I hope you are as delighted as I am that this conference is once again taking place in the North of England, in one of its greatest cities, and that this is now a North of England where Conservatives have been elected to control more local authorities than any other party.
Top of my list on election night in June was the election of a Conservative mayor on North Tyneside and the achievement of a thumping Conservative majority on Lancashire County Council. Never has a Yorkshireman been so excited about something in Lancashire.
Disraeli asserted that the Conservative Party is a national party or it is nothing. He was right, and let us make sure that everyone knows that not only this year did Conservatives top the polls across the North of England, but Conservatives beat the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, came first in Wales for the first time in three generations; and I will be proud to address in Belfast later this month the first annual conference of reunited Conservative and Unionist parties in Northern Ireland.
Not only are we a national party, we are the only national party, for we are the only party with MEPs from every region and nation of the United Kingdom, and the only party at the coming general election giving the people of Northern Ireland the chance to change the government at Westminster, something so many of them, like us, are absolutely determined to do.
But whatever our successes and however much the country cries out for change, we must never allow one morsel of complacency to creep in to our campaign. We must be conscious that the system is stacked against us – that Labour only have to draw to win a majority in the House of Commons but we have to win by some two million votes to do the same.
We must be conscious too that this election, as we saw in Brighton last week, will bring forth from Gordon Brown’s Labour a wholly negative campaign – barricaded in the Downing Street bunker they will fling any dirt, stoke any fear, spread any smear and peddle any distortion to scare people into thinking that change is dangerous, honesty frightening, and the fresh air of new leadership actually poisonous for the people of Britain. This campaign will have ups and downs, it will have moments of difficulty, when we will need to keep our nerve, calm our friends, and make sure that we always march in step towards the goal of a better government for our country.
And even at times when we seem well ahead, and polls say we are on our way, let us resolve that we will still waste no hour, neglect no voter, lose no argument, and leave nothing to chance, for we are facing a government that has left our pensions funds devastated, our national debt vastly inflated, our young people unemployed in record numbers, and our country devoid of hope and confidence for the future and when we have one chance on one day, one shot to remove it from power we must make sure we are not going to miss.
Last week Gordon Brown read out a list of what he thought Labour had achieved. Imagine how I felt when I heard him proudly list among Labour’s achievements the Disability Discrimination Act, and watched the Labour conference slavishly applauding it, when as many at this conference will know the Disability Discrimination Act was passed under the premiership of John Major and was designed, written and taken through parliament by me.
That tells you something about the Prime Minister and it tells you a lot about his list.
If he wants lists I’ll give him a list. This is the real list of the last twelve wasted years:
- £22,500 of debt for every child born in Britain
- 111 tax rises from a government that promised no tax rises at all
- The longest national tax code in the world
- 100,000 million pounds drained from British pension funds
- Gun crime up by 57%
- Violent crime up 70%
- The highest proportion of children living in workless households anywhere in Europe
- The number of pensioners living in poverty up by 100,000
- The lowest level of social mobility in the developed world
- The only G7 country with no growth this year
- One in six young people neither earning nor learning
- 5 million people on out-of –work benefits
- Missing the target of halving child poverty
- Ending up with child poverty rising in each of the last three years instead
- Cancer survival rates among the worst in Europe
- Hospital-acquired infections killing nearly three times as many people as are killed on the roads
- Falling from 4th to 13th in the world competitiveness league
- Falling from 8th to 24th in the world education rankings in maths
- Falling from 7th to 17th in the rankings in literacy
- The police spending more time on paperwork than on the beat
- Fatal stabbings at an all-time high
- Prisoners released without serving their sentences
- Foreign prisoners released and never deported
- 7 million people without an NHS dentist
- Small business taxes going up
- Business taxes raised from among the lowest to among the highest in Europe
- Tax rises for working people set for after the election
- The 10p tax rate abolished
- And the ludicrous promise to have ended boom and bust
I could go on:
- Our gold reserves sold for a quarter of their worth
- Our armed forces overstretched and under-supplied
- Profitable post offices closed against their will
- One of the highest rates of family breakdown in Europe
- The ‘Golden Rule’ on borrowing abandoned when it didn’t fit
- Police inspectors in 10,Downing Street
- Dossiers that were dodgy
- Mandelson resigning the first time
- Mandelson resigning the second time
- Mandelson coming back for a third time
- Bad news buried
- Personal details lost
- An election bottled
- A referendum denied
This is the list; this is the legacy; this is the record of a government that after all the hope and hype and hysteria at the beginning has comprehensively failed our country.
The arrival of a string of ministers from outside politics – Lord Malloch Brown, Lord Darzi, Lord Digby Jones, was hailed by Gordon Brown as showing it was a Government of All the Talents. It turned out they were so talented that after working with him for a short time they left, and so we have a Government of All the Talents with all the talent taken out of it.
It is an empty, dispirited, shoddy, divided, burnt-out wreck of a government. It is a government in which the Prime Minister wanted to sack cabinet ministers he proved too weak to remove, and in which ministers wanted to remove a Prime Minister they were too spineless to sack; it is a government in which it would make their day if they could get rid of each other and it would make the country’s day if we could get rid of them all.
We have a Prime Minister who accused David Cameron of seeking 10% cuts in public spending as if it was an outrage while his own Treasury documents showed he was planning those cuts himself, who now gets himself through the Labour Conference by promising more money he knows the country will not possess, who responded to the release of the Lockerbie bomber by saying one thing to the Libyans, another to the Americans and nothing at all to the people of Britain; so let us be clear: he and his ministry do not possess the qualities of honesty, directness, decision-making and leadership necessary to make this country great and successful again.
