Text of speech delivered by Theresa May to ConservativeHome’s Victory 2015 conference:
We Will Win by Being the Party for All
Thank you, Nadhim, for that kind introduction. And thank you, Tim, for inviting me to speak here today. I remember when Conservative Home was founded, eight years ago, and we both campaigned against the proposal to end the right of party members to elect the leader. Since then Con Home has gone from strength to strength, and I’m looking forward to seeing you replicate that success as the Comment Editor of The Times.
Today’s event is all about a choice of leadership – between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. And I know there have been some fascinating contributions about how we get that much-needed Conservative majority in 2015. So thank you to everyone involved in making today’s event happen.
The Three Pillars of Conservatism
It’s often said that politics is about public service, and of course it is. But to me, it’s about much more than that. Politics is a passion. A passion to make a difference. To change lives for the better. To stand up for people who work hard and want to get on in life. To help people to help themselves and their families. To help those in genuine need.
That’s something Conservatives feel instinctively. You don’t help people by handing out welfare, but by helping them to help themselves. You don’t make a better society by building a bigger state, but by supporting families and communities. You don’t get economic growth by spending more and more money, but by getting behind the country’s wealth creators. That’s something only Conservatives understand – and it’s why getting a majority Conservative government, led by David Cameron, is vital in 2015.
We’re going to have to fight hard to make sure that happens, because times are tough. We’re dealing with an unprecedented debt crisis. Growth is slow, not just at home but across the West. We’re taking difficult and painful decisions, and the opinion polls reflect that. But we can feel sorry for ourselves, or we can dust ourselves down, remember what we’re doing is in the national interest, and get on with the job.
We’re dealing with the deficit. We’re reforming public services. We’re making our economy more competitive. The number of people in work is up. Unemployment is down. Waiting times are down. The deficit is down. Crime is down. Immigration is down. We are delivering.
But to win, we must remember our attributes as a party when we’re at our best and our strongest. We’re at our best when we don’t try to recreate the past but adapt our policies to the needs of the day – while continuing to root those policies in our values. We’re at our strongest when anyone and everyone can feel the Conservative Party is for them – when we’re the party for all. We win when we stand for the values of the British people – respect, fair play, generosity, enterprise, aspiration.
Respect for everyone, regardless of their background or culture. Fair play, breaking up the concentration of power, condemning irresponsible behaviour at all levels of society, and confronting vested interests. Reflecting the generosity that makes us a nation of volunteers, people who give to those in need. Unleashing the enterprise that makes us a global, trading nation always looking to do business around the world. And supporting the aspiration to be the best we can, to get on in life and give our children a better future.
Those values are encapsulated in what I call the three pillars of Conservatism: security, freedom and opportunity.
Security: More than just Law and Order
I’ll start with security because we know that without order, there can be neither freedom nor real opportunity. That’s what makes us Conservatives, and it’s one of the differences between us and liberals and those who put abstract rights above all else. It’s why we’ve always been the party of law and order, the party that believes in controlling immigration, and the party trusted with defence and national security.
“But how can we be the party of law and order when we’re cutting police spending?” some people ask. And it’s true, government spending on the police is going down by twenty per cent over four years. But we’re reforming the police – difficult reform like changes to pay and conditions – and crime is down by ten per cent since the election. We’re proving that you don’t have to be the party of big spending to be the party of law and order.
But being tough on law and order requires more than police reform. Prison works, but with most prisoners on short sentences reoffending within a year, prison needs to work better. That’s why Chris Grayling’s rehabilitation reforms are so important.
And we need to stop human rights legislation interfering with our ability to fight crime and control immigration. That’s why, as our last manifesto promised, the next Conservative government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and it’s why we should also consider very carefully our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights and the Convention it enforces. When Strasbourg constantly moves the goalposts and prevents the deportation of dangerous men like Abu Qatada, we have to ask ourselves, to what end are we signatories to the Convention? Are we really limiting human rights abuses in other countries? I’m sceptical. But are we restricting our ability to act in the national interest? Are we conceding that our own Supreme Court is not supreme? I believe we are. So by 2015 we’ll need a plan for dealing with the European Court of Human Rights. And yes, I want to be clear that all options – including leaving the Convention altogether – should be on the table.
