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Ancram: Women's Conference 2000

Labour - an incompetent bunch presiding over a growing mess

I am honoured that you should once again invite me to address your Conference. I learned a long time ago that this was not an occasion for soft soap or political platitudes. If Tony Blair thought the WI was the most discriminating audience he hasn't met you!

This year you have had a working conference. Next year your conference I hope will be a celebration. Because in the coming election I believe with ever increasing confidence that we can take on this discredited government and win.

We are a Party on the march again. You have shown that here today.

I see it everywhere I go in the country, a party that has thrown off the hangdog air of defeat, which has lifted its head and its eyes towards a new vision and a new horizon.

So much of that change of attitude is due to all of you.

I am delighted to pay tribute to the CWNC. You are an organisation which achieves results. That, as you would be the first to recognise, owes much to the dedication and unceasing hard work of Marney Swan and your officers. On behalf of the Party I thank them all.

I would also like personally for my own part to thank Sally Ridley Day who is the vital link and liaison between my Office as Party Chairman and the CWNC, and who ensures in a very practical and real way that our mutual understanding is continuous and true. The influence of the CWNC reaches from the top of the party to the grassroots, from the policy making forums to the vital work on the ground and in the constituencies.

In so many of our key seats your members are at the heart of the organisation. In so many of our other seats your members are the organisation. In the dark days you have kept the flame alive.

But your contribution to the renewal of our Party is much greater even than that. You have ensured that the essential woman's voice has been heard clearly and forcefully in the very highest reaches of the Party and in the vital process of policy formulation. Your contribution to the Choices document and its follow-up has been considerable and invaluable.

I know how vital it is that in our great Party we speak with the true voice of the British people - and that is the voice every bit as much of the British Woman as of the British man. That is why I have been so pleased at the way you have advanced the contribution of women at all levels in the party and how you have spurred me on to do the same.

We have not achieved all that I had hoped for or wanted, but we have made a start and we are now firmly moving in the right direction. There is much more to be done, and I am determined we will do it.

But I know too that as we set out on our great march to victory there is an even more important aspect of your role. I know as the Chairman of the Party of Common Sense that it is largely from the women in our party that the common sense will flow.

You are the backbone of our party and often the sword bearers too. But you are also the counsellors and advisers and contributors who will ensure that we respond to Labour's wild undeliverable promises with deliverable common sense. And all of you will ensure that we continue to do so.

And that is why when the election comes we can win.

Over these last nine months the political climate has changed - dramatically, and for the first time in 8 years. The polls which for so long were rigidly set against us have now become fluid. The proportion of the electorate who are the swing voters of the new century, who genuinely have not made up their minds, is now about 25%.

These potential switch voters are not with us yet. They are there however to be convinced that we really understand their aspirations and their fears and that we speak for them. The door is open.

For the first time in many years there is everything to play for, there is a real battle to be fought and a tremendous victory to be won. Of course there is a long way to go. One thing however is clear. These people have fallen out of love with New Labour. Many of them are lifelong Labour voters who tell us now that they will never vote Labour again. Their disillusion is complete.

They were excited by New Labour. They trusted New Labour. Now they feel exploited and betrayed by New Labour.

They have watched Tony Blair squander the best inheritance that any incoming government has ever had. Watched him squander the golden economic legacy we left him, with so much money spent and so little to show for it. Watched him squander the goodwill by promising a better health service, stronger law and order, no increase in taxes and then cynically failing to deliver on them all. Watched him squander his claim to competence with the outrageously extravagant and wasteful fiasco of the Dome. Watched him squander his enormous democratic mandate by sidelining Parliament and relying instead on spin.

It has taken these three and a half years, but the British public now see this government for what they really are. An incompetent bunch presiding over a growing mess. A Prime Minister and his cronies who have fallen victim to their own image making. Obsessed with themselves. Obsessed with the trappings of Government. Obsessed with the concept of power. Obsessed with winning the next election. Always seeking praise. But never accepting responsibility.

They never take the blame for anything. From the Dome to the Health Service, from rising crime to traffic standstills. From higher taxes to falling police numbers, from the avalanche of regulations to the crisis in the countryside. None of it is ever their fault.

For heaven's sake, they have been in power for three and a half years. That's a long time. And in each of those years they have promised that the next would be the year of delivery. That things would get better.

But they've got worse.

If they were directors of a private company their shareholders would long ago have seen them on their way. But not this lot. These are New Labour, New Blameless.

They may be the bosses but it is always their officials who have let them down, or who have kept them in the dark or who have misled them. It's never themselves. It's never Blair or Brown or Prescott or any others of that spineless bunch. Always leaving it to others to carry the can while they strut across the stage.

You can always tell a government which is out of touch when they begin to strut. And just see this lot strut. Blair's arrogant strut. Brown's contemptuous strut. Straw's holier-than-thou strut. And as for Robin Cook, he is the first person in history who can even strut sitting down!

