Leader's speech, Bournemouth 2006b
David Cameron (Conservative)
It’s been a great week. This week we’ve shown we are back in the centre ground of British politics. A stable economy. Fighting crime. Backing the NHS and our state schools. Childcare and flexible working. Improving our environment and quality of life. Those are people’s priorities - those are our priorities today.
We’ve seen fantastic new candidates, one third of them women. But it’s not just who we select. It’s what they do. Our new candidates are changing the way we think about politics, not just campaigning and delivering leaflets but making a difference in their community.
This week we’ve done that in Bournemouth. Conservatives, converting a disused church into a community centre. That’s our idea - social responsibility - in action. I want to thank everyone who got involved, and in particular the local MP Tobias Ellwood and all his team who worked so hard. We are united and rejuvenated. And as this conference has shown, we are the Party that is open to new ideas and fresh thinking.
On Sunday, I spoke to you about the changes we’re making in our Party, and why they are so important. Today, I want to talk about what I believe in, and what we need to start doing for our country. And as I do that, I want to deal directly with this issue of substance.
Substance is not about producing a ten point plan. It is about deeper things than that. It is about knowing what you believe. It is about a clear idea of the Britain you want to see.
For us, that Britain is based on the idea of social responsibility. That means a Britain where instead of always turning to the state for the answers, we turn to each other and ask: what more can we do together to solve this problem? So I don’t think that announcing policies in a rush amounts to substance.
Real substance is about taking time to think things through, not trotting out easy answers that people might want to hear. It’s about sticking to your guns. It’s about character, judgment, and consistency. It’s about policy, yes. But it’s about getting it right for the long term. That’s why I asked Oliver Letwin, one of the most intelligent and thoughtful politicians in our country, to lead our Policy Review.
Right, let’s talk about tax. Everyone in this hall, me included, knows that a low tax economy is a strong economy. But some people want me to flash up some pie in the sky tax cuts to show what we stand for.
Let me tell you straight. That is not substance. And that is not what we stand for.
Do you know what I think? I think that when some people talk about substance, what they mean is they want the old policies back. Well they’re not coming back. We’re not going back. We’ve laid it out clearly at this conference. We will not take risks with the economy. We will not make promises we can’t keep.
As George Osborne said in that brilliant speech yesterday, we believe in sound money and stability always comes first.
George has also rightly said that we need a broad-based economic policy, not just a tax policy. We need to strengthen our pensions system. Deregulate our employers and wealth-creators. Invest in education, skills, the potential of our people. Build a modern transport system. And we need to do more to promote British trade and investment.
In this age of globalisation and fierce international competition from India, China, Brazil, we cannot afford to sit back. We have to fly the flag for British business.
As our economy grows, one of the most important calls on the proceeds of that growth is the NHS. The NHS is vitally important to every family in this country. It certainly is to my family.
I believe that the creation of the NHS is one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century. It is founded on the noble but simple ideal that no person should ever have to worry about their healthcare. But it’s about more than that. The NHS is an expression of our values as a nation. It is a symbol of collective will, of social solidarity. That is why the British people, of all political parties and of none, are so proud of it, and so attached to it.
I have always believed this.
But when your family relies on the NHS all the time - day after day, night after night - you really know just how precious it is.
I know the problems. Turning up at A&E and the children’s one is closed. Waiting for the doctor when you’re desperate with worry. Waiting for the scan that is so desperately needed. It can be incredibly frustrating.
But more often than not, it is an inspiration - thanks to the people who work in the NHS. The nurses who do everything to make you comfortable. The doctors who desperately want to get to the truth. And the army of support staff who get forgotten so often but who make such a difference to all of us.
For me, it’s not a question of saying the NHS is ‘safe in my hands.’
My family is so often in the hands of the NHS. And I want them to be safe there.
Tony Blair once explained his priority in three words: education, education, education. I can do it in three letters. NHS.
We will serve and support the National Health Service. We will always support the NHS with the funding it needs. But we will make sure that money is well spent.
Health spending has doubled under Labour. But where has all the money gone? Into pointless and contradictory reorganisations. Do you remember ‘24 hours to save the NHS’? It should have been ‘24 ways to reorganise the NHS.’ First they abolished the independent NHS Executive and put the Department of Health in charge. Then they abolished the eight regional NHS offices and created 28 new Strategic Health Authorities. Later they abolished the 28 new Strategic Health Authorities and created ten new regional Strategic Health Authorities. Out went GP fund holding - in came Primary Care Groups. Out went Primary Care Groups - in came Primary Care Trusts. They abolished Health Authorities. Then they created them all over again. Are you still with me?