But when I talk about security as the first pillar of Conservatism, I don’t just mean we must be strong on law and order, immigration and defence. We also need to offer people security from the other things they worry about. So while we’re absolutely right to reform welfare, we must value the safety net we provide for people who fall upon hard times. While we’re right to cut regulation, we must be proud that Britain has laws protecting people from unfair treatment and injury at work.
And we have to remember that security isn’t just about putting up fences. It’s about helping people to support their families, making communities stronger, and building up society so we don’t always need the state to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.
Freedom from Vested Interests as well as the State
It’s our belief in society that brings me to the second pillar of Conservatism, and that is freedom. The historic Conservative battle with Labour, in which we defend individual liberty against the big state, remains as relevant as ever. We’re taking a million innocent people off the DNA database. We’ve protected trial by jury and cut the time limit for pre-charge detention. And I’m proud that my first legislation scrapped ID cards once and for all.
Freedom is also at the heart of our public service reforms. Freedom for the professionals who run our public services, and freedom for the people who rely upon them. Headteachers, doctors, nurses and police officers all have more discretion to use their professional judgement. Thanks to Michael Gove, parents have more choice over where to send their children to school. Thanks to Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Hunt, patients have more choice about the healthcare they receive.
In future, I expect our reform agenda to become even more radical. Yes, the state should make sure that public services are available to all and free at the point of use. Yes, the state should regulate those services to make sure they’re provided everywhere and offer high standards. But too often the state is a poor provider of services, and its monopoly over the delivery of those services must end. A future Conservative government should therefore go further in increasing the number of charities, companies and co-operatives that deliver frontline services. And if allowing those organisations to make a profit means we have a more diverse supply side and better outcomes, then that is something we should consider with an open mind.
Because that’s the point of these reforms: better outcomes. To those who say people don’t want choice, they just want better services, I say this. Of course people want better services – but choice is how you get them. Why should choice be the preserve of the rich, who can afford to go private? Why is it assumed that wealthy parents and patients are capable of making choices, while nobody else is? It will be left to the Conservatives to break the state monopoly, to
open up public services, and give everybody – not just the rich – the freedom to choose what is right for themselves and their families.
And, by the way, the need to eliminate the deficit makes the need for reform more important, not less. It’s not enough to cut budgets and hope for the best. But if you transform the way services are provided, you can deliver more with less. We’re proving that with police reform. Chris Grayling, Philip Hammond, Iain Duncan Smith, Francis Maude and Eric Pickles are proving it with their reforms as they reduce spending. And, given the state of the public finances, we’ll need to go on proving it for many years into the future.
But it’s not just freedom from the state we need to think about. We need to think, too, about freedom from vested interests. That means taking on trade unions that are resistant to change. And it means speaking up when people have been let down by big bureaucracy, like the appalling absence of care at Mid-Staffordshire Hospital, the treatment of elderly people at care homes like Winterbourne View, or the organised abuse of vulnerable young girls in Derby and Rochdale.
It also requires taking on vested interests in the private sector. Where businesses abuse their market position to keep prices high, we should be prepared to make sure the market works in the public interest. Where companies at the less scrupulous end of the credit industry prey on the poorest and most vulnerable families, we should use the power of the state to stop them. Where banks and other big companies seem to act in the selfish interests of their executives, but not in the interests of their customers, their shareholders or the public, we should be prepared to change our corporate governance laws.
Opportunity: Making the Economy Work for Everybody
This, to me, is a fundamental point, and we mustn’t lose sight of it. We believe in free markets because history has proven them to be the best means by which we spread opportunity to all, regardless of who you are and where you’re from. And opportunity is the third pillar of Conservatism.
But believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes, and it doesn’t mean that capitalism, regardless of the form it takes, is always perfect. Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.
Take the banking industry. George Osborne is implementing the Vickers Report, with retail banking ring-fenced from investment banking and new rules to make sure banks can withstand losses. We’re replacing Labour’s failed system of regulation with proper powers for the Bank of England. And we’ve introduced the bank levy to encourage banks to move to less risky funding profiles.
But the problems with the system go much wider and much deeper than the banking industry. There’s Britain’s over-reliance on financial services. Questions about our productivity and competitiveness. The crisis in our public finances. The inequality between London and the rest of the country. The cost of living. Stalling social mobility. The public’s anger about companies that evade taxes and excessive corporate pay. All too often, the system doesn’t seem to be working for the whole country.
