Your Excellency, Chief Rabbi, Rabbonim, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for making me so welcome.
Since becoming Leader of the Conservative Party I’ve spoken at the Norwood dinner in London, the Community Security Trust in Manchester, and the British Board of Deputies’ annual event.
But this is the Mount Everest of community events.
I think I’m the first Conservative to gingerly reach its summit in fourteen years.
Now I can claim some Jewish ancestry.
My great-grandfather was a Levita – who came to Britain in the 19th century.
But I’m afraid this is nowhere near enough to qualify for membership of the community.
Of course, I did seven years working at Carlton Communications for Michael Green.
One of my main responsibilities was telling him what happened to his share price every morning.
But apparently, despite the considerable dangers this involved, it carries absolutely no weight with the rabbinic authorities.
Nevertheless, I have always been treated graciously and kindly by your community.
I am a great admirer of the Jewish people and of your extraordinary achievements.
Of course, people always reel off a list of artists, politicians and scientists - and their amazing achievements are worth recognising.
But to me the real contribution of Judaism is its insight into what makes a healthy society.
As some of you know in my speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel last week, I quoted the famous phrase of Rabbi Hillel, summarising Judaism in one sentence:
“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Law; the rest is the explanation; go and learn”
Tonight, I’d like to quote his other famous statement, where he says:
“If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?”
This summarises the urgent, impatient, selfless moral compulsion to change the world for the better which is at the heart of the Jewish way of life.
It could also serve as the motto for the extraordinary organisation that is Jewish Care.
You have created and funded something that goes way beyond what would be expected of a community of around a quarter of a million people.
And I’ve had the privilege of seeing some of your work at first hand.
I’ve visited the head office and day centre in Golder’s Green...
... the residential care home for those with severe physical disabilities...
... and the Holocaust Survivors Centre.
And in a few weeks I'm visiting the new wellbeing centre in Edgware, inspired by Marcia Feldman and others to address mental health issues.
Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Overall yours is an organisation with a budget of £46m providing care and support to over 7,000 people every week.
You offer care to older people, people with mental health problems and dementia, adults with a physical or sensory disability and Holocaust survivors.
You even care for the carers - giving them help and support to carry on when it all gets too much.
All this has been going on for over 150 years since the formation of the Jewish Board of Guardians for the relief of the poor.
Tonight I am here to salute you and say: May it continue for another 150 years.
I believe the work of Jewish Care is of profound importance not only because of what it achieves day to day, but also because of what it represents.
It makes a statement about you - about all of you.
A statement that says we have obligations to each other…
… we have a responsibility to those in need…
… we are part of a community…
… we believe that there is such a thing as society, and we know that it is not the same thing as the state.
I don’t want to get too political tonight.
But I think we can probably all agree about something.
The Left in politics talk too much about the state.
And the Right sometimes talks too much about the individual.
But what really matters is what is in between – society.
And that’s what I do want to talk about tonight.
Not everything can be achieved through coercion by the state or competition between individuals.
In fact, many of the challenges we face as a country can be tackled through the multitude of acts of voluntary co-operation that makes up what we call society.
The Chief Rabbi puts this beautifully in his book “The Home We Build Together” when he says:
“We create co-operation not by getting you to do what I want, but by joining together in a moral association that turns You and I into ‘We’.
I help you, you help me, because there are things we care about together.”
My passion about this subject has been brought into sharp focus by my personal experiences.
My eldest son Ivan was born with a very severe form of epilepsy and cerebral palsy.
Samantha and I discovered this soon after his birth.
We always knew that there was a risk that his life would be short and that he would only have a limited experience of the world.
But for the time that we had with him, we wanted to make sure he was at the very centre of our family life.
We wanted to care for Ivan at home.
We changed our house so he could be properly looked after.
We found excellent carers who could support us round the clock.
Our families were incredible.
And, of course, we benefited hugely from the support of the state.
We totally depended on the National Health Service.
I’ll never forget the dashes to A&E, the nights on the ward, the sympathy of nurses, and the professionalism of doctors.
This treatment Ivan received in the NHS was exemplary and could in truth only have been provided by and organisation with its scale and expertise.
As carers, we sometimes needed a break.
Here we were lucky enough to come across a wonderful voluntary organisation called Helen House.
It was the first ever children’s hospice and it was set up by a nun, Sister Frances.
Entirely dependent on private donations, it provides respite and care for children with life-shortening conditions and their families.
