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Davis: Conservatives aim to help the vulnerable

Speech to Conservative Spring Forum 2002

I am sure that I will speaking on everyone's behalf when I say that it would be wrong to start this conference without first sending our thoughts and best wishes to Margaret Thatcher who has been ill in the last few weeks.

But I know what she will say: she will tell us to get on with it, and that is precisely what we have been doing.

These last six months we have come a long way under Iain Duncan Smith's leadership.

Think of the challenges we faced back in September.

Another devastating Election defeat still fresh in our memories.

People were talking of the end of Conservatism.

Well they've had to change their tune because, thanks to you, we've spent the last six months rebuilding ourselves as a political force.

People are finding that we're a different kind of Opposition.

A party that is united and disciplined.

A party with clear priorities.

A party that is serious about tackling the real problems of our country.

Providing opposition based on principle and integrity - qualities utterly unknown in the world of New Labour.

But qualities no-one exemplifies better than our leader, Iain Duncan Smith.

And six months on, what has happened to Labour?

Remember, this is a Party that in 1997 promised to combine the straightforwardness of John Prescott and the subtlety of Peter Mandelson with the honesty of Mo Mowlam.

Instead it's brought us the subtlety of John Prescott, the straightforwardness of Peter Mandelson and the honesty of Stephen Byers.

Confronted with failure they resort to the only thing they know how to do, the only things left they believe in. They spin and lie and manipulate.

And when this doesn't work either, they spin and lie some more.

want to know what's going to be in the Sunday papers.'

These are the kind of people we are dealing with.

And New Labour are in no position to improve our public services.

When the Home Secretary himself says the muggers rule the streets of our cities and the police can't cope, what is Tony Blair's priority - bogging Parliament down in a two-year campaign to ban hunting?

A typical Blair master plan, if ever there was one.

Sending the law enforcers in pursuit of the law-abiding in our countryside, while thugs and criminals swagger untouched in our cities.

Mme C, no government with priorities like these can ever solve the problems of Britain.

And who is bringing them to book? Not the Liberal Democrats.

Six months ago they launched a campaign to be the 'real' opposition.

But let's look for a moment at what this 'real' opposition actually does.

As law and order collapses on the streets they vote to decriminalise hard drugs.

Their International Development spokesperson put out a press release about how she'd visited dying children in a hospice that hadn't yet been built.

Their Party Leader criticises the Government for re-nationalising Railtrack weeks after supporting that same action.

And for rank hypocrisy, dishonesty and lack of seriousness you have to go a long way to beat the Liberal Democrats.

And I promise you this: we will go as far as it takes. For every lie they tell about us, we'll tell the truth about them.

But it isn't enough just to expose the Liberals and draw attention to Labour's failure.

We have to show we are different.

That we are everything that Labour is not.

Well, here are some differences for starters.

We have principles, New Labour don't.

We trust people, they don't

We want to extend freedom and choice, they want the opposite.

They don't understand that you can't have improvement without innovation and that you can't have innovation without difference.

If you won't allow one foot to move in front of the other you end up standing still while others catch up and pass you by.

That is what has happened to Britain these last five years.

Our hard-won competitive edge over other European countries is being squandered as Gordon Brown piles on tax after tax, regulation after regulation

And what do we have to show for it?

Better hospitals than the French?

Better trains than the Swiss?

Better training than the Germans?

If only.

Last week - did you hear about it? - the Prime Minister relaunched New Labour.

He'd been stung by one of his own MPs who asked him in Parliament what his philosophy actually was.

You must have seen that - it was the end, I'm sorry to have to tell you, of that unfortunate MP's political career.

But for Tony Blair, it was one of his Women's Institute moments - you know when his jaw drops, the little beads of sweat appear, he is utterly lost for words and the Alistair Campbell's autocue won't help him.

The great Tony Blair - inventor of New Labour - couldn't reply.

He didn't know what his political philosophy actually was.

Well, Mme C., if the captain on the bridge has no compass, what hope for those of us on the boat deck when icebergs loom.

So we had a relaunch. The pamphlets were written; the posters were printed; the press were primed; the Prime Minister's motorcade purred into action.

And what did Tony Blair say?

He said that we are now entering the New Labour's 'third phase'.

Well, that's it then. Bet that'll get the trains running on time.

Before it was the third way. Now it's the third phase.

Sadly, if it's from this Government, the only certainty is that it will be third rate.

Let me come to the crux of the matter.

Our public services - how Labour have failed them and how we must put them right.

You often hear Labour talk about two tier systems. A two tier NHS, two tier schooling.