With them it is never the actual problem that matters. It is always about how the public will see them, their image - even down to that extraordinary crumpled designer-raincoat that Blair wore while visiting the floods last week. Those visits weren't about the floods. They were about Blair.

We can see it even more clearly in Blair's handling of the fuel dispute. He and his ministers have quite cynically stoked up the feeling of confrontation and crisis. Of course none of us condone picketing or intimidation or action which causes damage to others. As Conservatives we would roundly condemn such behaviour. But Blair and Straw raised the spectre of it because they wanted to look tough in responding to it. And in doing so showed how out of touch they are.

They still believe that the criticism of them in September was that they were not tough enough. How wrong they are. The criticism of Blair and his colleagues was then and still is today that they simply do not understand the very real damage being done to the vast majority of the British people by the excessive stealth tax imposed on fuel by a government who thought they could get away with it.

And they still don't understand. Fuel tax doesn`t just affect hauliers and farmers. It affects every mother who needs to use her car to get her child to school, or every person who needs the car to get to work, or to get their relative to the doctor, or to do the weekly shopping, or just to be able to get about.

These too are the people who are suffering under Blair's excessive fuel tax, a stealth tax that impacts disproportionately hard on the less well off. And yet these are the people Blair treats with contempt because he is so out of touch.

Tomorrow we will see him and Brown parading themselves as white knights riding to the rescue of a people in distress. The reality, and people know it, is that that distress has been caused by Blair and Brown milking the tax in the first place. The irony is that they are belatedly trying desperately to rescue themselves from their own mistakes. And people know it and that is why they are falling out of love with Labour.

And on top of all this they have lost the ability to distinguish truth from spin. Blair insists in Parliament that taxes are not going up when everyone knows that they are. Gordon Brown tells us he cannot cut fuel duty without cutting other public services when the world and his wife know he has a war chest awash with unbudgeted tax revenues which would allow him to do just that.

Blair asserts with the deepest sincerity that cutting fuel tax would put up inflation, interest rates and mortgages when even the most amateur home economist knows that what puts up the price of almost everything is increases in fuel duty.

Who on earth do they think they are fooling? The sad truth is that they are now so immersed in spin that they can no longer help themselves. It is all part of a serial disregard for the truth which lies at the very heart of the Blair government. And the people know it. And that is why they are falling out of love with Labour.

But Blair and Brown still believe that they have the magic key to political success. When in trouble promise to spend more. They did it in March. They did it in July. Tomorrow we will see the next instalment of spending promises. Tomorrow the cheque will once again be firmly in the post. Jam will once again be categorically on the menu for tomorrow.

But it won't work. Because people have heard it all before. Because yesterday's cheque never arrived and yesterday's jam has yet to be seen. Because spin has stopped working. People quite simply don't believe the words any more. And that is why people are falling out of love with Labour and will not easily return.

That then is the background to the dramatically different political landscape which faces us today. It is one we must take advantage of.

In normal circumstances the Liberal Democrats would be seeking to exploit it too. As it happens, they are in a very weak position to do so. That sanctimonious Party which loves to preach "a plague on both your houses" has been shopped by Paddy Ashdown in his diaries as seeking to gain a permanent foothold in one of those houses! Mr Blair's!

While pontificating on political integrity, St Paddy was secretly negotiating dishonourable coalition with Tony Blair. Who is to say that Charles Kennedy is not doing exactly the same at the moment, secretly, cynically, and with no intention of letting the electorate know. If I was one of those betting Labour MPs, I would put money on it! Ashdown has demonstrated beyond argument that you can never again take Lib-Dems at face value. What you see is not what you get.

One thing is clear. If people are seeking to escape Labour's cesspit of cynical spin, a vote for the Liberal Democrats would be to dive straight back into it. All of this opens an enormous opportunity for us. But it will not fall into our laps. We will need to work night and day to grasp it.

We have set out our strategic battleground, the 180 seats we need to win to achieve a working majority at the election. We have identified the constituencies and many of the target voters within them. We are ensuring that they have the support, the material and machinery to go out and win.

At the centre we are putting together the most sophisticated and effective political fighting machine that we have ever been able to deploy. We are using all the most advanced technological means of communicating directly with those we need to persuade. We are getting back to the cutting edge of political campaigning.

We are ready to fight whenever Blair can summon up the courage to let the people decide. But we will not win by having the best machine alone. We have to show an increasingly consumer-orientated electorate that we have common sense and deliverable answers to meet their problems, achievable goals to meet their aspirations, and the vision to fire their imagination.

We will fight for the mainstream majority, the hard working, law abiding, decent families who are the bedrock of our country. Our answers must be directed above all to them.

In Believing in Britain and at Bournemouth we set out many of those answers. We must continue constantly to restate them until they are firmly rooted in the public mind. And we must show that in each case that where we propose action, we mean it.

