Leader's speech, Blackpool 1999
William Hague (Conservative)
Commentary:Two days before Hague delivered his speech, 31 people were killed and over 200 injured when the 06:03 Cheltenham to Paddington train passed a red light and collided with a Thames Train commuter service at Ladbroke Grove. Hague expressed his horror at the disaster and supported the government’s decision to hold an inquiry into the incident. The primary theme of the speech is the need for a ‘Common Sense Revolution’ in Britain to replace the ‘Great Labour Lie.’ At the core of this revolution is a pledge to reduce state intervention and place more trust in the people’s instincts, and to protect British values and traditions.
In March, our Spring Party Conference met in Reading. Today, the unclaimed cars in Reading Station car park are painful testimony to the loss and distress we all feel in the wake of the awful Paddington tragedy. None of us can fully understand the grief and pain of the families of the victims; but as we watch the terrible scenes from the crash site, each one of us remembers the last journey we made by train, for many of us only days ago, and we shudder at how fragile life can be. We need to find out what went so disastrously wrong. And we need to find out fast. We welcome the swift decision to hold an inquiry. But the inquiry itself must be swift too. It must not drag on for years and years, or lose its way in bureaucratic procedure. We need clear answers and long-term solutions. On this we will give the Government every support as it carries out its work. And we salute, as we have done so often in similar circumstances, the courage and professionalism of our police and emergency services, and we praise the staff of the hospitals who continue to care for the injured. The national grief following this disaster will be intense and lasting.
In every family, we know that even in the midst of tragedy we have to look to the future. This week we have looked to the future with new confidence. For here in Blackpool we have had the best Conservative Conference for years. The best Conference because we’ve heard brilliant speeches from the new fresh talent of an outstanding Shadow Cabinet and frontbench. The best Conference because I think we’ve all been struck by how many younger members have sparkled here this week. The best Conference because everyone who saw our parade of new councillors and MPs knows that this Party is back winning elections again.
We’ve launched our Common Sense Revolution. We’ve set out our five Common Sense Guarantees. I can announce today that we are adding a sixth guarantee The Blackpool Guarantee. We’re coming back to Blackpool every other year. Long after the Labour Party has become too snobbish to go almost anywhere in the country, we’re coming back to Blackpool. I’ve enjoyed this Conference tremendously because of your enthusiasm and because, as ever, I’ve had the terrific support and companionship of my wife, Ffion.
The whole Conference has been a great contrast to what we saw last week. I sympathise with the Prescotts. Last week they took the car because of what the seaside air did to their hair. I don’t blame them. Look what it did to mine. I don’t mind. As someone said to me last month in Wigan: ‘Don’t worry Mr Hague. It’s not what’s on your head that counts. It’s what in your head.’
The Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth was all about staying in power however they can and distorting the past. Our Conference has been about serving the people and preparing for the future. What annoys me most about today’s Labour politicians is not their beliefs - they’re entitled to those - but their sheer, unadulterated hypocrisy. They say one thing and they do another. They send their children to schools they want to abolish for others. They are driven in cars 250 yards to give speeches telling other people not to drive their own. They tell other people not to have second homes when they’ve got three themselves. They make their lip-trembling proclamation that the class war is over while the very same day they boo 14-year-old girls because they come from a private school.
We’re having a Common Sense Revolution, so let’s have some common sense language about Labour: it’s high time this bunch of hypocrites stopped preaching to others what they don’t practice themselves. Last year Tony Blair promised a Year of Delivery. If only he’d told us to expect a year of hollow rhetoric, empty gestures and meaningless slogans, for once he’d have told the truth. Now we must offer the people of this country not just an alternative to the arrogance and complacency and hypocrisy of New Labour, but our own fresh ideas.
Conservative Governments achieved so much. But there’s so much more to be done. For as a country we’re spending millions more on our schools and hospitals, and they don’t seem to be getting any better. We’re paying more and more tax, but no one can understand where the money’s all going to. We hear endless stories of new anti-crime initiatives, yet crime is going up. We have more and more politicians, and they are trusted less and less. Let’s get it clear: Vast regional bureaucracies and European political superstructures are not the solution. They are the problem. As I travel around our country to schools and factories and high streets, I listen to a common sense so far removed from how people think in Whitehall that it’s no wonder people have lost faith in politics.