About how unfair they are.

But Labour are creating a two tier Britain.

One Britain consists of those people who, when our public services fail them, are lucky enough to be able to take avoiding action.

They can do what thousands more people are now having to do - pay for their operation out of their life savings.

But did you ever think you'd have to use your life savings to save your life?

They can mortgage up and move house to be in the catchment area of a decent school.

They can give up on public transport and drive their car.

But where does that leave the other Britain?

Where does it leave the pensioner who has worked hard all life long for little money, and who hasn't got the cash he needs for a hip operation?

Where does it leave the mother who desperately wants a good education for her children, but is stuck in an area where the schools are a disaster area?

Where does it leave the family that has been burgled three times in a year and seen their once-decent neighbourhood taken over by drug dealers?

They are the people in Labour's second tier Britain.

These are the people that Labour take for granted.

The people that Labour leave without hope.

Labour's forgotten people.

Because under Labour, those who lose most are those who can least afford to lose at all.

For our national health service, our schools, our criminal justice system - the very institutions that were created to provide security for the most vulnerable in our society - have become the major source of insecurity in their lives.

The people that bear the brunt of the failures of our health service are the elderly, people with disabilities, and the chronically sick.

So when we say we want to reform the NHS, to make it improve standards of healthcare, these are the people who we have in mind.

Because these are the people that will benefit most.

The same is true in education.

The people who send their children to failing schools don't do so because they are not interested in their children's education.

Of course they are. They care desperately about their children's future. But they have no choice. No alternative.

These are the children who are being left behind by New Labour.

And these are the people that we have in mind when we say that we will restore discipline and standards to our weakest schools.

When Labour hit drivers with heavy charges and rack up taxes on petrol, who are the people that suffer most?

Not people whose costs are reimbursed by a large employer. Not people who earn enough not to notice the costs.

It's people who live and work in rural areas, for whom driving a car is not a matter of choice but of necessity and whose incomes are already low.

It's young mothers in cities who have to rely on a car if they are to combine holding down a job and dropping off young children at school or nursery.

These are the people for whom an extra £5 a day in tax or congestion charges means £5 less to spend, not on luxuries, but on essentials.

These are the people that we will have in mind when we set our policies.

Labour talk about fairness.

For them it's just an abstraction.

Today's sound bite. Tomorrow's discarded promise.

When it comes to delivering fairness to real people they look the other way.

So it falls to us to make the real difference. At our best the Conservative Party have always reached the parts of our society that Labour never could.

Think of council house sales, popular share ownership and private pensions. Tory policies based on Tory principles.

As we develop the policies on which we will fight the next election, the question that I will keep asking of every policy is this:

What will this do for the most vulnerable?

Will it make their lives better?

Some people might think these unusual questions for a Conservative to ask.

Some people might regard a focus on the most vulnerable as - dare I say it? - left-wing.

They couldn't be more wrong.

And the truth is that these questions of how policies make life better for the most vulnerable have always been Conservative questions, however much our opponents claim the opposite.

We have always been the party of opportunity, and where does opportunity mean most but to those who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances? Those who have no choice, no opportunity.

So these are not left wing questions, or left-wing problems but the natural, the historic, province of Conservatives.

We are, after all, the Party of Shaftesbury and of Disraeli.

Shaftesbury dedicated much of his life to ending the ill-treatment of mentally ill people as social outcasts. He championed low cost housing for the urban poor and gave 300,000 desperately poor children a start in life by giving them an education.

Shaftesbury was a contemporary of Disraeli; that great Conservative Prime Minister who founded the One Nation tradition.

Over the years, the One Nation tradition sometimes became associated with a blurred vision, a soft focus and a preference for compromise.

The ends may have been clear, but the means lacked bite.

Modern Conservatism is about a 21st Century One Nation approach so that we don't just talk about problems - we solve them.

More responsibility, more choice, more accountability, these are what drive success This is the new Tory idealism.

And the answers to the problems our nation faces are more likely to be supplied by the policies of the right than the left.

In America recently black parents formed a national alliance and held a four day conference to agitate for more school choice in the inner cities. For more right wing policies to help the most needy parts of their nation.

They knew what works.

Giving choices back to people.

Giving power to communities.

Giving help to the vulnerable.

Above all, making life better for real people - the very theme of this conference.

Mme C. over the next few weeks tens of thousands of people will be taking our message of practical idealism directly to the people in the local elections.

We may not be in Government, but all over the country, every day Conservative councils are making life better in a thousand practical ways.

