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Hague: We will give you back your country

Speaking at an election campaign rally in Warwickshire tonight, the Rt Hon William Hague, Leader of the Conservative Party:

It's a great pleasure to be in Stoneleigh today and to see so many of you working flat out for a Conservative victory at this Election.

I am especially pleased to be here because I began the day with a visit to the Dome. Remember the Dome? It was supposed to be the first paragraph of today's Labour manifesto. Well the two are still connected in spirit. They are both shiny, expensive and hollow. They are monuments to the arrogance and contempt with which Labour treats the people of Britain.

Their manifesto is not a programme for a second term, it is a plea for a second chance, only this time Labour are saying it will take ten years to keep all the promises they have broken over the last four years.

As Tony Blair discovered in Birmingham today careful choreography and planted questions cannot shield him from the anger of ordinary voters. The people I meet. People who have been let down; people who now know better than to fall for his meaningless promises and stealth taxes all over again. That is why I say we can win.

Make no mistake. The Conservatives can win this election. In three weeks you can elect Conservative Members of Parliament, the people of Britain can elect a Conservative Government and Tony Blair can be given his marching orders from No 10.

We can win because of the deep sense of betrayal felt by millions of people with this crony stuffed, sleaze ridden, incompetent mess of a Government that's failed to deliver on even its most basic promises.

And we can win because at this Election the Conservative Party is speaking about the issues that really matter to people, like tax, crime, public services and Europe, and the Conservative Party is once again championing of the common sense instincts of the great mainstream majority of the British people.

To come here to Warwickshire is to find myself again among real people. Not the politically correct commentators and Islington lawyers Tony Blair has in mind when he talks about "the people". But real men and women leading real lives.

People who are more interested in how much they are paying for petrol than in proportional representation. People who are more concerned about their child's GCSE results than in repealing Section 28. People who are more interested in whether their daughter can walk safely at night than whether she should serve in the front line.

People who are proud to be British, and value what the nations of the United Kingdom have achieved together. People who Labour sometimes dismiss as old-fashioned because they still believe in personal responsibility and patriotism and the importance of family.

People and communities who are starting to wonder whether any politicians are in touch with their concerns. People not unlike those like those I grew up with in the Rother Valley in South Yorkshire.

My classmates at Wath-on-Dearne Comprehensive had fathers who worked in mines and in steelworks and on farms. Like all parents, they wanted their children to have the best possible start in life. They wanted their families to be financially independent. They wanted a secure old age. And, without ever making a fuss about it, they loved their country.

Even back then, they were considered unfashionable. The last thing the Labour Party wanted was to give them independence. Much better to keep them in the industrial working class. Take away their freedom of choice. Tell them where to live. Tell them where to send their children to school. Make them join a trade union. Don't give them their own pension. Make them depend on the state for every rise in life.

Our party changed that. We gave people the opportunity to take back control over their own lives. And they seized that opportunity with an enthusiasm that astonished the world.

Now the children I was at school with have families of their own. Their jobs are in computer firms, in high-street banks and call centres; they're nurses and teachers and self-employed builders. They own their own homes, and they're saving for pensions. And the girls in my class are struggling to balance the pressures of being a good mother and holding down a good job.

Those are the people who motivate me. People who are beginning to wonder whether Ministers will ever listen to them. Our party is in it for them, and others like them throughout the United Kingdom.

Let me be honest. At the last Election large numbers of them voted Labour. They had a variety of motives. Some of them actually believed all that rhetoric about a new Britain. But most of them simply felt that Labour deserved a fair crack of the whip.

They weren't expecting miracles. They wanted decent schools for their children, safe streets and the opportunity to prosper by their own effort. It wasn't much to ask. But, four years on, they're feeling let down and they're feeling conned.

They were promised lower class sizes. But they've seen class sizes in secondary schools rise.

They were promised a cut in NHS waiting lists. But today people are waiting longer for an operation than they were before.

They were promised a government that would let manufacturing industries grow. But instead they've seen 350,000 manufacturing jobs lost across the country with the west Midlands particularly badly hit.

They were told that taxes wouldn't have to go up. But they've been taxed for marrying, taxed for driving, taxed for wanting to own their home, taxed for trying to put a little aside each month, taxed for growing old. They've seen their council taxes soar with Band D houses now paying £212 more than when Labour took office.

