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David Cameron: The real choice in British politics

Some people say there are no real choices in politics anymore. They think it doesn't matter who you vote for, because whoever gets in, they won't make a difference. Those people are wrong. It does matter. It will make a difference. Especially at this election and at this time.

There is a choice for the voters. It's a choice between the future and the past. A choice between change to get the country back on its feet and five more years of Gordon Brown. A choice between a weak and divided Government and a strong, united Conservative team. A choice between a National Health Service that's clogged up by red tape and targets and an NHS where nurses and doctors are free to give patients proper care and attention.

A choice between lower debt, efficient spending so we create jobs and get the economy moving and high debt and wasteful spending that puts the recovery at risk. A choice between a broken society with the crime it brings and a strong society where we support families, rebuild community and back responsibility.

A choice between broken politics with a centralising, secretive, unaccountable state and a new politics of openness, accountability and power to people. A choice between armed forces that have been short-changed and neglected and troops that are always revered, admired and equipped with everything they need. A choice between a country that looks smaller and smaller on the world stage and a Britain that stands tall once again.

That is what this election will be about. Big choices. A big difference. And now with just a few weeks to go it is up to us, in this party, to come together, work together, fight together like never before for a bright future of change, optimism and hope, and to do everything in our power to stop the disaster of five more years of Gordon Brown.

Let's take just one day of this failing Labour Government - yesterday. The housing Minister said having your home repossessed "can be the best option" - what planet is he living on?

Then Peter Mandelson blew apart Gordon Brown's precious dividing line by admitting that Labour's cuts would begin this year after all. And - not content with one gaffe in a day - he also admitted that he still wanted Britain to join the Euro. Are this Government the only people in the country who still think that would be a good idea? Our deficit and debt are bad enough without the straightjacket of the euro. My friends I can tell you this: if I am elected for as long as I am prime minister the United Kingdom will never join the euro.

<h2>ALEX SALMOND</h2>

And here's a quick word for the man who thinks this election is all about him. No, I'm not talking about Gordon Brown. I'm talking about someone you're going to see all over the TV and radio over the next few months, plugging himself at every opportunity.

So let me say this to Alex Salmond: This election that's coming - it will be a British general election. It's about the future this United Kingdom must build together. It's not about you and your separatist agenda. And though we don't know what will happen in this election - what the outcome will be, who will form the next government, there is one thing that is absolutely, one hundred per cent guaranteed: Alex, it will not be you.

<h2>RESPECT FOR SCOTLAND </h2>

But let me make something else clear today. Yes, Alex Salmond and I have big differences. Yes, there's little he says that I agree with. Yes, I will fight him every inch of the way whenever he tries to break the precious Union between our countries. And no, I won't be bidding for one of his lunches.

But if we win that election, then I promise you this: I will be a Prime Minister who works tirelessly for the whole of the UK. We must repair the relationship between the British Government and the Scottish Government.

It's a disgrace that during one of the worst economic crises in our modern history, when the foundations of the Scottish economy were rocked, Gordon Brown didn't meet Alex Salmond for almost a year.

And it's shameful that during one of the most emotionally-charged moments in our recent history, when the Lockerbie bomber was released from jail to return home to Libya where he still is today, the Scottish Government and British Government refused to cooperate.

That would not happen on my watch. If elected, one of the first things I will do is come to Scotland and meet with the First Minister. That will signal the beginning of a new relationship, a fresh start, based on mutual respect. It will be good for Scotland, good for Britain and good for the Union.

And I will also work to make the devolution settlement stronger. It should be natural for us to want devolution to work. Not just because it is a weapon against the Nationalists' obsession with independence. But because devolution should be central to our whole political approach.

Today we are the party that passionately believes that local is best, the party that knows that the more power people have, the more responsible they become, the more fulfilled they are, we are the party of decentralisation.

So yes, we do take seriously the Calman Commission's recommendations to give more powers to Holyrood. The Commission is right to say devolution is working well but could be better. That's why I have committed to producing our own White Paper and legislation to deal with the issues raised by Calman. And I don't want anyone to doubt this.

We have made our choice. Whatever the outcome in Scotland at the next election, a Conservative Government will govern the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, with respect. Whoever is Scotland's First Minister, I would be a Prime Minister who acts on the voice of the Scottish people and works for consent and consensus. And whenever the precious Union between our two countries is under threat, this Party - the Party of the Union - will rise to the challenge and defend it with all our heart and all our strength.