But this common sense has for too long been ignored. People don’t want to be told that what they know to be right, can’t work. The people of this country want and deserve straight talk. The people of this country want a government that turns their common sense solutions into government policy. When I sit in the House of Commons and hear Labour Ministers talking about this or that new piece of regulation, I think to myself: it’s time they listened to the small businessman I met in Nottingham last month, who said to me: ‘At this rate, we are going to have one man working in this country and 55 million checking up on him.’ Britain needs a Common Sense Revolution.
When minor operations are carried out to meet political targets while people die waiting for their heart bypass, Britain needs a Common Sense Revolution. When local councils spend more money looking after bogus asylum seekers than after old people in homes, Britain needs a Common Sense Revolution. When twelve-year-old girls are giving birth while the last recognition of marriage in the tax system is being abolished, Britain needs a Common Sense Revolution. When a householder who uses reasonable force against a burglar ends up in court while the burglar goes free, Britain needs a Common Sense Revolution. When terrorist murderers go free in their hundreds without surrendering one ounce of Semtex or a single gun, Britain needs a Common Sense Revolution.
When the best schools in the country face abolition simply because they are the best, when 2,000 new regulations on business are passed in two years, when we import food of a quality we would not permit to be produced at home, when the Territorial Army is decimated while our Armed Forces are stretched to the limit, when more layers of government are added to an over-governed society, when we have a Prime Minster who is trying abolish our currency and end our independence as a country, we all know Britain needs a Common Sense Revolution. And when the Government of Britain is the most two-faced, interfering, over-regulating, bossy, intolerant, arrogant and crony-run in our history, there is no doubt Britain needs a Common Sense Revolution.
Before the election, Tony Blair claimed to be so admiring of Conservative success. He implied he would be like Margaret Thatcher. He pledged to be against higher taxes; to be tough on crime; to think the unthinkable on welfare; to fight for Britain’s interests in Europe. This was their great deception. This was the Great Labour Lie. When Tony Blair told the country he’d ‘no plans to increase tax at all,’ was he telling the truth? Well, was he? Or when he wrote to anxious parents ‘A Labour Government will not close your grammar schools. That is my personal guarantee,’ was he telling the truth? When Tony Blair wrote in the Sun newspaper before the election about ‘my love for the Pound’ and how he felt so emotional about the Queen’s head on a £10 note, was he telling the truth? When can you be absolutely, 100 per cent, cast-iron sure that a Labour promise is going to be broken? The moment Tony Blair puts it in his own handwriting. If he was Pinocchio, he’d have a nose bigger than Concorde.
Sometimes you have to laugh at it. To the Evening Standard he is the city slicker; to Country Life, he is the rural boy at heart. And my favourite. According to Labour’s own magazine, ‘Tony’s favourite food is fish and chips. He gets a takeaway from his local chippie whenever he is at home in his constituency’; but when The Islington Cook Book asked him the same question, he said his favourite food was ‘fresh fettuccini garnished with an exotic sauce of olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes and capers.’ I read in the papers the other day: Downing Street sources confirm Tony Blair thinks he’s ‘a Napoleon Bonaparte figure’ who’s taken ‘near-total control of the levers of political power.’ Well maybe it’s not a bad comparison. Napoleon thought he was Emperor; he tried to submerge Britain in a single European state; and he obviously wanted to abolish the pound; he even invaded Tuscany several summers in a row. He thought he was invincible, but he was finished off by a plain-speaking Conservative who went on to become Prime Minister.
How do we defeat the Great Labour Lie? By fighting a campaign based on common sense, clear convictions and a united Party. We know because we fought such a campaign in the European Elections four months ago and won the biggest swing to the Opposition in any election since 1918. The lowest Labour share of the vote since Michael Foot. And wasn’t the Prime Minister’s reaction to defeat so revealing? Did he listen for one single second to the message from the voters? No. Not for one second. He came out and called us extremists - as if wanting to keep control of our your own currency is extreme. He said we were fanatics, as if it’s fanatical to speak up for the great majority of British people who want to be in Europe not run by Europe.