And they're wondering - as we are all wondering - where all the money is going. You've paid the tax, but you're still waiting for your operation. You've paid the tax, but your child's class has got bigger. You've paid the tax, but when was the last time you saw a police patrol on your street?

Those people who told me last time that they were voting Labour, expected a Government that would be tough on crime. But they've seen police numbers cut while prisoners are let out of jail early.

They believed that the priority would be "education, education, education". But they've seen teachers bent double under paperwork and classroom discipline undermined. They've seen class sizes increase and children sent home because of staff shortages.

And now they're beginning to think that nothing will ever improve. That taxes will only ever go in one direction. That violent crime can only get worse. That there will always be failing schools. That no one will sort out the chaos on our roads and railways. Even that the drift into a European superstate is inevitable.

Well I say that none of these things is inevitable. I say there is a choice. I'm not promising to have all the solutions. No politician can. But things can improve. We must not give up on Britain.

I won't give up on the families, the savers, the pensioners whose taxes are rising when Governments around the world are bringing taxes down. It doesn't have to be this way. The only reason that our taxes are shooting up is that the Government has chosen to raise them.

Of course decent public services need to be properly funded. People don't object to paying tax when they can see that the revenue is being well used. But they do object when the money going into the NHS is not spent on patient care, but on preparing accounting systems for the euro. They object to being taxed to recruit new armies of clerks and officials and regulators and licensors and inspectors and bureaucrats to the state apparatus.

And they're right to object; you're right to object. None of us minds paying for roads and schools and hospitals. But do you really feel the same about paying £4 million to take on more Labour spin-doctors? Or millions on keeping the Dome open? Or over one hundred million a year on government advertising?

The fact is that we have become used to a level of service from the state that we would never accept in any other walk of life. We put up with poor schools and cancelled operations and a bad return on our pension contributions because we feel we have no choice. But we shouldn't have to.

If you wanted to book a holiday in Spain next month, and went to the travel agent, and were told that your holiday would have to be in two years time and had to be in South America, you'd use a different travel agent. If your local supermarket never stocked the goods you wanted, but charged you through the nose all the same, you'd want a refund.

Well I say you should have that refund. If the Government has enough of your money left over to spend millions of pounds on advertising to tell you what a good job it's doing, then it's taxing you too much.

Taxes in this country are beginning to spiral out of control. It isn't selfish to think this: it's responsible. People know that you can't spend more than you have. And they know that, at a time when our competitors are cutting tax, Britain can't afford to drive away investment.

I don't believe that things have to be this way. Other countries are reducing taxes without cutting services. For years Britain has enjoyed the lower taxes than in Europe. That has brought us more jobs, more investment, more trade and more economic success than any other country in Europe.

Yet Mr Blair is throwing all this away. He is increasing taxes and regulation while the rest of the industrialised world is going in the opposite direction. He is out of touch with the British people who know they are paying too much for too little - and he is out of tune with the needs of global competition.

Future jobs and growth will come to countries that cut taxes, not those that keep on increasing them. Mr Blair can try, Canute like, to turn back the tide of those who want and need lower taxes - but he will not succeed. Tax cuts are an idea whose time has come.

The Conservative Party has worked out the most detailed plan ever produced by an Opposition, showing exactly how we can make savings in Government spending without taking a single penny from hospitals, or schools or the police or the Armed Forces.

It's not going to cure everything. But it will allow us to deliver tax cuts for small businesses and married couples and savers and pensioners and people with children.

And it will allow us, in our first year in office, to reduce the cost of petrol by 27p a gallon and that will be welcomed by the elderly, disabled people and millions of others for whom the car is not a luxury but a necessity.

People are not expecting the Earth. Just for the chance to live secure lives without having to rely on the state. It isn't much to ask.

Pensioners want the dignity of independence in their old age. They've paid tax throughout their lives. They shouldn't have to go on paying in retirement. That's why the next Conservative Government will raise pensioners' tax allowances by £2000, which would increase their incomes by up to £8.50 a week, and is sufficient to take a million pensioners out of tax altogether.