<h2>SORTING OUT LABOUR'S MESS</h2>

Of course whoever wins the next election will have massive, urgent tasks to deal with. Afghanistan. The deficit. Getting the economy moving.

But here's the simple truth. Labour's mistakes have left Britain with two great problems. A broken economy and a broken society. The problem with the economy is immediate and short-term. But the problem with society is more fundamental and long-term.

Sorting out Gordon Brown's mistakes on the economy will be painful and we will need to get on with it straight away. There will be a high price to pay for Gordon Brown's spending, borrowing, empire-building. All those quangos, all that bureaucracy, all that waste.

The cuts that are coming: make no mistake - they are Gordon Brown's cuts. That is his inheritance to Britain. But we know what has to be done. We have had to sort out Labour's mess many times before. We will roll our sleeves up, sort it out again and we will get through it. With the Conservatives in charge of the economy, Britain will get back to growth.

But mending our broken society, in many ways that is going to be harder and it is going to take longer. But the values that bind a society together and make it worth living in are more precious than pounds and pence. How we live, how we bring up our children, how we look after our old, how we live together in our cities, towns and villages - how we behave towards each other, this is what defines us as a society and it is how we will be judged.

That is why I wanted to change this party so much, to bring all the wisdom and all the good sense and all the decent values that have enabled us in our history to do so much good for our country, I wanted us to apply those virtues to the long term mission that is closest to my heart: mending our broken society.

Do not tell me that we - the party that abolished slavery, the party of Winston Churchill, the party of One Nation - cannot or should not do it.

Poverty. Inequality. Blocked opportunity. Crime. Anti-social behaviour. Disorder and incivility on our streets. These are the issues on the table today.

So yes we will have to deal with the shocking economic mess that Labour leave us. But that is just the start of the work we have to do. People don't just want more money in their pocket; they want a better quality of life. They want a sense of community. They want better public services.

<h2>NHS </h2>

And we must start with the NHS. Of course the NHS in Scotland is devolved but I believe it is a powerful symbol of the strength of our Union. We built it together. Its creator was a Welshman. The Prime Minister who oversaw its birth was an Englishman. Some of its finest doctors have been trained in Scotland's great medical schools: Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. So our commitment to strengthen the United Kingdom is matched with a commitment to strengthen the NHS.

I've made that commitment not for political reasons but for personal reasons and personal beliefs. I know exactly how important the NHS is when you're family's relying on it - and I want all families to have that security, always. When you're worrying about your health or the health of the people closest to you, the last thing you want is a whole bunch of extra worries, the kind of things other people in other countries do have to worry about, am I insured? Are the kids covered for this treatment or that treatment? Can I afford the care we need? No. No.

I will not put that kind of burden on Britain's families and that's why I say that we will keep the NHS free at the point of use, with treatment according to medical need not the ability to pay. That security and peace of mind is why I love the NHS.

We have made our choice. We will protect the NHS. We will spend more on it, not less. Our aim is to improve it for everyone. And today it is this party, the Conservative Party, that is the party of the NHS, and that's the way it's going to stay.

<h2>PROGRESS</h2>

The party of the NHS. Labour used to claim that title.

In fact, they used to claim a lot of titles. That they were the party of fairness. That they were the party of progress. That they were for the many, not the few. But after thirteen years, hundreds of initiatives, thousands of laws, millions of words, billions borrowed, trillions spent - what do we see?

A Labour Government - a Labour Government - that's pushed almost a million more people into deep poverty.

A Labour Government - a Labour Government - that's dumped almost a million young people onto the scrapheap of unemployment.

A Labour Government - yes a Labour Government - that made the rich richer and the poorest poorer.
How Labour can look the people of this country in the eye today and say they are the party of progress - the party for the many not the few - I simply do not know.

They have failed and it is now down to us, the modern Conservative Party, to fight for the hopes that Labour dashed, to fight for the people Labour let down, to fight to build that fairer society that Labour promised but never delivered.

