Paul – thank you for inviting me to speak to this Conference today.
From its earliest days, ConHome have for me epitomised the strength, the vibrancy and the passion of the Conservative movement.
It is not an accident that it was the centre-right in British politics, not the left, that – through your website – saw the opportunity that the internet offered.
The free association of free-thinking individuals; the community that comes together independent of central control; the healthy scepticism of imposed dogma. These are the things that make us Conservatives.
And although, very occasionally, you give the Conservative leadership a rough ride, you would be a very dull and unvisited site if you did not.
And the moment our party shuts itself off to new ideas and fresh challenges, the moment we fail to engage with the world as it is – not as it was, or we would like it to be – is the moment we start to fail as a force for Conservative change in our country.
One of the greatest strengths of ConHome – and this Conference agenda demonstrates this – is that you have always from your inception understood that The Conservative Party is not a protest movement or a pressure group or an editorial column.
We Conservatives are a political party that aims to hold power in national and local government, so we can apply Conservative principles in practice to deliver an improvement in people’s lives. That is what we did in previous decades. That is what we have consistently done over the last four years.
Let us not be shy about the scale of the Conservative achievement in office.
We have turned around an economy that was on the brink of bankruptcy – and transformed the international view of Britain from a country people were writing off, to a country people around the world are now talking up. We have the fastest growing major economy in the western world, a reduction in the structural deficit faster than any other in the G7 and a rate of employment now higher than the United States for the first time in 35 years.
Four years ago businesses were leaving our shores to headquarter abroad, and we faced an exodus of wealth creators because of punitive tax rates.
Today, companies are moving to Britain in record numbers, businesses are being created in Britain at record rates – and wealth creators see this as the competitive place to engage in enterprise.
We have achieved this economic turnaround not by listening to the chorus of critics, who told us to spend more, expand the size of the State, grow the public sector workforce – and further mortgage our children’s future with even higher debts.
No – we listened instead to our own Conservative instincts.
- That Britain has to pay its way in the world.
- That you cannot spend what you do not earn.
- That government had got too big, consuming 48 per cent of national income, and had to become smaller.
- That excellent public services can only be afforded on the back of an excelling private sector.
So we cut public spending. We reduced business taxes. We promoted free enterprise and free markets.
Now this long term Conservative economic plan is delivering for Britain with almost 2 million new private sector jobs and rising economic security for all.
That economic achievement would be enough for most Governments – but it has not been enough for us.
Michael Gove’s school reforms are raising educational standards and improving the life chances of millions of our children – he’s the first education secretary for a generation to have the courage to stand up to the vested interests in the unreconstructed teaching unions.
And when it comes to political courage, how about standing before the assembled ranks of the Police Federation and telling them the truth about their out-dated, unacceptable approach to modern policing – that is the calibre of the Conservative Home Secretary we have in Theresa May.
When I first got involved in politics twenty years ago, welfare was a no-go area for Conservatives – it was the exclusive preserve of the left, until Iain Duncan Smith came along and transformed the debate, and challenged the socialist consensus that it was fair to trap hundreds of thousands of people in poverty by condemning them to a lifetime on benefits.
Now the welfare reforms we have pursued are reducing the proportion of workless households to record lows, and we’re cutting the welfare budget taxpayers pay for for the first time in modern history.
And who is the person leading the demand for better standards of care in our NHS? The Conservative Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
Theresa May, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Jeremy Hunt and everyone else who sits around the cabinet table. These are not a randomly selected group of individuals.
We are part of a carefully chosen Conservative team, put together by a strong Prime Minister, David Cameron who has driven all these reforms and without whom they would not have happened.
Now help us develop the next stage of improvements to our economic prospects, our schools, welfare, NHS and security – the next part of our long term economic plan.
More jobs. Lower borrowing. Lower taxes. Less crime. Better school standards. Less welfare. Lower NHS waiting lists. More aid reaching the world’s poorest. Lower net migration. A growing economy.
These are not abstract goals for a Conservative movement – they are the concrete achievements of Conservatives in government.
The title of this Conference today is “Securing A Majority”. I applaud you for your single-minded focus. And let me be very clear: David Cameron, myself, the Conservative party are also very single-minded and focussed on winning that Conservative majority at the General Election in 348 days time.
Because we don’t want our economy to fail again, and our debts to soar again. I don’t want the school reforms to be undone, and immigration to be uncontrolled and welfare to trap millions again in poverty.
We seek Government because our job of improving our nation is not done – and not secure.
And because we are united in our focus on winning that general election, and delivering our long term economic plan, we are very clear-headed, and focussed in how we should respond to these local and European election results.