And for those at the other end of their careers, those just starting out in the work place, I say: you should have the opportunity to build up your own pension fund without having to rely on the state.

People want to do the right thing: to put aside a little each month to provide for their retirement, or for their children or grandchildren. They've already been taxed for earning the money; they shouldn't be taxed again for wanting to save it. The success of our economy depends on encouraging investment. That's why the next Conservative Government will abolish taxes on savings and dividends.

And there's no excuse for giving up on marriage. Married people provide stable homes for children. They should be rewarded, not penalised. That's why the next Conservative Government will introduce a transferable allowance for married couples worth up to £1,000. And we will offer special help and training to women who take time out to look after their children, but who want to return to work when their children are older. Let's not be afraid to say it: we believe in marriage.

There's no excuse for giving up on our roads. John Prescott seems to think that driving is a vice. But just because he treats his two Jags as a luxury, that doesn't mean that the rest of us can do the same. For women who don't want to walk home from the station after dark, or for families trying to manoeuvre small children to school and back, or for small businesses needing to shift their goods, or for people who live in rural Britain, driving is a necessity.

Mr Prescott may regard petrol duty as an ethical tax. But I don't see anything ethical about a tax on women and children and small businesses and the countryside. That's why the next Conservative Government will cut fuel tax by 6p a litre, that's 27 pence a gallon.

And we need to do it now. Because in Brussels they've been discussing a plan to harmonise fuel prices across Europe. The Trade Secretary admitted it on Monday. And don't think for a moment they're planning to cut petrol tax in Britain to the European average. It's a one way street. They want to lock in higher petrol taxes here and prevent them from ever being cut again. That's why Britain's drivers are saying to Labour and to Brussels at this election and why we say to Labour and to Brussels: hands off our fuel.

Just as there is no excuse for higher taxes, nor is there any for the anxiety people feel about no longer being safe in their own home or walking down their own streets

Britain must win the fight against crime. When we fight crime we fight to protect the vulnerable. We fight to stand up for the values shared by decent, hardworking people of all ages and across all walks of life against those with no values and no conscience.

As I go round the country I listen to people who tell me that nothing can be done about crime. That living in a more violent society is somehow an inevitable part of the world we now inhabit.

The truth is, today, Britain is losing the war against crime.

Violent crime has gone up by 8 per cent and robberies by 21 per cent in the past year.

Only 1 in 5 people are happy with the level of policing on our streets.

The Chairman of the Police Federation describes policing as 'a public service in crisis' and says morale is the worst he has ever seen it.

After four years of a Prime Minister who promised to be tough on crime our police stand depleted and demoralised. Our criminal justice system puts the rights of criminals before those of their victims. Our streets feel less safe because thousands of convicted criminals have been let out early by this Government so that they are free to commit more crime.

Labour have let out 35,000 convicted criminals before they have even served half of their sentences.

These are not petty crooks. They include 41 sex offenders, 8 attempted murderers, more than 3,000 burglars, nearly 5,000 people convicted of drug dealing and drug trafficking and as many again convicted of wounding or causing grievous and actual bodily harm.

Between them these criminals have committed more than 1,000 further crimes.

Crimes they could not have committed were it not for the fact that they were out on our streets on Labour's special early release scheme.

Crimes which have changed their victims' lives and in some cases ruined them. Violent assaults, theft and burglary, drug crimes, and even two cases of rape.

You may have seen our Election broadcast last night. I know that many who have watched it will have been shocked by what they saw. I make no apology for that. Labour's record on crime is shocking.

Give Labour a second chance and at the current rate 80,000 more criminals would be let out early. That means 10,000 more drug dealers, 10,000 more robbers and burglars and 10,000 more people convicted of violent crime let out on to our streets.

They will not get that chance under a Conservative Government. We will end Labour's special early release scheme. There will be no get out of jail early card when Ann Widdecombe is Home Secretary.

Our criminal justice system will be very different when she is in charge at the Home Office

We will start by restoring Labour's cuts in police numbers. After four years of neglect they are now claiming that they can increase the number of police officers to 130,000. Our changes to Labour's spending plans do not affect the Home Office so of course we will match that target. But cost has never been the issue.

It is Labour policies that have driven thousands of serving officers out of the force and made attracting new recruits so difficult.