Because I can tell you, the people working in the NHS are utterly bewildered. The other day I read about a public health director who has been in his job for twelve years. Because of all the reorganisations, he’s had to reapply for the job seven times. What a shambolic way to treat people. What a waste of time, what a waste of money.
No wonder beds and wards are closing.
No wonder that doctors and nurses are so dissatisfied with what’s happening.
Politicians have interfered in professional judgements and diminished professional responsibility. I’ve heard it described as the ‘death of discretion.’ They join the NHS in their twenties, full of idealism and vocation. By their forties, far too many are demoralised. From idealism to demoralisation in half a career. How can we do this to people?
The waste of money in the NHS is nothing next to the waste of talent and energy and hope. So I make this commitment to the NHS and all who work in it. No more pointless re-organisations. Yes, change is necessary in the NHS. But the changes we want to make are based on our idea, social responsibility. We want to see far greater professional responsibility in the NHS. And we should remember that the world of healthcare extends far beyond the hospitals and the GP surgeries.
As we live longer and our society grows older, these services will play an ever-more important part in our well-being. How do we help carers go on caring? Why can’t we have more occupational therapy, so people can get the adjustments to their house or flat so they can go on living at home longer? Why can’t we recognise that social services isn’t a Cinderella service - for many people, it’s the vital service that helps them enjoy some sort of quality of life.
Next week, Andrew Lansley and I launch our national campaign on the NHS. I hope that you are ready. We must get out there on the streets of this country and send this Government a clear message. They have mismanaged the NHS. Stop cutting the NHS and let’s back it with all our hearts and improve it for everyone.
Attitude to Labour
I back the NHS because I believe in it. Standing up for your beliefs is what real substance is about. But in politics, it’s also about telling the truth.
Not everything that Labour have done since 1997 is bad. People don’t want us to turn the clock back. They want us to improve the bad things, yes. But they also want us to keep the good things. Like Bank of England independence. Like the minimum wage. We’ll keep it and, when we can, we’ll increase it.
Where Labour do the right thing, like those education reforms, we’ll back them.
That is real substance. Standing up for what you believe. Putting your country first. That is something that this Party has always deeply understood.
Trust in Politics
And let me tell you why it’s so important. Twelve years ago, there was an energetic young party leader. He stood before his party conference for the first time. He said he’d change his party. He made promises about changing the country. Remember him? I do.
And look what happened. People voted for him, but he let them down. So let’s not think that people are going to jump from Labour straight into our arms. This is going to be slow, patient, hard work. We have to show, day by day, week by week, month by month that we deserve our country’s trust.
And I’ll tell you something important, something substantial, that we have to change. For too long, the big political decisions in this country have been made in the wrong place. Not round the Cabinet table, where they should be. But on the sofa in Tony Blair’s office. No notes are taken. No one knows who’s accountable. No one takes the blame when things go wrong. That arrogant style of government must come to an end.
I will restore the proper processes of government. That means building a strong team, and leading them. I want to be Prime Minister of this country. Not a President.
The Price of Progress
There is another important aspect of earning people’s trust. We must face up to the fact that progress towards our nation’s priorities is never free. There’s always a price to be paid.
Pretending that everything is simple and straightforward and can be sorted out with a wave of a minister’s wand… Making out that anything is possible, everything is easy, it’s all painless… That is spin.
We’ve seen enough of that over these last nine years. We must be different.
We must show that we understand the price of progress, and tell people what it is. Not after we get into government, but before. That is real substance.
As you might have gathered by now, I am passionate about our environment. It’s a very personal commitment. I grew up in the countryside. I’ve always loved the outdoors. As you can see if you look around this conference, I’m quite keen on trees.
We saw in our debate on Monday the scale of the threat from climate change. I know that we have within us the creativity, the innovation, the technological potential to achieve green growth - sustainable prosperity. The Stern Report will tell us that the tools of success are in our grasp. But it will also say that the price of inaction gets higher every day. So I will not pretend to you that it will be easy. That there will be no pain or sacrifice.
If you want to understand climate change, go and see Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. Today, I want to tell the British people some uncomfortable truths. There is a price for progress in tackling climate change. Yes of course low-energy light bulbs, hybrid cars - even a windmill on your roof - can make a difference and also save money.
But these things are not enough.