The ideals of the Labour Party have now been reversed in the most unelected, centralised and unaccountable government of modern times, and if anybody doubts that step forward the right hon the Baron Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham, First Secretary of State, Lord President of the Privy Council and Secretary of State for Business and Secretary of State for Innovation and Skills, collector of titles, terror of ministers, ruler of Downing Street and now forever to be known to history as the man who gave new meaning to the word ‘chumps’.
The Prime Minister nobody ever elected has been kept in office by a deputy nobody in the country had voted for at all, making up a government with the least moral or democratic authority to govern in our lifetimes.
And it is that lack of authority, and of democratic accountability, that has been a corrosive weakness at the core of British politics since Gordon Brown took office.
That has been true even of the most vital issues of peace and war: ministers attempted to hold even the Iraq war inquiry in secret until forced by us and other parties to open it up; and it is a disgrace that the setting up of the inquiry was delayed for years by ministers determined to push its findings beyond the next general election.
We believe it is vital to learn from mistakes, and vital too when our forces are engaged in action in Afghanistan, where they are making huge sacrifices - something we must never forget for one moment in all our debates this week -that the government of the day should give regular, quarterly reports to parliament about the objectives involved, the resources available and the progress made so that the nation as a whole can understand and judge why our valiant forces are asked to do so much, and it is in the name of accountability in this most crucial of matters that a Conservative Government will do exactly that.
Sir George Young, who I am so delighted to see back as Shadow leader of the Commons, has already told you of the major changes we intend to bring to parliament to create true democratic accountability. And recognising that so much law is now made in Brussels, we will also give parliament unprecedented control over what ministers do in European negotiations and give MPs the power to force a full debate and vote on EU legislation that currently receives inadequate scrutiny at Westminster.
Accountability also means that the rights and powers of the British people should not be diluted or given away without their explicit consent. Let us be clear what we are dealing with and let no one ever forget, whenever a European referendum is discussed; Labour and the Liberal Democrats solemnly promised a referendum and then shamefully broke that promise. It is right that we voted for a referendum and right that we still want to hold one, and it is right, as I have made clear before, that a Conservative Government will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that if any future government proposes to transfer new competences or areas of power to Brussels a referendum of the British people will be required by law.
And there is, of course, one additional change we will bring to parliamentary proceedings. Scotland now has its own parliament. We are committed to its success, and as we have all seen today in Annabel Goldie we have a highly effective leader working hard for the people of Scotland. Now a Conservative Government will complete the devolution settlement by ensuring that when legislation at Westminster affects only England, or only England and Wales, then the English, or English and Welsh MPs will have a veto on its contents.
A Conservative Government will make it easier for our citizens to take part in democracy, in keeping with the spirit of our age. We will publish online every item of government spending over £25,000 enabling the public to see in detail how their money is spent. We will require all police forces to publish their crime statistics online on a monthly basis. And now we will begin a consultation on a new and radical policy to throw open the doors of parliament by introducing into the passage of legislation a public reading stage, using modern technology to allow the public to give their comments on the details of proposed new laws before those details are settled. Our democracy can only gain from the greater involvement of its citizens, and our country will surely gain from bringing to the twenty-first century the enduring power of the great Conservative theme of ‘Trust the People’.
Our commitments to reform the House of Commons, to involve the public, and to cut the size and cost of government and politics, stand alongside our plans to decentralise power to local government, give authority back to those running our hospitals and schools, and free up the social enterprises we all applaud. They illustrate one of the great decisions to be made at the coming election: whether Britain is going to struggle on with the centralising, target-setting, identity card culture of Labour in office, or embrace the openness, freedom, and the responsibility that comes with participation in which Conservatives have always believed and for which this century calls.
And just as great a decision is how to ensure that the next generation can afford the modern hospitals, world-class universities, high speed rail networks and clean environment on which their quality and standard of life will depend; something that can only be done tomorrow in a country that spends carefully and wisely today. Gordon Brown’s prudence with a purpose turned out to mean profligacy without limit. At this conference we will show how we can get Britain Working, get government budgets under control, and encourage the growing businesses and saving households that will give Britain financial stability and prosperity in the years ahead.
That is why this coming election is one of the most important in our lives; for it is about all these issues and about whether we will have national leadership with the strength, character and directness to deal with them. The country can sense that Gordon Brown and his ministers do not; I believe that if Brown was re-elected next spring, the last traces of hope and optimism and confidence about our national future would drain away.
And I know, from working with David Cameron for the last four years, that there is a great alternative. No one is better equipped to replace dithering with decision, exhaustion with energy, evasion with directness, and a divided government with a new team united in purpose and spirit. I have never had a higher opinion of my colleagues around the Shadow Cabinet table than I have today, and I have never been more certain that in our leader David Cameron we have someone with the steel, the candour, the decisiveness, and the humanity to be the great Prime Minister that we need the next leader of this country to be.
This week in Manchester we will show, in education, in health, in employment, in taxation, that we have the energy and the ideas necessary to lead this country. This week we will begin the campaign to win the general election which must be held within some thirty weeks of now. This week we will place before the country these great decisions about its future, with a programme of trusting the people, giving hope to its economy and providing a Prime Minister who is a leader truly capable of leading.
This week we will show that in a country that is ready for change, there is now a party ready to provide it. This week let us join together in the task of bringing change to our country.