You know, the media have been predicting for months that the Conservative party would lose its nerve, turn in on itself and have a great row about these election results. You can almost hear the desperate disappointment in the TV studios of the BBC that we have not done that over the last 24 hours.
Quite the reverse – from left and right, from members of the government to leading backbenchers, from the activists on the ground to the professional agents: we have shown discipline and unity, and kept our eyes forward on the big task ahead.
I commiserate with the hard-working Conservative councillors who delivered for their local communities but lost their seats on Thursday night – and I deeply, and sincerely thank them for their service. That sadly happens to all parties when your party is in government.
But I also note that: while we lost councils, we won councils too. Kingston Conservatives in office today, delivering better local government for their community. In Cheadle and Hazel Grove in Solihull and Colchester we made real progress against the Liberal Democrats, firmly putting these seats within range for the general election.
We note that our Labour opponents lost seats to us in Birmingham, failed to take from us Trafford, Tamworth, Gloucester, Swindon – the battlegrounds of the general election. On Thursday’s result we would have taken Southampton Itchen from Labour.
And they lost control of Thurrock – their number 2 target seat in the country, the council they won two years ago – the place Ed Miliband especially went to to say that here was proof Labour was “winning back people’s trust and re-gaining ground”.
Labour got 31 per cent of the vote – 8 per cent less than two years ago. For an opposition aspiring to win the election next year, Labour had a miserable set of results.
Not just because their leader does not appeal; not just because their campaign was poorly run; but because what they are offering the British people is a return to more borrowing, more spending, more debt that plunged Britain into economic crisis – and the British people don’t want that; they don’t want to go back to square one.
But the rejection of the Labour Party – and the Liberal Democrats – must not make us Conservatives remotely complacent.
There are too many people who share our values but did not feel able to vote for us on Thursday night.
The results yesterday showed that – and I’m sure the results tomorrow will confirm it.
The modern Conservative Party will never dismiss or belittle the views of the people we aspire to represent.
We should show the highest respect for those who go out and cast their vote – and respect too those who cast their vote for another party. That includes those who voted for UKIP on Thursday.
This is how we will respond to the vote.
We’re going to do what I believe the public wants us to do – listen, respond, and deliver.
Listen to the legitimate concerns people have about our economy, about immigration and welfare, about our schools and about Europe.
Respond to the anger justifiably felt with answers.
And then deliver with an economic plan that provides the security that families crave.
It’s a very simple message
Listen ,respond, deliver.
That is the right thing to do if we are serious about winning that Conservative majority next year. For one thing is clear: there is no tide of change towards the Labour Party.
We’re the ones who have to provide answers. And we’ll do that by working through our long term economic plan.
Digesting yesterday’s local council results, anticipating Sunday’s European results, here are five lessons we take on board.
First, the economy is at the centre of the debate about our country’s future – it will be at the centre of the election and people want an economic recovery for everyone.
We’ve been through an incredibly tough period – the 7 per cent contraction of GDP is more than a statistic: our country has been made poorer, many people lost their jobs, many more feared they might lose their jobs; incomes have been squeezed.
We’ve endured, as a result of the Great Recession, the most prolonged period of economic insecurity in almost a century.
The idea that this could have no impact on our national politics is fanciful.
But not in the way many assumed.
People’s understandable anxiety about some of the difficult decisions we’ve had to take to recover has not led to an automatic increase in support for the principal opposition, the Labour party, as might have been the case in the past. People are not fools. They know Labour’s responsibility; they can see they have not repented; they are sure they would repeat all the same mistakes.
So the anxiety, and the economic insecurity, has expressed itself in support for other political parties, especially UKIP.
Labour’s anti-business agenda of closing Britain off to the world, curbing overseas investment, fixing prices, regulating incomes, waging war on enterprise, is a disastrous return to a Britain of economic decline.
We must reject that – make the argument for free markets, for business and for enterprise.
Our response must be to deliver on our economic plan that will address those anxieties with more jobs and better living standards, and provide the economic security people want.
We must redouble our efforts to ensure this is an economic recovery for all – not for any one section of the population or any one part of the country as we saw under the last Government.
We want more jobs across Britain. More people on low and middle incomes taken out of tax. More opportunity for all.
That is my unrelenting focus. An economy that works for everyone.
Second, we need to take the public anger about issues like immigration, jobs and welfare – and deliver answers that work.
At the heart of it is an issue of fairness – a fairness I think Conservatives understand much better than the left.
It’s not a fairness that demands equality of outcome – that’s what Labour politicians call for, and they only add to the feeling of injustice.
It’s a fairness – an innate British sense of fair play – that says there should be a relationship between what you put in and what you get out.
A welfare system where you can sit at home and make only scant effort to look for work, while living off the benefits that your neighbour pays for by going out to work and paying taxes, is not fair.
