Grant Shapps MP is Conservative Party Chairman.
I love Birmingham. This city is a marvel: home to the Balti triangle, Britain’s most popular Symphony Orchestra, and more canals than Venice. This is the birth-place of gas lighting; the first English translation of the Bible; and the first UK hydrogen fill-up point for cars. Not just a cultural powerhouse, but the economic engine of the West Midlands, and we should feel hugely proud of what the people of Birmingham are achieving. Our economic plan is helping them to create jobs and regeneration. Jobs are up 93,000 in the West Midlands, since we entered office. That is 93,000 more people with the security of a pay-packet, able to save up for a nest egg, and feel confidence in the future.
I love our Conference, too. It’s been one of my favourite weeks of the calendar ever since I first joined our Party in 1990. You can’t beat it for seeing friends, debating, and enjoying the odd pint or two. But this year is different. We have a mission. We’re here to campaign for the future our country needs. That’s why, today, hundreds of Party Members and Team2015 volunteers will be joining me in Birmingham Northfield, as part of #RoadTrip2015. We will be canvassing for Rachel Maclean, a local businesswoman and our brilliant prospective MP there.
Some say: “Why bother? Why keep trekking back to Conference each year?” Partly, it is the thrill and the therapy and the raw theatre of it. I remember the great white-knuckle speeches of Major, Duncan-Smith and Heseltine, the hilarious quips of Hague, the tub-thumpers from Thatcher, Howard and Widdecombe.
But above all, what keeps us coming back is friendship and loyalty. Canvassing by yourself on a damp evening can be lonely. Believe me, I’ve done it in one form or another for 24 years: first as a wannabe council candidate, then as a hopeful Parliamentary candidate, then eventually as an MP. That’s why it’s important that we come together like this. Because, when we unite, we are reminded how the Conservative and Unionist Party is a mass movement: young and old, North and South, public and private sector. We are reminded that we have a great future ahead of us too.
Party Membership is up this year, rising for the first time in a decade. Even better: more Members are attending our Conference than have done so for many years. And there are all kinds of new and revolutionary ways for people to get involved, from working with your local association to joining our 25,000 strong army of Team2015 volunteers.
This year, we have a simple message to deliver. First, let’s tell people about the real risks of a Labour Government:
- Risk One: your job. Every Labour Government leaves more Brits unemployed.
- Risk Two: your living standards. Ed Miliband wants to tax your job, your pension, and your home.
- Risk Three: our economy. Labour have no credible plan to pay down the deficit they left. This means they would put interest rates at risk, pushing up the cost of your mortgage, and hurting investment.
Second, let’s tell people about our positive, Conservative vision for Britain. Not the Labour vision of taxes, and price controls, and wasteful spending. No, let’s tell people about the healthier, more confident Britain we can build together. Full employment. Lower taxes. Home ownership. Academy schools. A Conservative Britain that stands tall and respects hard work. A new prosperity that people can believe in.
Third, let’s tell people why we care. Let’s tell people how Britain is great, not because of its grand old buildings, or because of the money that Whitehall spends. No: Britain is great because of our values. Education. Family. Justice. Democracy. Hard work. The rule of law. The British values that say: we won’t turn a blind eye to people sleeping rough. We won’t ignore sink schools failing our children. We won’t leave millions trapped on benefits. Because our heart is bigger than that, and we can do better.
That is our job in the months ahead. As Chairman, I want to thank you for everything you do for our Party, and look forward to meeting you in the next few days. Welcome to Conference.