When we left Ivan at Helen house for a few days we knew that he would be properly and lovingly cared for - it was an absolute lifeline.
My experience makes me hugely optimistic about the way in which families, voluntary organisations and the state can work together to care for the needy in our community.
I think that each element of this equation is vital and interdependent.
They are tied together by the moral impetus of the ‘golden rule’ – by the idea of social responsibility.
But I think that in recent years we have got the balance wrong.
There has been too much faith in the state – and not enough support for society, or the family.
I want to change that.
Let’s start with the importance of the family.
As the Chief Rabbi put it in another of his books:
“The family is not one social institution among others, nor is it simply one lifestyle choice among many.
It is the best means that we have yet discovered for nurturing future generations, and for enabling children to grow in a matrix of stability and love.
It is where we acquire the skills and language of relationships.
It is where we learn to handle the inevitable conflicts within any human group.
It is where we first take the risk of giving and receiving love.
Nothing else so shapes us and what we have the chance of becoming.
For any society, the family is the crucible of the future.”
We need to take that lesson to heart and so we shouldn’t be surprised that when the family breaks down, society can break down too.
Here in Britain we’ve managed to achieve the combination of the highest rate of family breakdown in Europe…
… the worst record on teenage pregnancy in Europe…
… and according to UNICEF we’ve got the unhappiest children in the whole of the developed world.
But what is our response?
Do we recognise marriage in the tax system?
Do we pay couples more to live apart than to live together?
Of course it’s not all about money or even mostly about money.
It’s about everything …
… from the hours we work to the lack of flexibility in working them …
….from the shortage of childcare to the commercialisation - and frankly sexualisation - of childhood.
But the real point is this – there has never been a greater need for an all out crusade to support families in Britain.
And that is what I intend to lead.
The sense of social responsibility learned from the family unit also finds expression in the wider community through voluntary organisations.
They are driven by entrepreneurial, inventive, generous community minded people.
Yet we condescendingly call these organisations the “third sector”.
Throughout history many of the most pressing social problems have been identified and tackled first by voluntary action.
The first childrens’ hospice.
The first homeless shelter.
The first drug rehab.
And yes the first organisation to provide care in a Jewish environment.
All provided first by the voluntary sector, not the government…
…by society, not the state.
To me the voluntary sector is the first sector.
And today those out there on the frontline these organisations are often the real experts on how to deal with social problems.
Who knows more about homelessness: the Department for Communities and Local Government, or the Big Issue?
Who knows more about how to get people off drugs: a civil servant sitting in Whitehall or an ex-drug addict running his own rehab scheme?
So it is time for government to start trusting the voluntary sector rather than smothering it in targets and bureaucracy.
What they should be saying…
…to the youth club teaching kids excluded from school…
…to the drug rehab centre with the best record of helping people straighten out their lives…
…or to the faith-based charity providing healthy living advice…
… Do you know what, our record in government is pretty lousy, yours is great – so you should be in charge.
So any government I lead will give the voluntary sector longer term contracts ….
… more trust…
…more of the money that government itself spends and all too often wastes…
… and above all more control.
Some people say to me…
…as they survey the current scene…
… an economy in recession…
…a society severely challenged...
… and a political system in the throes of a nervous breakdown …
… why on earth do you want this job?
Maybe there have been better times to run a political party and stand for office.
But I hold close three simple thoughts.
First, whatever our problems this is still an incredible country, with remarkable talents, and a proud history - some of whose best chapters I am quite convinced still have not been written.
Second, a crisis should always be an opportunity.
Yes, the coffers are empty and the public are angry - and many despair about grappling with our problems.
But it is at these moments that real change can be made.
It’s because we can’t go on doing things in the old ways that we absolutely have to discover new and better ones.
But third, and most of all, I am an optimist about human nature and human beings.
When you give people more freedom, more control of their lives…
…they respond by doing the right things, not the wrong ones.
So let’s see a new age – when we say goodbye to big government and welcome instead the active citizen, the big society, the recognition that the best things in life are about ‘we’, not ‘me’.
And tonight, as we celebrate what you have achieved in Jewish Care…
… when we think of what individuals can do when they come together in a free society to serve others…
…let us agree that there is no challenge we cannot meet, no problem we cannot solve, no crisis we cannot deliver ourselves from…
… if we remember the call of John F Kennedy and ask not what our country can do for us, but we can do for our country.
That call should be as potent today as ever – and your community in all that you do has shown the way.