Why is this? To some extent, we’re talking about familiar problems relating to the productivity and competitiveness of our economy. But those problems are now compounded by globalisation and the debt crisis we face.
Make no mistake – the changes we’ve seen in the world economy bring with them enormous opportunities. Rapidly growing markets like India and China are already lucrative for many British businesses, and as the demand for consumer goods and services grows, our opportunities for exports will also grow.
But these countries are competitors as well as markets for our exporters, and we have no God-given right to prosperity. British businesses need to get out into the world and compete, and the British government needs to do everything it can to help them. We have to get our public finances in order, make sure our business taxes are competitive, get our infrastructure into the right condition, educate and train up our workforce and fix the productivity gap between us and our competitors.
If we don’t do these things, we already know what will happen. Low labour costs in Asia have brought down prices for British consumers, but they’ve also led to job losses at home, especially in sectors like manufacturing. And while London has boomed, many parts of Britain have suffered painful deindustrialisation and unemployment. The creative winds of destruction don’t feel quite so exhilarating when they’re sweeping past your factory gates.
The second factor compounding our old problems is the debt crisis. Every country has to pay its way in the world. But for too long, Britain, and many other Western countries with us, forgot that simple fact. Labour promised unsustainable pensions, ran inefficient public services and adopted wasteful welfare policies. They ignored the underlying weaknesses in our economy. And as a result, Britain was running a structural deficit even when our economy was growing.
This isn’t just a question of statistics. If we don’t start to pay our way, if we don’t earn our wealth, we’ll be trapped in a spiral of debt, with our taxes going to foreign countries to pay off the interest, even bigger cuts to public services, and a weaker pound, making foreign goods more expensive and leaving us all poorer. That would be dangerous at any time, but as the super-competitive economies of the East are on the rise, we risk the whole basis of our prosperity if we do not act.
That’s why George Osborne is right to say that the best response to the credit downgrade is not to give in and borrow even more, but to stay the course and eliminate the deficit. It’s thanks to his tough decisions that he’s been able to scrap Labour’s National Insurance hike, cut corporation tax and freeze fuel duty – all measures that boost growth. And I know George will take further measures to make our economy more competitive in his next Budget.
In the longer term, we need to build on the work the Chancellor has already done through local enterprise partnerships and enterprise zones, as well as the efforts of David Willetts in the Business Department, and expand our nascent industrial strategy. Now, before you think I’m about to reach for the beer and sandwiches, I’m not talking about failed seventies-style corporatism. Nor am I talking about a different type of big government. I’m talking about a more strategic role for the state in our economy. Let me give a few examples of what government could do.
First, it should map out the established and developing industries that are of strategic value to our economy, so policy can be designed to promote those industries. We effectively do this on an ad hoc basis in trade negotiations and when we make tax changes – mostly for the financial services industry – but we should do it on a wider and more systematic basis, working with our best businesses in key sectors. That’s how we’ll improve our record in infrastructure, skills and training, and research and development.
Second, and building on this work, government should identify the training and skills capabilities we need, and tailor its policies accordingly. It could encourage the establishment of more technical schools. It could work with schools and business to get more young people studying science, technology, engineering and maths. It could fund deep discounts in tuition fees for students who want to study degrees like engineering, where we have a shortage of skilled workers. This kind of planning already takes place in the immigration system, with a shortage occupation list in key sectors, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t apply the sa
me logic to our own workforce.
Third, government should identify geographical clusters of industry – like biotech in Cambridge, the semiconductor industry in the South West of England, or the Formula One corridor in Oxford, Warwick and Birmingham – so we can help develop these clusters further, put British businesses at the forefront of industrial innovation, and create thousands of new jobs.
Fourth, government should change its approach to public procurement, so we can strike a better balance between short-term value for the taxpayer and long-term benefits to the economy. I don’t mean we should always award contracts to British companies, regardless of price or quality, but we could produce a clear framework that explicitly takes into account the effect of procurement on British jobs, skills and the long-term capacity of our economy.