A welfare system where you work that extra hour longer than the person working next to you, but keep only 2 or 3 pence of each extra pound you earn is not fair.
The welfare system where an 18 year old can go straight onto the dole, collect housing benefit and get their own place, while their classmate in work can’t begin to afford to leave home on the wages they’re being paid, is not fair.
We have the answers. This year, new requirements on the long term unemployed to do community work and visit the job centre for daily signing on.
A Universal Credit where it always pays to work. No automatic entitlement to benefits for 18 years olds not prepared to learn the skills for a world of work. A cap on welfare payments.
On immigration, controls on the number of non-Europeans entering the country. New rules that say European migrants cannot just move and automatically claim benefits.
Proposals to renegotiate our membership of the European Union to make the right to free movement what it should be: the right to move for work.
We have to implement these new laws like the Immigration Act. Show people we can deliver. Prove to a sceptical public it works.
Turn anger into answers.
The third lesson is about Europe. People feel cheated by the political classes. They were told they were joining an economic community and they ended up in a political union.
They were promised a say on further integration, and the integration took place without their consent.
The EU was supposed to make our country more prosperous, but the taxes and burdens it imposes risks pricing our continent out of the world economy.
So I understand why the public are sceptical of politicians bearing new promises.
It is our task over the next year to convince them that we will deliver. That the decisive In-Out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU will happen.
David Cameron could not have been clearer. The Conservatives will not form a Government, he will not be the Prime Minister, unless that referendum is assured.
We’ve left ourselves no wriggle room. We need to convince the public of that.
We need them to understand that the only what that referendum on the EU will be achieved is with the Conservatives in Government. That it requires David Cameron and not Ed Miliband as Prime Minister.
We should stop complaining that the public don’t believe us on our referendum pledge, and instead work harder to make sure they do.
And every Conservative Minister, MP, and Candidate should help us to do that.
The fourth lesson we should learn after these results is that the public are looking for a voice in the north against Labour.
We did well in the last general election to win seats in Lancashire and West Yorkshire – but not well enough. We want to win more.
Our success in holding councils like Trafford in Greater Manchester – the council seats we won in Pendle, Calder Valley and Cheadle on Thursday – show that when the Conservatives are on the ground delivering for northern communities, we can succeed.
But there remain too many places where we are not on the ground – and what’s clear from the results in places from Rotheram to Sunderland is that local people feel ignored by local Labour parties who have taken their support for granted.
That’s an opportunity for us. We need to develop a convincing economic answer to the disparities between north and south in our country. Our economic plan must deliver for all.
But the chink in the armour of the northern Labour fiefdoms has been exposed. The public want something better. We should set ourselves the long term goal of being that alternative.
The fifth and final lesson I take from these results is this.
In a vibrant, noisy democracy like ours, no one hands elections to you on a plate. You have to go out and work hard for them; put in the campaigning hours; talk to the people you aspire to represent.
We’ve got a great campaign team now. Contrast the consistent professional, focused election campaign we’ve just fought with the shambolic tour of the Labour leader.
Look how the Conservatives in Kingston went door to door, night after night, to unseat complacent Liberal Democrats.
See, as I have seen, how the two Conservative MPs in Swindon – Justin Tomlinson and Robert Buckland – and the Conservative council led (Mr Miliband) by David Renard – work so hard for their community. You will understand how they retained the trust of the local community.
We have to work incredibly hard over the next 348 days. Harder than this party has worked for a generation.
We have a simple message: we have a long term economic plan that will build a recovery for all; Labour would destroy it all.
We are the team that can deliver.
In the end, only two people can be Prime Minister after the next election.
David Cameron, who has answers to the anger you feel.
Or Ed Miliband, who refuses to learn from the mistakes Labour made, and so would repeat them all – and ruin our economy again.
Cameron or Miliband.
An economic plan that delivers with us – or economic ruin under Labour.
A vote on Europe with us – or more Europe and no say under Labour.
That’s the choice at the election.
And a vote for anyone other than the Conservatives is a vote for Miliband.
Last Thursday, on the day of the elections, Nigel Farage sent out an email to voters saying “today is your free hit” against the political establishment.
“Your free hit” he said.
Well, there’s no free hit in a general election.
You and your family live with the consequences for years afterwards.
Let Labour in and live with the consequences of lost jobs, lower incomes, higher welfare, more immigration, poor education, more European integration.
Or support the Conservatives and a long term plan for prosperity and security and a Britain that is in charge of its own destiny.
That is the choice. Let’s work hard to make it understood.
I’m off to Newark now to deliver leaflets and support the election of the first of the new Conservative MPs who will help us deliver that plan.
Come and join me.