Government must show leadership by setting the right framework. Binding targets for carbon reduction, year on year. That would create a price for carbon in our economy. What does that mean? It means that things which produce more carbon will get more expensive. Going green is not some fashionable, pain-free option. It will place a responsibility on business. It will place a responsibility on all of us. That is the point. Tackling climate change is our social responsibility - to the next generation.
And I’ll tell you something. In politics, it’s much easier to take steps that will be painful if political parties work together, instead of playing it for partisan advantage. That’s what we have offered to do. We have asked Tony Blair to put a Climate Change Bill in the Queen’s Speech. If he does, we’ll back it.
So come on Prime Minister. It’s your last few months in office. It’s your last Queen’s Speech. Use it to do something for the environment.
But the environment isn’t the only priority. There are other priorities - and sometimes they compete. Sweeping contradictions under the carpet may make life easy for a while. But it’s not substance. So let us confront a tension that this Party feels very deeply.
We are the Party of aspiration and opportunity, always have been; always will be. A profound part of that is owning your own home. That dream is something Conservatives instinctively understand. We also understand the importance of conservation. But if we want new homes, they must be built somewhere.
Yes they must be built with care for local communities. Yes they must be built in harmony with existing architecture. And yes they must be built in sympathy with the environment. But let us not pretend there is a pain-free solution to this dilemma that satisfies every vested interest, as well as providing all the new homes we need.
We must be on the side of the next generation.
If we are to be the Party of aspiration, we must be on the side of aspiration. And that means building more houses and flats for young people. It is our social responsibility.
Before putting myself forward for this job, I thought about all the responsibility it entails. When I spend time in a school or a hospital, I now think of the ultimate responsibility a Prime Minister has to make sure our public services are properly funded. As Prime Minister, words on the environment will have to turn into action at home and abroad.
But there is no greater responsibility for a Prime Minister than protecting the security of our country and sending our armed forces into action
In July, I went to Afghanistan to meet our troops. Some of them are just 18 years old. They’ve only been in the army six months. They are fighting a ferocious enemy, day in, day out. Living off ration packs. Boiling hot days. Sleeping in the open. When you think of your own comfortable life at home, it makes you feel incredibly humble.
Our mission in Afghanistan is not just a moral responsibility. It is vital to keep Britain safe. A lawless, broken Afghanistan was the cradle for the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Our armed forces are doing important work in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So let the message go out from this conference, to the best armed forces in the world. You are fighting in our name and we are proud of what you do.
But I want us to send our forces a second message. Responding to the questions that our troops themselves are asking.
They’re asking for armoured vehicles that will actually defend them against roadside bombs. They need more helicopters. They’re asking to be able to phone home for more than twenty minutes a week. And they’re asking for decent treatment for their families at home.
You know Liam Fox. I know Liam Fox. There is someone with real passion and energy, who would never stop fighting for Britain’s troops to get them all that they need.
There is a big RAF base in my constituency. I know it well. I know the houses the forces’ families live in. Some of them aren’t good enough. I know the schools their children go to. Half the school roll changes every year and they don’t have the extra support they need to cope. Meanwhile our servicemen and women pay income tax while they’re fighting overseas.
Our forces and their families do so much for us. And we should do more - a lot more - for them.
The Threat of Terrorism
Our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan remind us of the great dangers of our times. I know that if we win the next election, the moment I walk through the front door of Downing Street I will have the huge responsibility of protecting the British people from terrorism.
There are some who still believe that the threat we face today is no different from ones that we have faced before, such as the IRA. They are profoundly mistaken. We are dealing with people who are prepared to do anything, kill any number, and use suicide attacks to further their aims.
Defeating them will be a battle of hearts and minds, as well as force.
But this threat cannot be negotiated away or appeased - it has to be confronted and overcome.
When it comes to our national security, I will always listen to the police and security services, and take their advice with the utmost seriousness.
I will never play politics with this issue. What I will do, is my duty. Which is to support the Government when they do the right thing. And hold them to account when they’re getting it wrong.
So let me say plainly, I believe that this Government is getting some things wrong. They’re pressing ahead with ID cards that won’t stop dangerous people coming into our country. But they’re not giving us the border controls that just might. They’re bringing in new offences that aren’t being used. But they haven’t changed the law so that wire tap evidence can be used to prosecute terror suspects in court.
People who threaten our security should be arrested, charged, put in front of a court, tried and imprisoned. That is the British way.