And fifth, we should pursue a relentless campaign to support entrepreneurs and wealth creators. This might mean traditional solutions, like granting generous tax exemptions for start-up businesses. But imagine if, as our public service reforms develop, we broke down the artificial divide between private and public sectors and allowed hundreds or even thousands of organisations to provide public services. Not only would we be improving those services, we’d set free world-beating British education and health providers who could use their expertise to win business in foreign markets. As George Freeman, who’s done a lot of thinking in this area, says, “we need a recovery that allows us to unlock the full enterprise potential of the best of our public sector.”
To those who say this is wrong, this is about picking winners, I say it’s no such thing. It’s about the state taking a strategic role, deploying our funds and resources in the wisest possible way. It’s about doing everything we can to get Britain trading its way out of trouble and towards prosperity.
A Small, Strong, Strategic State
The approach I’ve talked about today builds on many aspects of the Government’s policy programme. But it also involves a different vision for the role of the state. That vision is of a state that is strong, small and strategic. Strong, to provide security. Small, to protect freedom. And strategic, to make our economy more competitive and provide opportunity for all.
The state will never be the sole solution to our problems, and the big state creates problems rather than fixing them. We know that individuals, families and communities will always be better off free to make their own decisions. But that doesn’t mean there should be no role for the state at all.
And to those who say there is no place for the state in the economy, I say look to our competitors. Pretty much every Asian country on the rise has a government that plays a strategic role in its economy. Germany makes sure that its infrastructure and skills are right for its manufacturers. The French have intervened to retain their capability in sectors like civil engineering. And Norway has the biggest sovereign wealth fund outside the Middle East. Even the United States uses defence spending to support its industrial base.
And if you don’t want to look to our competitors, look at our own history. Canary Wharf and the London Docklands would not be as they are today without the London Docklands Development Company. The Nissan factory at Sunderland – one of the most advanced car manufacturing plants in the world – would not be there without specific tax incentives offered by government. Both of these success stories date back to the 1980s, and were interventions overseen by Mrs Thatcher.
In fact, car manufacturing is a great example of how an industrial strategy might work. While Europe’s automotive industry struggles, Britain’s is reborn. It accounts for eleven per cent of our exports and supports 730,000 jobs. For the first time since the seventies, we’re exporting more cars than we’re importing. And because there are factories in places like Swindon and Solihull, Luton and Longbridge, the economic benefits are felt across the country. We’re succeeding because we have productive plants, a skilled and flexible workforce and low business taxes. But unlike in many other sectors, there’s a mature partnership between government and industry, through which they fix problems like skills shortages, gaps in the supply chain and access to finance.
Another example is life sciences. We’re already a world leader in pharmaceuticals, but, recognising that we can’t rest on our laurels, at the end of 2011 the Government launched a strategy that will put Britain at the forefront of the new model of personalised medicine that is transforming biomedicine. We should learn from these success stories.
The Party for All
As I’ve said, we must be confident of our record going into the next election. We’ll be able to say that we’re making progress in fixing our economy, that we’re bringing sanity to the public finances, and – because of our public service reforms – we’ll be able to say we’re delivering better services even as we reduce spending. We’re proving that you can do more with less.
And we’ll give the public a clear choice. Do you want David Cameron, a statesman who has stood up for Britain around the world, who will have led the country through five of the toughest years in recent history? Or do you want Ed Miliband? Do you want George Osborne or Ed Balls? Do you want William Hague or Douglas Alexander? Do you want the team that is taking tough decisions in the national interest, or the old Brownites who got us into this mess in the first place?
So we have a good record and we have the right team. But those advantages alone will not be enough. We have to become the party that is tireless in confronting vested interests. The party that takes power from the elites and gives it to the people. The party not just of those who have already made it, but the home of those who want to work hard and get on in life.
We need to offer them security, not just from crime and foreign threats, but from everyday risks like falling ill, or losing your job.
We need to promise them freedom, not just from the state but from vested interests like unions, big bureaucracy and, yes, big business.
And we need to give them opportunity, by reforming capitalism and making sure our economy works for all of us.
A Conservative Party that occupies the common ground, that’s tough on crime and immigration, progressive in its public service reforms, and reforming when it comes to the economy, can be an unstoppable force.
By standing up for the people, by taking on anybody who gets in the way, by confronting vested interests wherever we find them, we will change the country for the better. And we will win the next general election. Thank you.”