It was not just that the speech was perfectly delivered it was a speech of enormous substance. My pick of its five profoundly important messages:
The nation is at war and that without victory in countries like Afghanistan we are all more vulnerable: "In Afghanistan today, our armed forces are defending our freedom and our way of life as surely and as bravely as any soldiers in our nation’s history. Let us be clear about why they are there: if we fail in our mission, the Taliban will come back. And if the Taliban come back, the terrorist training camps come back. That would mean more terrorists, more bombs and more slaughter on our streets. That is why we back our troops’ mission in Afghanistan one hundred per cent."
A laissez-faire culture is inadequate and Conservatives do not believe that government cannot do anything right: "freedom can too easily turn into the idea that we all have the right to do whatever we want, regardless of the effect on others. That is libertarian, not Conservative – and it is certainly not me. For me, the most important word is responsibility. Personal responsibility. Professional responsibility. Civic responsibility Corporate responsibility… We are not an anti-state party. In the twentieth century, state-run social programmes had real success in fighting poverty and making our society stronger. Pensions, sickness benefits, state education: I honour those men and women of all parties and none who created these safety nets and springboards. But today, the returns from endless big state intervention are not just diminishing, they are disappearing. That’s because too often, state intervention deals with the symptoms of the problem. I want us to be different: to deal with the long-term causes."
The experience argument must not frustrate the fact that Britain needs a change of direction as significant as it chose in 1979: "Experience is what they always say when they try to stop change. In 1979, James Callaghan had been Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor before he became Prime Minister. He had plenty of experience. But thank God we changed him for Margaret Thatcher. Just think about it: if we listened to this argument about experience, we’d never change a government, ever. We’d have Gordon Brown as Prime Minister – for ever."
The cupboard is bare and it’s now time for tough spending control: "Sound money means saving in the good years so we can borrow in the bad. It means ending Labour’s spendaholic culture it means clamping down on government waste and it means destroying all those useless quangos and initiatives. So I will be asking all my shadow ministers to review all over again every spending programme to see if it is really necessary, really justifiable in these new economic circumstances. But even that will not be enough. The really big savings will come from reforming inefficient public services, and dealing with the long-term social problems that cause government spending to rise."
Only a declaration of war on the educational establishment will rescue children from failing schools: "The straightforward truth is that there aren’t enough good schools, particularly secondary schools, particularly in some of our bigger towns and cities. Any government I lead will not go on excusing this failure. That’s why Michael Gove has such radical plans to establish 1,000 New Academies, with real freedoms, like grant maintained schools used to have. And that’s why, together, we will break open the state monopoly and allow new schools to be set up. And to those who say we cannot wait for structural reform and competition to raise standards I say – yes, you’re right, and we will not wait. The election of a Conservative government will bring – and I mean this almost literally – a declaration of war against those parts of the educational establishment who still cling to the cruelty of the “all must win prizes” philosophy and the dangerous practice of dumbing down."
But one passage brought tears to my eyes:
"Come with me to Wandsworth prison and meet the inmates. Yes you meet the mugger, the robber and the burglar. But you also meet the boy who can’t read and never could. The teenager hooked on heroin.The young man who never knew the love of a father. The middle aged failure where no-one in the family has known what it’s like to go out and work for two generations or maybe more.Miss the context, miss the cause, miss the background and you’ll never get the true picture of why crime is so high in our country."
That section has such humanity in it (I’ll find the quote from Bush 2000 that it reminds me of later) – such complete understanding of why a crude tough-on-crime message is so inadequate.
It was not a perfect speech. We still need to see more specifics on spending control and more substance on welfare reform, in particular. But it was David Cameron’s greatest speech yet. He is ready to be our Prime Minister.