When I ask myself why they haven’t done some of the things they should have, I keep coming back to one thing. The Human Rights Act.
I believe that yes, the British people need a clear definition of their rights in this complex world. But I also believe we need a legal framework for those rights that does not hamper the fight against terrorism. That is why we will abolish the Human Rights Act and put a new British Bill of Rights in its place.
Protecting our security is not just about terrorism. People’s daily fear is crime.
Gun crime is up, knife crime is up, there is violence and disorder on too many of our streets. But all we get from Labour are endless get-tough headlines and thousands of new criminal offences.
They’re not building the prisons. They’re not reforming the police. They’re not cancelling the early release schemes. Those are the things that need to be done.
And then, in the final irony, last week Tony Blair attacked me for what I said about hoodies. In that one cheap joke, he gave up on one of the best things he ever said - that we need to be tough on the causes of crime.
Everyone in this hall, everyone watching at home, knows that we will only tackle crime if we tackle family breakdown… if we tackle drug addiction… if we mend broken lives.
So we have a new reality in British politics today. With David Davis as Home Secretary, this Party, the Conservative Party is the only party in Britain that will be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.
And we will be tough when it comes to promoting this country’s interests abroad.
Last week the Prime Minister criticised me for wanting a foreign policy which was more independent of the White House. I don’t need lessons in the importance of Britain’s relationship with America. My grandfather went ashore in Normandy in June 1944, in a combined Anglo-American operation that liberated Western Europe from the Nazis.
I became involved in politics in the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet Union. Unlike some, I never had any doubts about whose side I was on in the Cold War. But now Mr. Blair objects when I say our foreign policy should not simply be unquestioning in our relationship with America.
William Hague and I have said we must be steadfast not slavish in how we approach the special relationship. Apparently Tony Blair disagrees. Well if he’s accusing me of wanting to be a British Prime Minister pursuing a British foreign policy, then I plead guilty.
Questioning the approach of the US administration, trying to learn the lessons of the past five years, does not make you ‘anti-American.’ Ask John McCain.
I’m not a neo-conservative. I’m a liberal Conservative.
Liberal - because I believe in spreading freedom and democracy, and supporting humanitarian intervention. That is why we cannot stand by and watch further genocide in Darfur. But Conservative - because I also recognise the complexities of human nature, and will always be sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world.
We need more patience, more humility in the way we engage with the world.
The same values should guide our approach to building a stronger society at home.
The Cantle Report into the riots in our northern cities in 2001 talked about many communities living ‘parallel lives.’ Communities where people from different ethnic origins never meet, never talk, never go into each others’ homes.
Ultimately, it is an emotional connection that binds a country together. Sympathy for people you don’t even know, and who may be very different to you. It is by contact that we overcome our differences - and realise that though our origins and our cultures may vary, we all share common values. The most basic contact comes from talking to each other. So we must make sure that new immigrants learn to speak English. And one of the most important ways we make connections with people is at school.
So let me face head-on the question of faith schools. I know that people feel strongly about this issue. So do I. I support faith schools. Many parents want to send their children to them, and trust their judgment. All faiths want them. And let us say, clearly, that Islam is one of the great religions of the world, and that British Muslims make a fantastic contribution to our country.
Today, a new generation of Muslim schools is emerging. If these schools are to be British state schools, they must be part of our society, not separate from it.
The Cantle Report recommended that faith schools admit a proportion of pupils from other faiths.
Only this week the Church of England said it would implement this recommendation in all new church schools it creates, admitting a quarter of pupils from non-Anglican backgrounds. That is a great example of what I mean by social responsibility. The Church deciding to take responsibility for community cohesion. Society - not the state.
I believe the time has come for other faith groups to show similar social responsibility. And if we are to bring our society together, then schools - all schools - must teach children that wherever they come from, if they are British citizens, they are inheritors of a British birthright.
The foundations of our society: the rule of law, democracy and individual freedom. And every child in our country, wherever they come from, must know and deeply understand what it means to be British. The components of our identity - our institutions, our language and our history.
The Conservative Party must address these issues. Real substance means addressing them openly and frankly.
The issues are incredibly complicated. They will need sensitive handling. And I can’t think of anyone better to do it than our Shadow Education Secretary, David Willetts.
Although we agree with Labour about trust schools, there is still a profound divide between our approach to education and Labour’s. They think equality means treating every child the same. Including kids with learning difficulties in the same classes as the brightest. Forcing schools to accept disruptive pupils, putting up with bad behaviour, no matter the damage it does to the others.
