffic by rail. We can point to the new trains and better customer service which are now at last coming through.

And if you want proof that privatising the train companies was right, note that more than five years into a Labour Government they have no plans at all to reverse it.

Many of us came to this conference in Bournemouth on Virgin's superb new Voyager trains, each with a proper shop, powerpoints for laptops and even on-board radio channels. Truly 21st century travel.

We should never be embarrassed to remind socialists that this dramatic upgrading of cross-country rail travel would never have happened if we'd followed their advice and left passengers in the curled sandwich era of British Rail.

But nor can we pretend that every aspect of rail privatisation was a success, that Railtrack worked remotely as we had hoped, or that all our 1990s changes have won popular support.

It wasn't, it didn't and they haven't.

However hard we shout, the people have made their minds up about that.

There comes a time when parties have to stop lecturing the public and start listening to them.

When we come forward with our proposals on the future of rail later this year, my pledge to the British people is this: we will have listened. We will have learned both from what worked and what did not work.

And we will persuade you that we have genuinely thought through the answers to how we make our rail network, so important to so many, work and work better.

Labour have had the greatest opportunities of any government since the war - a strong economy, a big majority and great depths of public goodwill - and they have wasted their chances scandalously.

And let me just remind them of something.

Today's prosperity wasn't achieved by anything Tony Blair or Gordon Brown have done. Today's strong economy wasn't built by five years of New Labour spin - it was built by eighteen years of hard Conservative work under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

And for all his smug glibness, Mr Blair does not have one tenth of the honesty, the honour and the straightforwardness which is so characteristic of our leader Iain Duncan-Smith.

After half a decade of New Labour what have they achieved? Precisely nothing.

Our public servants have never been more abjectly demoralised. Our standards of public life have never been more comprehensively undermined. And our nation's independence has never been more thoroughly betrayed.

All they do is lecture us about their values. Well, I'm not going to take lessons on values from a Prime Minister who has chosen to empty our prisons of thousands of drug offenders, muggers and convicted terrorists and who now wants to fill the jails up again with anyone in the countryside who dares to go hunting.

It's time to see this Government for who they are. To hear some people talk, you would think these Ministers were ten foot tall, political geniuses, statesmen of the 21st century.

I have to tell you I don't agree.

This lot have raided our pension funds, slapped billions of costs on industry, undermined the independence of the civil service, ruined our countryside, debauched our examination system, bankrupted our farmers, opened up our children to foul drugs, lined the pockets of their contributors, and sold out our nation in Europe.

I don't know about you - but to me this lot aren't political titans: they're a bunch of devious, dishonest, disreputable scoundrels forming a shabby, sordid and squalid little Government.

Don't tell me there's no alternative.

This country needs, deserves and is crying out for a strong opposition, for a fightback, for someone to stand up to these people.

It's time for Conservatives to put some fire in our bellies, to get up off our knees and to give these people the fight of their lives.

It's time for us to get our cars and our trains and our people moving again.

And time for Blair, Prescott and all their cronies to get ready - to move out."

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