The people I meet in the cities and towns and villages of our country have a straightforward desire to live in an independent country with their own currency. I’ve got news for Tony Blair. These people are not extreme. They’re not fanatics. They’ve got more sense in their gut instincts than in all the collective wisdom of this Government and their fellow travellers. Now our task is to speak up with the same common sense and clarity and conviction on all the other great issues facing our country.
Some people won’t like it. Our friends in the Guardian newspaper describe the Common Sense Revolution as ‘bristling with extreme ideas ranging through tougher welfare rules, tougher prison sentences, less state administration and lower taxes.’ If newspapers regard tougher welfare rules, tougher prison sentences, less administration and lower taxes as ‘extreme,’ then it’s not just the Government that needs a Common Sense Revolution.
It is time to make the case for that revolution. So let us begin. Let’s have a Common Sense Revolution for pensioners like Barbara Fitzjohn. 78 years old. Proud of her country. Lives alone in a one-bedroom flat in Hall Green, Birmingham. Scared to leave her home after dark. Terrified because she saw somebody get mugged and no one stopped to help. Muggings, car thefts, graffiti, drug-taking and burglary. They’re so common that no one feels completely safe anymore. Labour said they’d be tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. Their first sound-bite. Now we know it was the beginning of the Great Labour Lie. Crime is up. Prisoners are released early. Police numbers go down as Labour rhetoric goes up.
I say keep criminals in prison longer; make sure the sentence served in prison is the sentence given in court; lock away with life sentences drug dealers who sell to children; make every prisoner do a full working day; help our police get out from behind their desks and onto our streets; stop turning a blind eye to the graffiti and vandalism and truancy - go to war on crime like no government has ever dared before. In the next Conservative Government, when Ann Widdecombe is Home Secretary, I want every criminal in the land to look like Labour Ministers do when she gets up to speak - absolutely scared witless.
These are my instincts. They are the instincts of the people of this country. They’ve been ignored for too long. It’s common sense. Making it happen would be a revolution. You and I are going to make it happen. Let’s have a Common Sense Revolution for responsible people like Barbara Evans. 89 years old. Lives in a residential care home in Vauxhall. Through her life set aside money for her retirement. Now everything she’s saved could disappear in residential care bills.
Labour said they’d do something and they’ve done nothing. Another part of the Great Labour Lie. Labour’s idea of a savings policy is to grease up to Geoffrey Robinson, get him to buy you a half-a-million pound house, sell it for three quarters of a million, keep the change. Easy. Everything Labour has done, from their pensions tax to abolishing PEPs and TESSAs to discriminating against savings in income tax, makes it harder for people to save.
I say it’s time the government stopped fleecing people who put aside money for the future. I say it’s time to help people who help themselves by cutting the starting rate of tax on savings in half and protecting people who’ve saved for their long term care, so that we don’t let another generation have their home and assets eaten up. It’s common sense. Making it happen would be a revolution. You and I are going to make it happen. Let’s have a Common Sense Revolution for farmers like John Harrison. Works every day of the year including Christmas day. Made just £5,000 last year with a wife and family to support. Driven to despair by a Labour Britain where the thing that grows fastest is red tape. Labour claimed to be the friend of farming. But it’s just another instalment of the Great Labour Lie.
I say stop importing food that does not meet the animal welfare and hygiene standards which we expect here at home. Insist food on the shelves labelled British is actually grown in Britain. And make a bonfire of rules and regulations - starting with the totally pointless ban on beef-on-bone.
And while we’re at it, let’s force every Whitehall Department to cut its red tape. And let’s cut the size of Whitehall itself. Since Labour took office the cost of paying ‘political advisers’ has risen by £2 million, the cost of all elected representatives in the country by £120 million, the cost of running Government departments by one thousand million pounds. That’s the cost of over 40,000 teachers’ salaries or a third of a million hip operations.
