Delegates at the Manchester Spring Forum were treated to barnstorming speeches from the two best platform speakers in Britain today: William Hague and Michael Heseltine.
Describing himself as the Conservative Party’s "youngest old-timer" William Hague said that there were three main reasons for his optimism about Tory prospects:
- His change message is consistent with the finest traditions of Conservatism – not least his commitment to the poorest people in Britain and the world. The finest Conservative tradition is the one nation tradition, Mr Hague said.
- The Conservative ideas of decentralisation and freedom are proving to be the ideas of the age – particularly in successfully transforming cities like Liverpool and Manchester.
- The new mood of willingness of all the great talents in the Conservative Party to come together to help David Cameron become the next Prime Minister.
One of those "great talents" was Lord Heseltine said William Hague as he introduced the former Deputy Prime Minister.
Michael Heseltine began his speech by saying that he was as surprised as his audience to be addressing his first Conservative conference in ten years.
He likened his chairmanship of the new Tory urban regeneration taskforce to a head waiter. His job was to provide a menu of pro-poor policy options for David Cameron to choose from.
Lord Heseltine pointed to great Tory traditions from Shaftesbury – who
took women out of the mines and children out of chimneys – to Margaret
Thatcher – who gave council house tenants dignity and ownership. Conservatives were not in Manchester he said to remember the past glories of urban Conservatism, however. Conservatives he said were in control in Dudley and Trafford. They were leading in Birmingham, Coventry and Bradford. Now was the time to advance further and deeper into urban Britain. Walk around disadvantaged Britain, the former Deputy PM said, and you’ll see that Labour has failed a generation. Millions of the poorest Britons lacked good schools and were very vulnerable to crime.
Tackling today’s poverty wasn’t just a moral duty it was also about self-interest, he said. All taxpayers bore the financial burden of social failure through the cost of state benefits or from overcrowded prisons. Moreover, he continued, the problems of the inner cities – crime and drugs etc – were spreading to leafier, more prosperous communities.
Returning to his ‘head waiter’ role, Lord Heseltine advocated the merging of the roles of unaccountable £200,000-a-year chief executives and elected council leaders:
"The chief executive of a major city is paid in the order of £150,000-£200,000 per annum. He or she will be among the highest paid people in most cities. If they are not capable of doing the job there should be a system to replace them by someone who is. If they are capable, why should Whitehall double or triple guess every decision they make? We should give them real freedom to serve local people as local people determine… I believe that the time has come to combine these two jobs. I believe great cities should elect great leaders and hold them to account. They should be elected by the constituency of the whole city and not just a constituency that is often an unrepresentative part of it."