We think equality means something else. Individual children have individual needs, individual abilities, and individual interests. Real equality means giving every child the education that is best for them. That should mean more setting and streaming within schools - so each child can develop at the speed that works for them. It should mean clear rules of behaviour - so that our children grow up knowing the difference between right and wrong. And it means saving special schools - so that parents have choice, and children with learning difficulties can receive the care, the education and the attention they need.
Building a strong society is not just a task for politicians. We are all in this together. We all have a responsibility to each other.
Changing Britain for the better is not just about passing laws. We’ve got to be less arrogant about what politicians can achieve. Because it is not the politicians who make the wealth, who build the houses, who heal the sick. It is people. It is society, not just the state. That is why social responsibility will be the foundation for all that we do.
When our Party was last in power, our task was to restore economic responsibility - putting individuals and businesses in charge of their own affairs.
The task for us today is different.
For years, we Conservatives talked about rolling back the state. But that is not an end in itself. Our fundamental aim is to roll forward the frontiers of society.
And there is one vital way in which we can do that.
The real privilege of my childhood was that my family was loving and close. Families, to me, are not just the basic unit of society, they’re the best. They are the ultimate source of our society’s strength or weakness. Families matter because almost every social problem that we face comes down to family stability. And so I will set a simple test for each and every one of our policies: does it help families?
The first thing to help families with is childcare. This is particularly vital for single parents. Why are so many single parents trapped in poverty? Partly because childcare is so costly and complicated in our country. Those of us who don’t live the life of a single parent - just try and imagine it for a moment. Think about what it’s like when you’re left on your own to look after the kids. If I’m in charge on my own for just a few hours the place looks like a bomb’s hit it. Imagine looking after children all on your own all the time. And trying to get a job, trying to hold down a job with an employer who isn’t understanding about the fact that you might have to disappear at a moment’s notice because there’s no one else in your child’s life, and you are responsible.
Britain has got the most expensive childcare in Europe. So we support the Government’s efforts to put more money into childcare. But why are they saying you should only get help if you use formal childcare? What about the grandparents, the friends, the neighbours, who for so many families provide that lifeline by looking after the kids? So let’s trust the parents in the childcare choices that they make.
All families do a vital job, and they all need our support. But I also believe that marriage is a great institution, and we should support it. I’m not naïve in thinking that somehow the state can engineer happy families with this policy or that tax break. All I can tell you is what I think. And what I think is this. There’s something special about marriage. It’s not about religion. It’s not about morality. It’s about commitment.
When you stand up there, in front of your friends and your family, in front of the world, whether it’s in a church or anywhere else, what you’re doing really means something. Pledging yourself to another means doing something brave and important. You are making a commitment. You are publicly saying: it’s not just about me, me, me anymore. It is about we - together, the two of us - through thick and thin. That really matters.
And by the way, it means something whether you’re a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man. That’s why we were right to support civil partnerships, and I’m proud of that.
Of course not every marriage lasts, and many couples are much better off apart. Women must have an escape route from abusive relationships.
Every married couple has rows and difficulties. But if you’ve made that public commitment, it just helps you try harder to work your problems through.
We can argue forever about whether favouring marriage means disadvantaging other arrangements. My approach is simple. If marriage rates went up, if divorce rates came down - if more couples stayed together for longer, would our society by better off? My answer is yes.
But supporting marriage is not just about money, or tax breaks. It is insulting to the human spirit to believe that a relationship between two people is just about money, or even mainly about money. It isn’t. So recognising marriage more directly in the tax system is not enough.
Flexible working. Family centres. Relationship advice. All of these things matter. Let us as a society and as a culture value and recognise marriage more.
Family. Community. Society. The NHS. The environment. Our quality of life. These are the things that matter most to me. These are the things that drive me in politics. And I want us here to be optimistic about their future.
Tony Blair said Britain is a young country. He is wrong. This is an old country, with a proud past and a bright future.
Look at the forces shaping our world. Technology that can topple dictators. Innovations that can tackle climate change. The prospect of global trade and investment and development that can end the spectre of poverty and heal the divisions between rich and poor.
Our generation of politicians must understand these forces, must harness them for progress. We must not be the party that says the world and our country is going to the dogs. We must be the Party that lifts people’s sights and raises their hopes.
We are getting ready to serve again. Standing up for what we believe. Reaching out for what we can achieve.
Let us be confident as we say, together, here today.
The best is yet to come.