The political correctness that prevents the police from using the powers at their disposal fairly but firmly.

Piling on new bureaucracy that keeps the police behind their desks rather than out in communities and on our streets preventing crime and catching criminals.

The depressing fact that hundreds of criminals convicted of assaulting policemen and women have been let out under Labour's special early release scheme.

All of this has taken its toll. Thousands of officers have simply walked away from policing taking their training and their experience with them. The tragedy is that many of them have left the force because they no longer feel able to the job they joined up for, the job that the public wants them to do.

We cannot fight the war against crime if the forces of law and order have one hand tied behind their back. Under the next Conservative Government the police will police.

We will reverse the bureaucracy that one chief constable described as putting his force 'in danger of sinking under a sea of targets and measures'.

We will bring back a national police cadet force to encourage young people to choose a career in policing.

We will raise the visibility of our police on our streets by giving them bases in local shops, businesses and village halls.

And we will encourage parish councils to take on constables specifically dedicated to serving their local communities.

Every city, every town, every village deserves to be protected from the scourge of crime. Under the Conservatives there will be no such thing as a 'no-go' area. We cannot call ourselves a civilised society until we have restored the rule of law in every part of this country.

It won't be easy. I tell you what it will take.

It means offering the police political backing instead of political correctness so that they can become the strongest, most professional and best-respected force in the world.

It means making our criminal justice system frightening to criminals, rather than bewildering and insensitive to their victims.

It means winning back the trust of the public in the forces of law and order, not trying to silence their anger.

It means electing a government which is prepared to walk the walk, not just talk the talk about being tough on crime.

Because I promise you this. No one will hit crime harder than the next Conservative Government.

With your help Britain will win the war against crime.

So when people say that nothing can be done about crime. I say they couldn't be more wrong.

And I refuse to give up on the countryside. Labour ministers seem to have no grasp of how serious things have become. Since they came to power farm incomes have halved and halved again. Forty thousand 40,000 farming jobs have been lost in the last two years. Families who have managed their land for generations are being forced to sell up. When I say that we are witnessing the asphyxiation of rural Britain, I am not choosing my words lightly.

The countryside doesn't just need an injection of cash. It needs a vibrant and successful economy.

Coming on top of all the other problems, Foot and Mouth has been a disaster for the countryside. For so many farmers years of hard work has been destroyed in a matter of weeks. Rural businesses have seen their turnover collapse. And there have been animal welfare problems of a kind we never expected to see in Britain.

The priority of the next Conservative Government must be to help the countryside recover. So immediately we take office, we will implement our Strategy for Recovery, containing steps to stamp out Foot and Mouth once and for all, to help our struggling tourism industry and other rural businesses and firm action to prevent this terrible disease entering Britain again.

We are going to give our farmers a fair chance to compete by applying to imported food more of the food hygiene and animal welfare standards we expect of our farmers here at home.

Our farmers are among the most dedicated and innovative in the world. On a level playing field, they'd acquit themselves against all comers. But they cannot compete properly as long as they are confined by the current Common Agricultural Policy.

The next Conservative Government will re-negotiate the Common Agricultural Policy so that many decisions currently taken at EU level would be taken by the governments of individual member states.

Above all, there is no excuse for giving up on our schools. I was lucky as a boy: I went to a first-rate comprehensive. But there were other children in the neighbourhood who were less fortunate than I was: who went to schools where they were never stretched, where their ambition was never kindled, where their potential was slowly poured into the sand.

No parents should be forced to send their child to a failing school simply because of where they live. It was wrong then and it is unacceptable today. In a society as wealthy as ours, there should be no such thing as a sink school.

Tony Blair, with his customary attention to detail, promised to give us "education, education, education". Well, I want to be a little more specific than that with my own aims. I want discipline, standards and choice.

Schools should be answerable to parents, not to politicians. That's why the next Conservative Government will set our schools free: free to set their own admissions policies, free to decide their own rules, free to spend their own budgets. If our children are to realise their potential, we need to release the energy and enterprise of those who work in education. It can be done.

I'm not going to promise to set everything to rights. But I can promise that the next Conservative Government will clear its desks to focus on improving our education system. And I can promise that we will ensure that more money reaches the classroom.