We should let those Councillors know how much we appreciate their work.

But we want more of them.

Look at Conservative councils and you see modern Conservatism in action.

One of the caricatures we've allowed Labour to pin on us is the notion that we're only on the side of the prosperous.

Complete rubbish.

Conservative councils, like the Conservative Party, serve not the few or the many, but ALL the community.

Much of the focus of our councils is in making life better for our most vulnerable citizens.

Whether it is in housing the homeless, caring for the elderly, or finding loving homes for neglected children - the work of our councils is more concerned with helping the most vulnerable in our society than any other activity.

Indeed all too often it falls to us to pick up the pieces where Labour in Whitehall has worsened the plight of our most vulnerable citizens.

When our streets become violent and threatening because of the failure of Labour's crime policies, our councils have had to step in with uniformed wardens and with CCTV schemes to add some kind of security to our streets.

When Labour so over-regulate care homes for the elderly that they put them out of business, it is the social services departments of our councils that have to step in and provide care at home for people who have nowhere else to go.

When Labour drive thousands of teachers demoralised from the profession, it is our councils who have to fill the gaps and try to shore up our children's education.

Mme C, when we prepare our programme for government, we will not make the disastrous mistake that has destroyed all Labour's ideas in power.

To try to control everything from the centre.

Our Ministers will not try to be the desk sergeant of every police station, the headteacher of every school or the manager of every hospital.

In fact we will do the opposite.

Arm public servants with the power to do their jobs properly and arm the public they serve with the power to make sure they do just that.

We must build institutions that work at the level of natural communities.

No wonder our NHS is failing when it is run from Whitehall by a Secretary of State interested only in national headlines.

That's not what patients or doctors or local communities want.

They want an NHS responsive to the needs of patients and their families.

They want their local hospitals to be integral parts of their local communities.

People don't want their local schools to be branch offices of the Department for Education.

They want them to be local institutions of individual character - reflecting and shaping the characters of their communities. People want heads to be given a free rein to build schools that communities can be proud of.

People want their say in their own communities, not be coerced into artificial agglomerations to suit the mania this Government has for top-down control.

And let's be clear, this is not an archaic vision of a lost age.

Ask anyone who works at the leading edge of technology today, and they will tell you that the days of top-down control that are now past.

All over the world communities are springing up on the grounds of common interests. They do so spontaneously, rather than in response to central plans.

It's becoming less and less possible to serve the public by bossing them around.

Real communities are the future, not the past.

In fact, the Government's whole approach is looking increasingly like the remnant of the century that is gone, rather than the politics of the century that is to come.

Conservatives believe in working with the grain of society. We believe in natural communities not artificial creations. And above all we believe that the most effective approach to Government is to trust the people.

There's nothing more threatening for New Labour than to come face to face with real people.

When things go wrong, as they do more and more, when people complain, their reaction is not to put it right, but to round on the messenger.

In the last few weeks they have sacked, and trashed the reputations of civil servants who had the temerity to stand up to them and their spin doctors.

And did you see the way in which the whole weight of the Government smear machine was turned on a woman in her 90s, whose family dared complain about her treatment?

They gave out to the press intimate medical details about a young lad who had the guts to say what millions of other people know: the NHS is not working.

The message is clear. Anyone who dares criticise Tony Blair will be bullied and intimidated as a warning to others.

They are now entering an excuse-free zone. It is time we took them on.

When I was a new MP back in 1997, I saw an old university friend across members' lobby in the House of Commons. He'd just been made a minister in Margaret Thatcher's government. He was clearly in dreadful hurry

He was rushing on his way to somewhere with a papers tucked under one arm and red box under the other.

As he went past me, I said 'Slow down Michael, Rome wasn't built in a day.' Without breaking stride he said, 'Maybe not, but then Margaret Thatcher wasn't the foreman on that job.'

It was our good fortune that she was the foreman on our job.

She drove through the reforms that took us from being the sick man of Europe to become the world's fourth largest economy. The world ceased to pity us and once more started to admire us. Because of the foundations she laid, millions more people got the chance to own their own homes and share the fruits of the country's success.

Today we face a new set of challenges, perhaps even more complex than the ones we faced 20 years ago. And we are lucky to have our new foreman in Iain Duncan Smith. I am delighted to be his 'hod carrier'.

The Conservative Party now has a new mission: to treat our sick more quickly; to make our streets and homes safer; to stretch the minds of our children further.

Freedom and choice are Conservative values, but the benefits they bring are universal.

That is our task. To turn 'making life better' from a slogan into a reality for everyone in Britain.

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