I make you this promise: I’ll reduce the size of the Cabinet, cut the number of ministers, reduce the size of the House of Commons, campaign for a European Parliament of 100 fewer members, halve the number of political advisers to ministers and abolish all of Labour’s regional agencies and assemblies. And, what’s more, I’m going to enjoy it. Now that would be a Common Sense Revolution.
Let’s have a Common Sense Revolution for people like Jim Macabe. Grandfather. Husband. NHS patient. Told to wait nearly a year just to see a consultant. So desperate he’s going to spend his hard-earned savings on going private. Wouldn’t it make sense if patients like Jim Macabe got treated on the basis of medical need instead of political priorities set by Government Ministers fiddling the figures?
We offer a Patient’s Guarantee. Every NHS patient with an urgent condition will be guaranteed a waiting time based on their need for treatment. If the NHS can’t do it in time, the state will pay for a private operation. That means far shorter waiting times for life-saving operations like heart bypasses. They won’t take their place at the back of the queue. It’s just common sense. It’s been welcomed by the medical profession. Making it happen would be a revolution. You and I are going to make it happen
Let’s have a Common Sense Revolution for the Begbie family. Their eleven-year-old daughter Heather was excelling at school on an Assisted Place. Before the election Tony Blair wrote promising she’d ‘continue to receive support until the end of her education.’ This year he broke that promise and Heather now faces leaving her school. It’s clear now that when Tony Blair wrote to people like Heather Begbie saying he was committed to excellence in education, it was all part of the Great Labour Lie. They seem to think that destroying the best schools somehow improves education for everybody.
Well I say you don’t improve schools with difficulties by suppressing the work of outstanding schools; you cannot raise the average by destroying the best. ‘The class war is over,’ says Tony Blair. Tell that to thousands of vindictive, mean-spirited, class-obsessed Labour Party activists who at this moment are trying to destroy the best state schools in the country and are doing so at the behest of the Labour Leadership.
Each year as Secretary of State for Wales, I looked at the exam results of every school in Wales. If any school showed a dramatic improvement, I asked what had changed at that school since the year before. The answer was always the same - the head teacher. All my experience is that standards in a classroom don’t go up because of Whitehall diktats; they go up because of the actions of parents and governors and head teachers.
We offer parents and children a revolution in our state education. We’re going to turn every state-run school in the country into a Free School. We’re going to give head teachers and governors the complete freedom to run their own schools, manage their own budget, employ the best teachers and set their pay, and control their own admissions policy. And we’re going to give every parent this Parent’s Guarantee: if you don’t think your child’s free school meets minimum standards, and enough of your fellow parents agree, then you can sack the whole school management. That’s real parent power; that’s the way to drive up standards. We will give schools the power to discipline they need, and we’re going to deal with truants with this simple rule: any school pupil on the streets during school hours without written permission will be stopped by the police and sent back to school where they belong. It’s common sense.
Education does not end at school or even at university. It goes on through our lives. We’re going to help working women who take a career break to look after their children, by cutting away the barriers that make it difficult for them to get a job again We will set up Family Scholarships that will give these mothers the professional training and refresher courses they need to get back to work. Free Schools. Real power to teachers and head teachers. A Parent’s Guarantee. Tough Discipline. Higher standards. It’s common sense. Making it happen would be a revolution. You and I are going to make it happen.
Let’s have a Common Sense Revolution for millions of hard-working families in this country who pay too much tax. All Labour Governments raise taxes. It’s just that this Labour Government is sneakier and stealthier about it. They tax your savings, your house, your petrol, your pension, your marriage and your mortgage. All those taxes followed by last week’s speech. They passed round the collection plate even before the sermon. It’s time we had much more open and honest and transparent tax system.
So our Tax Guarantee is this: the next Conservative Government will bring down the total of all taxes taken together as a share of the nation’s income. They’ll be no place to hide tax increases. They’ll be no stealth taxes. Guaranteed. And as we cut tax, the people we will to try to help will include the people who save and who give to charity; the people who aren’t rich but who, like thousands of teachers and policemen, find themselves paying the top rate of income tax; the people who want to have the freedom to use the car which they’ve earned and saved for. And we will introduce an explicit recognition of marriage back into the tax and benefit system.