We have calculated that if we pay money direct to the schools themselves rather than through the LEAs, we can place an extra £540 a year at the disposal of heads and governors.

Under Conservative plans head teachers will be able to set their own priorities. Just think of how far even a part of that extra £540 could go when it comes to upgrading school facilities, or taking on extra staff, or offering children more opportunities for sport or drama or music.

But none of these things is possible if we give up on our national independence; if we give up on Britain. I have faith in this country and its people. We can prosper as a self-governing nation.

People often say to me: "Yes, I want to keep the pound. But it's all inevitable isn't it? We're going to be dragged into the euro one way or another."

No, it's not inevitable. It's up to you. You can vote Labour or Liberal and see the pound abolished within two years. Or you can vote Conservative to keep the pound.

Labour may not have confidence in this country. They may not believe that Britain is strong enough to survive on its own. But I do. We're the fourth largest economy in the world. We're the fourth military power on Earth. We're one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, one of the Group of Eight industrialised nations, we have unparalleled links with the United States, the Commonwealth and the rest of the English-speaking world. How much bigger do we have to be before we're able to run our own affairs in our own interests?

Don't let anyone tell you that the euro is inevitable.

And don't let anyone tell you that believing in an independent Britain is anti-European or xenophobic. We are a European country. But we can never be only a European country. We are tied by our history and our geography to other continents. British people through the ages have settled across the seas. To this day, people throughout the United Kingdom have friends and relatives in North America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and the Indian sub-continent. It's not we who are the isolationists; it's those who want to lock our country into a European bloc.

And don't let anyone tell you that we're going to be dragged into a European Superstate.

The Conservative Party wants to be in Europe, not run by Europe. We want the EU to do its job, and to do it well. But there are plenty of policies that could and should be returned to the nation-states.

Look at the record of the Common Agricultural Policy, which has pushed up prices and taxes across Europe while leaving the countryside devastated. Look at the pettifogging rules that have choked so many of our small businesses.

Labour's policy is to take the EU institutions that have done all this, and put them in charge of our money, of our defence policy, even of our criminal justice.

Our policy is that Brussels should do less and do it better. That's why the next Conservative Government will pass a Reserved Powers Act, to prevent EU law from overriding the will of Parliament in areas which Parliament never intended to transfer to the EU. We want our children and grandchildren to inherit the same freedoms that we enjoy today.

I trust our people. I am proud of this country: comfortable with its past and confident about its future. I don't believe that we have to go along with every new Brussels initiative simply because others are doing so.

So let me make one thing clear today. Britain will always be in Europe but will not be run by Europe. They will always be able to rely on our open markets, on our diplomatic support, on our military alliance and our membership of the Union.

But we will not compromise our democracy. We will not bargain with our independence.

And so to everybody who shrugs in despair at politics, who thinks that nothing can be done about higher tax and more crime and European federalism and the asylum crisis, I say: something can be done. We don't promise miracles. But we can make a start.

We are ready to govern for all the people. For people in the countryside, who have almost given up on ministers ever understanding them. For people in our inner cities, struggling to bring up families on crime-ridden estates with failing schools. For people in towns and suburbs all over Britain, who are watching their green spaces disappear inexorably under concrete.

We will govern for taxpayers wanting to see some return on their taxes. For nurses and teachers and policemen who want to get on with their jobs, not be snowed under with paperwork. For people who believe that the countries of the United Kingdom have achieved more together than they would separately, and who refuse to feel ashamed about our history. We are in it for all the people.

To parents who want the best for their children, who believe that teachers who run disciplined classrooms should get our support, not end up in court - we're in it for you.

To pensioners who have built up an income for retirement, and who don't understand why they are still being taxed - we're in it for you.

To people who live with the daily reality of crime, who feel that their town centres are closed to them on a Friday night and who can't remember when they last saw a policeman on their street - we're in it for you.

To parents with young families, struggling to make their budgets stretch that little bit further - we're in it for you.

To all the small businesses and self-employed people who are wasting more time than they can afford to on complying with regulations - we're in it for you.

To people who work hard, save hard and try to be independent of the state - we're in it for you.

And to everyone who believes in an independent Britain - we're in it for you.

Come with us, and we will give you back your country.

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