At a time of rising crime we will put the victim first and we will mean it. At a time of deteriorating health services and growing waiting times we will put the clinical needs of the patient first and we will mean it.

Where schools are letting children down we will give parents a remedy and we will mean it. Where teachers and nurses and other caring professions are being increasingly swamped by red tape and regulation we will lift that burden and we will mean it.

Where pensioners are today patronised with cynical handouts we will restore their dignity by restoring to them the right to decide how to spend their total pension and we will mean it.

Where those who live and work in the countryside are in crisis but meet only derision and contempt from this government we will provide real help to ensure the sustainable viability of agriculture and the rural economy, and we will mean it.

These are just a few of the straight answers that we are advancing to meet the real problems which people have raised with us.

But specific answers can alone never be enough. We need vision too. And unlike our opponents we have that vision. We have the vision of a society where the primacy of the family as the basic building block of our society is re-established and supported through the tax and benefit system, and where social policies will enhance that family.

We have a vision of a less heavily governed society where restoring decision making to local people, to local government, but also to schools and hospitals and other local organisations - and away from Whitehall - is a primary goal.

We have a vision of a society in which values matter again, where standards once again form an important benchmark, where doing the right thing is worthwhile, where hard work is recognised, where saving is rewarded, where honesty and respect for the law is a virtue, and where belief and pride in one's country is no longer politically incorrect.

Above all we have a vision of a Britain, a United Kingdom, which is once again able to play its historic role in a fast changing world.

I have watched with real anger the way in which Blair has risked the unity of the United Kingdom by unbalanced devolution. We must put it right. We will strive to make devolution work for the United Kingdom and to resist the growing pressures of nationalism by demonstrating once again the value of this unique union of cultures and traditions which is the spirit of the Union - and above all by restoring fairness to England.

And we will fight to preserve the United Kingdom from the threats of submersion in what Blair with evident approval and zeal now openly refers to abroad, most recently in Poland, as a 'European superpower'.

Let us be absolutely clear. Such a European superpower could never be compatible with the continued existence of the United Kingdom as we know it. It is the slippery slope to its desintegration. We will resist it with all our strength.

That is why we will fight tooth and nail to keep the Pound at the election. That is why we will draw a line in the sand of European integration and state clearly that we will go no further. That is why we will proclaim our own vision of our country and our destiny.

It is emphatically not a negative vision. Just look at the potential of where we are now.

In Europe, but not run by Europe. In a special relationship with the United States. A leading player in the Commonwealth. The fourth largest economy in the world. The home of the English language which is fast becoming the language of business and commerce and international relations the world over.

It is hard to think of a more favourable position to be in at the opening of the 21st century. With new technology opening up exciting challenges, we are ideally poised to meet to meet them. And yet Blair would throw all this away for an uncertain role in his beloved European superpower.

Let us today give notice that we will fight him all the way and that we will win. And we can.

Because we have pride in our Britishness. Because we have faith in our ability to prosper by our own efforts, to determine our own future, to have confidence in our nationhood. Blair shows none of these, although evidently he fears them.

According to weekend press reports, he is so concerned at the political fallout from his readiness to submerge our country in a European superstate that he has cynically instructed his Ministers to take every opportunity to wave the Union Jack, to proclaim a new-found pre-election love of Britain.

Once again, he puts his faith in spin. And once again, it will not work. Because, once again, he has failed to understand the reality.

His Union Jack, like his 'Cool Britannia' brand, is a paper flag on sale at every tourist souvenir shop and waved on special occasions. Our Union Jack is real and lies at the epicentre of our pride in the United Kingdom. It is not a paper flag but the flag we wear constantly in our hearts - and so do the British people. It is for that reason a flag and a symbol that Blair can never cynically devalue nor exploit for cheap political reasons.

The differences are real. We believe in Britain because it is innate within us to do so. Blair does not because he despises our history, undermines our traditions, plays fast and loose with our constitution, and believes only in himself.

You can vote for Britain, or you can vote for Blair, but you cannot vote for both.

And that is why with every passing day my confidence grows that we can win.

As you saw today, we have in William Hague a great leader who can lead us to a great victory. As I see here today, we have a great voluntary army which will work tirelessly from here on in to ensure that no stone on the road to victory is left unturned.

But the greatest strength of all will be the message you and I take out from here. It will be a message of the confidence we have in ourselves.

It will be a message of the faith we have in our vision. It will be a message our sense of renewed partnership with the British people. It will be a message of our belief in freedom, and in opportunity, and in Britain.

And if each of us passes this on to our friends and our neighbours and everyone we meet, then each of us can start ripples which when they all come together will create a wave which in turn with ever growing strength will build until it will sweep once and for all this wretched and discredited government away.

That is our challenge. We must not, and we will not, fail."

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