But we all know that the only way the nation can afford to do this, and to invest in education and healthcare, is by real reform of the welfare state. Labour promised to be truly radical on welfare. Tony Blair vowed to cut social security spending as a proportion of the nation’s income. But that was the greatest part of the Great Labour Lie. Social security bills have soared. Dependency has increased. Despondency has set in. We’re going to liberate people from the culture of welfare dependency with a Common Sense Revolution. It’s time to insist that those who can work, must work.
I guarantee taxpayers that any unemployed person who can work, and who is offered a job, either takes that job or loses their unemployment benefits. We have to create a culture in this country where if you can work, you do work. We’re going to transform our Jobcentres so that they get paid by results. I say Jobcentres are not there to pay people benefits for doing nothing. They are there to get people into work. Our Common Sense Revolution is straightforward good sense.
We will match our military capability and our military commitments, and we will restore the role of our Territorial Army. We will save our road hauliers by forcing foreign lorries who use our roads to pay a levy, and then use that money to cut road tax. They do it in Denmark and Holland. I shall do it in Britain too. We will require two-thirds of all new development to be built on brown-field sites so that we rejuvenate our towns and cities, not bulldoze over our countryside. We will protect our fishermen and conserve our fish stocks by returning British fishing waters to local or national control. We champion all these people and their causes because our Party has always been at its best when it champions the instincts of the British people. When, in Randolph Churchill’s famous phrase, we trust the people.
In Bournemouth last week Tony Blair declared war on the forces of Conservatism. I am proud of the forces of Conservatism. I am proud of what they have achieved this century. Winston Churchill and the British people, hand in hand, as we stood alone and saved the people of Europe from tyranny. Rab Butler and the British people, hand in hand, as we extended free education and brought opportunity to millions of children. Harold Macmillan and the British people, hand in hand, as we brought prosperity to the cold grey post-war era. Margaret Thatcher and John Major and the British people, hand in hand, as we fought union power, and won the cold war, and restored the dignity and freedom of this nation.
It is the forces of Conservatism which, in a dangerous century beset by socialism, communism and national socialism, have left our country at the end of that century free and proud and strong. The Conservative Party and the British people, hand in hand, that’s how we’ll build our Common Sense Revolution. Hand in hand against the patronising elite who think its small-minded to believe in our country, and the chattering classes who think it’s intolerant to be tough on law and order, and the progressive intellectuals who think that caring is spending other people’s money. And in the 1980s, it was the forces of Conservatism which stood up to the unions and defended our country while Tony Blair was voting against every trade union law and campaigning for unilateral nuclear disarmament.
What a speech that was last week in Bournemouth. The speech of a politician for whom the truth has ceased to matter. I do not know which is more worrying. That our Prime Minister actually believes that Conservatives caused the assassination of Martin Luther King, or that he is prepared to read out whatever offensive rubbish is put in front of him. But it wasn’t the insults to past and present Conservative voters that was most extraordinary about that speech. It was what that speech revealed about who the Prime Minister really is.
At times, listening to Tony Blair was like listening to a recording of Conservative slogans from the last twenty years: ‘Set the people free’ - a long-familiar Tory message. So ‘set the people free,’ says Tony Blair last week. ‘Opportunity for all’ the theme of our Conference a few years ago. So ‘opportunity for all’ cries Tony Blair a few years later. ‘One Nation’ perhaps the most famous Conservative phrase ever. Tony Blair’s favourite phrase? ‘One Nation.’ You wait. Soon he’ll tell us all his policies are common sense. A common sense revolution.
If all we had needed to govern the country was someone who repeated everything we’d said before, we could have bought a parrot. For this man’s whole political approach has been to parrot the language of Conservatives; to pretend that he understood what Margaret Thatcher had achieved and why Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock were so wrong. This is the Great Labour Lie.