<h2>MODERN CONSERVATIVES </h2>

That is why this party needed to change. Of course it's obvious that any political party, to be successful, has to be in touch with the modern world, with modern issues, with the country it seeks to govern. It's obvious that to have any hope of putting our values and beliefs into practice we had to be a majority movement, not a minority sect.

So the changes we've made over these past four years: more women candidates; more black and minority ethnic candidates; social action in our constituencies; open primaries; championing gay equality and green politics, these changes were vital because we will never be the party of One Nation unless we represent and speak for the whole nation.

But there is a deeper reason we had to change and modernise, and I want to explain what that reason is. It's not about our party; it's about our country. Our country needed a modern Conservative Party to apply the right values and the best ideas to the problems of today and the challenges of tomorrow. Our country needed a modern Conservative Party to apply Conservative means: encouraging responsibility; strengthening families; giving power to people not the state, to the progressive ends that after thirteen years of Labour failure so desperately demand attention: fighting poverty; improving well-being; making opportunity more equal.

Conservative means. Progressive ends. That's what we are about. That is why this party had to change.

We had to change because when you have a state education system, after thirteen years of Labour government, that allows more boys from one English public school to get three A's at A-Level than all the poorest boys in England's state schools put together, who else is going to give them a chance?

We had to change because when the millions of good people who work in our public services, after thirteen years of Labour government, after all that money and all that talk, feel demoralised, unrecognised, disrespected, who else is going to give them back their pride?

We had to change because when the poorest people in Britain, after thirteen years of Labour government, still get ripped off and exploited by loan sharks, by credit card companies, by businesses with no sense of social responsibility, who else is going to protect them?

We had to change because when you have parents, after thirteen years of Labour government, who worry about the kind of society their children are growing up in, worry about the commercialisation, worry about the sexualisation, who just want someone - anyone - to bring just a bit of restraint and responsibility to the market, who else is going to do it, if not us?

That is why we had to modernise; and it is only because we modernised that we now have the chance to change our country too. We made our choice. We changed our party. And I want to thank every single one of you for the faith and the determination and the passion you have shown in making this modern Conservative Party a force for good that we can all be proud of.

<h2>RADICAL </h2>

But the scale of the problems our country faces means that we need more than a modern Conservative party. We need a radical Conservative Party too. Because after thirteen years of a Labour government that has spent too much, centralised too much, bureaucratised too much, legislated too much, regulated too much, bossed everyone around too much, a Labour government that has done too much of everything except the one thing they were supposed to do which was bring this country economic efficiency combined with social justice, after thirteen years of all that, turning things around will require radical change from what has gone before.

If we win the election, we are not going to sit back, get comfortable in our ministerial chairs and enjoy the chauffeur-driven cars. We are going to come in and from day one start attacking the great challenges this country faces with a radical zeal.

Just look at our plans for welfare. It's shocking today that some people talk about five million people living on out of work benefits as if it's just some un-alterable fact of life. We know that there are millions who could be working but aren't. So we're going to take that twisted logic that rewards idleness and punishes hard work and turn it on its head. If you really can't work, we'll look after you. If you want a job but can't find one, we'll help you.

We're going to remove the mad restrictions that mean money can't be spent even if the end result is a saving for the taxpayer. And when we've freed up that money, we will then invite commercial specialists and the voluntary sector to come into our welfare system and give the unemployed the intensive, personal help they need, paying them by the results they achieve in getting people off benefits and into work.

Do you know that today if you are on incapacity benefit for two years or longer you are more likely to die than get a job? Well why not use the thousands of pounds, even the tens of thousands of pounds that we waste year after year leaving people trapped on benefit to help them get a job? That's what a family would do. That's what a business would do. That's what we will do.

But we're not just going to be radical on welfare. School reform. Police reform. Drug rehabilitation. Reducing re-offending. Families, parenting and early years support. In all these areas and more we plan big changes, based on clear principles and a common approach.

Open up the system to new providers with new ideas. Bust open the state monopoly and stop pretending that only the government and the public sector have the answers. Get rid of the centralised bureaucracy that wastes money, saps morale and crushes innovation.

Let those providers, new or old, state, private or voluntary get on the job of giving people a great service. And pay them by the results they achieve.

Some people will say "you can't do things like that. You can't afford to take those risks." I say with so little money and so much failure we can't afford not to. The big question in British politics today is not: "who do you trust to spend some more of your money?" That was Gordon Brown's question. Gordon, it's over. There isn't any money left. You've spent it all.