Last week Tony Blair showed that he has never understood the real achievements of Conservative Governments. He knows the slogans, but he doesn’t have a clue what they mean. A Prime Minster who has the brass neck to stand before his Party Conference vowing to set the people free while at the same time centralising power, increasing taxes and undermining personal responsibility, can only be the perpetrator of the Great Labour Lie himself. He even claimed that ‘the establishment’ was holding the country back. He’s a forty-something, public school educated, barrister from Islington, with a two hundred seat majority in the House of Commons. Who does he think is the establishment? The man is a fraud.
Anyone who so misunderstands or so wilfully distorts who we are as a people or where we come from as a nation cannot possibly know where we should go to next as a people and as a nation. For this was the speech of a man who is embarrassed about where he came from, and the country he lives in, and the century he was born in and the Party he leads. Most of all it was the speech of a man who is embarrassed by the opinions of the people who elected him. Embarrassed by their patriotism and their fierce independence and their pride in Britain. He thinks patriotism is uncool and independence is out of date and pride is undignified. He wants to take on the forces of Conservatism.
The forces of Conservatism that trust the common sense instincts of the people of Britain rather than ignore them. The forces of Conservatism that speak for all those who believe we should build on the traditions and institutions and success of our country rather than destroy them. The forces of Conservatism that will be keeping our nation free and proud and independent long after he and his cronies are written off by history as people without principle, purpose, belief or conviction. For when I spoke to you in this hall two years ago, I said that New Labour would bring first fascination, then admiration, then disillusionment and finally contempt. At that stage the admiration was running high; now the disillusionment is beginning; and mark my words, they are not so far away from contempt.
And so once again it is the Conservative Party that is hand in hand with the British people as we start a new century. For we believe in our country. We believe in a free and independent nation. We believe in the United Kingdom. We believe in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We hope and pray for real and permanent peace in Northern Ireland. We continue to support the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We give credit to the Government for continuing the painstaking work so bravely commenced by John Major. But I renew my warning, made many times this year, that eighteen months after that Agreement, the apparatus of terror is still intact, the violence continues, and not one gun or bomb has been dismantled or given up. I say that until that changes, no more terrorist murderers should be released from jail.
The Leader of the Liberal Party, Charles Kennedy, says that I’m irresponsible for saying this. He thinks opposition politicians shouldn’t speak out on these vital matters. I say that when murderers are being released onto our streets in direct contravention of the assurances given to the people of Northern Ireland and the Agreement itself, it is the absolute duty of the Leader of the Opposition to raise his voice in protest. God save us from the spineless crawling to the Government of Liberal politicians. We believe in the strength of the Union and our four nations in one nation. That means making the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly work. But it also means that voters of England must be properly represented in the British constitution.
I say that issues that only affect England should be voted on only by English MPs. We cannot go on for ever with a situation where the MPs for Lancashire cannot vote on anything happening in Glasgow, but the MPs for Glasgow can vote on everything happening here in Lancashire. So central to our Common Sense Revolution will be this: English votes on English laws.
And we believe in the independence of Britain. For a crucial moment has arrived. A battle of ideas has commenced over the value of nation in the modem world. Tony Blair has joined this battle on the side of those who have no use for the independence of nation. But the forces of Conservatism will stand where they have always stood. We will stand for the nation. For Conservatives believe in nation. Conservatives believe in nation because nations allow democracy founded on a common political culture, and Conservatives believe in democracy. Conservatives believe in nation because nations allow justice and fairness to be defended as part of a shared moral understanding, and Conservatives believe in justice and fairness. Conservatives believe in nation because nations depend on tradition and protect tradition, and Conservatives believe in the value of tradition.
When Conservatives defend nation, we are accused of defending everything that is small and narrow and petty in life. I believe that, on the contrary, when Conservatives defend nation we are defending so much that is great and large and generous in life. So Conservatives believe in nation and we will defend nation. Now we must join battle to defeat new, pervasive, foolish ideas which threaten our country. There is the foolish idea that the nation cannot survive in the modem world. I think the people who advance this idea are simply wrong about the future. I look around me and I see the coming age of the small unit and the individual on the internet, an age when young people are just as ready to jump on a plane to Thailand as to Greece, or send emails to California as quickly as they send them to Calais.
To young people the idea of spending the next generation building a centralised political state in Western Europe is an idea left behind by history. This is the age of the small and flexible nation state seizing worldwide opportunities. And there is the foolish idea that a single European state is inevitable and that we will miss out on great opportunities if we don’t go along with it. Above all else, Conservatives will resist this miserable defeatist creed. For if we can resist it then Britain will be ideally placed to seize the opportunities of the modern world. We are the lucky inheritors of a country with unique advantages in the world: a unique relationship with Europe, unique relationships too with America and with the Commonwealth. We have the huge advantages of our language, of our open and democratic traditions, of our political stability and our history of trade and diplomacy across the globe. We have the finest armed forces in the world, deployed all over the globe.
As the world economy becomes more intensely competitive, as businesses have to adapt more quickly to shifts in trade, the growth of e-commerce and the rise of new markets, it must make sense for we, the British, to widen, extend and capitalise on our advantages rather than give them away. It must make sense not to adopt the rules and regulations of other countries, but to get rid of more of our own. It must make sense not to adopt the high-taxes of our neighbours, but to widen the gap between our taxes and theirs. It must make sense not to turn Europe into a fortress against the future, but to build a Europe that reaches out to Eastern Europe and the rest of the world. It must make sense not to turn our back on the continent, but to exploit the opportunities of Britain’s membership of the European Union and the Single Market. But it must also make sense not to drive for ever closer political union, but to create a flexible and open European Union of nation states. When we’re in government, the next new EU Treaty must contain a flexibility clause, or else I tell you there will be no new Treaty. It must make sense to be in Europe, not run by Europe. And it must make sense, too, not to feel guilty about having a national currency, but to use to the full the freedom that comes from having our own.
That is why it is so important at the next election to elect a Government committed to keeping the pound, and that is our Sterling Guarantee. The Liberals want to scrap the pound as soon as possible. Tony Blair wants to scrap it too, if he ever has the courage to say so. I intend to go on saying the pure unadulterated truth: I say the economic case for the Euro on its performance is utterly unconvincing; I say the implications of the Euro for our right to govern ourselves could be immense; I say the advantages for us of keeping the pound could be enormous. I say we are the fifth largest economy in the world and we can make a success of our own currency if we wish to do so. And I say to the people of Britain that the only way to save the Pound is to vote Conservative at the next election.
Yes, a battle of ideas has commenced over the value of nation in the modem world. This Party will not be found wanting. This country has such great strengths. Our traditions. Our institutions. Our values. The instincts of our people. The Conservative Party trusts in these things and we will protect these things. We always have and we always will. That’s what our Common Sense Revolution is all about.
That’s why I got involved in politics in the first place. I just want people at least to be able to do the basic things in life. To keep more of what they earn and save; to be left in peace to get on with their lives; to be able to drive their car they worked so hard to get without being despised or penalised; to be protected from theft and violence; to expect decent services in return for all that money they pay in tax; to be allowed to live in a free and independent nation. These things don’t seem to me to be too much to ask. Yet in every generation there come those who think they’ve got a better idea, who think Government is better at spending money than those who earned it, and better at managing public services than those who work in them and use them, and better at determining the future of this country than those who live in it. That’s why we need the Common Sense Revolution.
This week we have only just begun. We will have to be prepared for boldness and imagination as great as anything that this Party has shown before. Don’t tell me that it’s difficult, because I know that; or that it has risks, because that is inevitable; or that it will be controversial, because I relish it. Let us instead hold up our heads and say: these are our beliefs. This is where we stand. This is our Common Sense Revolution.
And so I say to the people of Britain: if you believe that our country is unique in the world but is in danger of losing its identity; if you believe that Britain is a place where you should be rewarded for doing the right thing, hut now you are penalised for it; if you believe in Britain as a healthy democracy, but that the standards of democracy are now being tarnished and diminished; if you believe in Britain as a country where the law is enforced and respected, but that now it is not respected enough; if you believe in Britain as a country that will work with its neighbours but never submit to being governed by anyone else; if you believe in an independent Britain, then come with me, and I will give you back your country.