No, the question today is this: "how do we make things better without just spending money?" And this is the question to which we, the modern radical Conservative party have the answers. I defy anyone to look at our agenda - I mean properly look at it - and claim that we are timid or complacent in the face of the big challenges this country faces.

No, we have made our choice. We will be radical reformers. We won't just cut the budget deficit; we will cut the democratic deficit. Decentralising power - giving people the chance to make change happen through local referendums, giving neighbourhoods the right to run parks and public places, giving local councils unprecedented freedom to do what they think is right for their area, creating powerful directly elected mayors and provosts to bring civic pride and leadership to our biggest cities.

Making government transparent by publishing everything we can online for everyone to see, the things government spends money on, the contracts it awards, the salaries it pays, the performance of public services. Making politics accountable by giving people the right to fire their MP; clamping down on secret lobbying; giving Parliament back its power.

These plans are seriously bold; seriously radical. I promise you: if we achieve even half of our ambitions, it will be the biggest change in how the country is run for more than a generation.

<h2>CONSERVATIVE CHANGE </h2>

This is the choice that I have made, and it's the choice you made four years ago when you voted for me as your leader. Back then we set our course as a party. To modernise - to believe in social responsibility; to care about well-being and not just wealth; to enable people, families and communities to lift themselves up and make the most of their lives. And to be radical too - in economic reform, social reform, political reform.

The only thing that's changed since then is that the times we live in demand a modern, radical Conservative approach more than ever.

So if people want to know why they should vote Conservative at the next election, tell them this. We need to sort out the economy. We need to mend our broken society. We need to change politics.

Everyone knows that another five years of Gordon Brown can't possibly solve these problems. But a modern, radical Conservative government will. No, we will not go back to the old Conservative Party. No, we will not play it safe when the country's problems are so great.

I have fought for four hard years to change the Conservative Party and put it on the right track. Now I will bring every ounce of energy, passion and devotion I have to changing Britain and putting our country back on the right track. Because this is a time for new solutions to the old problems. This is a time for big ideas, not small pledges; for the future not the past. This is the year for change, not more of the same.

<h2>QUIET EFFECTIVENESS </h2>

But there's one last thing I want to say. I spoke about this earlier in the week, and I want to repeat what I said, because it's incredibly important and I want everyone to hear it clearly.

I believe it's no coincidence that trust in politics has been destroyed on the watch of a man who believes that politics is the answer to everything. We have had thirteen years of government by initiative, press release and media management and it is literally pointless.

I would rather we attempt big, serious change and fail, than fiddle around with footling, meaningless promises, limping through office and clinging to power for the sake of it.

If we win the election we will get our heads down and get on with implementing the big changes I've spoken about today. You will not see endless relaunches, initiatives, summits - politics and government as some demented branch of the entertainment industry.

You will see a government that understands that there are times it needs to shut up, leave people alone and get on with the job it was elected to do. Quiet effectiveness: that is the style of government to which I aspire.

And I also know that because we believe in trusting people, sharing responsibility, redistributing power: things will go wrong. There will be failures.

But we will not turn that fact of life into the tragedy of Labour's risk-obsessed political culture where politicians never say or do anything that really matters, or really changes anything, for fear of getting some bad headlines. If we do these things that I have said, I believe we will be able to bring about the change the country needs.

<h2>CONCLUSION </h2>

So when you're on that doorstep, or writing that leaflet, or making that phone call, remember this: The Conservative Party is back and it's back where it belongs - in the centre ground of British politics.

The centre ground is not a vague place people cannot picture in their lives - it is their life. It's the school they send their child to. The hospital they visit their mother in. The family they nurture, the community they share, the country they love.

So we will fight this election campaign in a completely different way. Not just trying to win back those who voted for us before and went away, but reaching out to those who've never voted Tory before and saying to them:

Yes, we have changed, yes we are a modern, progressive Conservative party, yes, we have bold and radical plans to change our country and succeed where Labour failed, so come and join us - for a fairer, safer, greener country where opportunity is more equal. For a stronger, better, brighter future where our best days lie ahead of us, not behind.

That is our choice, that is the change, that is the modern, progressive vision the country is crying out for.

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