Leader's speech, Bournemouth 2004
Michael Howard (Conservative)
Commentary:In his first speech as leader, Howard presented a ‘Timetable for Action,’ which provided clear measures against which the Party’s performance could be assessed. On its first day in office, he claimed, a Conservative government would begin the process of giving head teachers control over their schools and freeze the recruitment of civil servants. In its first week, it would begin the abolition of government targets for schools and hospitals, and in its first month would restore the link between pensions and earnings, and begin recruiting 5,000 more police officers a year.
I was born and grew up in South Wales. As you may have heard, we’ve just been left off the new EU map. I know people in Brussels feel strongly about Neil Kinnock, but I really do think that is going too far.
I was lucky enough to go to a very good grammar school. The first political meeting I ever went to was during a general election campaign. It was held by the local Labour Member of Parliament - a great man of his day, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. I asked him why Labour wanted to abolish grammar schools. And he replied: ‘We don’t want to abolish grammar schools. We want to make all schools grammar schools.’ It was my first experience of a politician’s answer. I don’t believe in that kind of talk. I’m going to give it to you straight.
Politicians - all politicians - have made promises they have failed to keep. In 1992, we promised to cut taxes year on year. But we put them up. In 1997, Labour said there would be no tax increases at all. They put them up. Not once, not twice but sixty-six times. Sixty-six broken promises. And people have been let down on Europe too.
In the 1970s, Britain joined a common market. That’s what the British people voted for. But it soon became clear our European partners wanted more. They wanted to build a country called Europe. The British people were told: ‘Don’t worry. France and Germany don’t really want a country called Europe. They’re coming our way.’ But they haven’t come our way. Power has gone from Britain to Brussels. And that’s not what the British people voted for. Let’s face facts. What has happened on tax and on Europe has damaged people’s faith in politics. So it’s hardly surprising that people don’t trust politicians today.
In the real world, if you say you’re going to do something, you do it. And if you screw up, you can lose your job. It’s called accountability. Remember that word - accountability. But politicians seem to live in a different world. A world where promises are dropped just as casually as they’re made. A world where the figures are fiddled. A world where there are no penalties for failure. What people want from their politicians is: Accountability. Responsibility. And a little humility. The very opposite of what we’ve had from Tony Blair. Politicians don’t have all the solutions. They should stop pretending they do. So I won’t pretend I can solve every problem, right every wrong or cure every ill. I’ll leave that to the Liberal Democrats.
We will only promise what we can deliver. What we start, we will follow through. And we will give people clear measures against which we can be judged. That’s why we’re setting out a clear Timetable for Action. What we’ll do, when we’ll do it. Specific times, specific dates. It will put us on the line in a way that no government has ever been before. There will be no wiggle room. Everyone will be able to hold us to account. No dodgy facts and figures We’ll have no place to hide. Accountability.
I choose my cabinet because I expect them to deliver. And if they don’t, I’ll replace them with people who will. When you ask for peoples votes, you have a responsibility to them. Casting a vote shouldn’t be a mechanical choice between the lesser of two evils. It should be an opportunity to tell the world what sort of country you want. That’s why politicians have a duty to respond to people’s dreams and help make them a reality. It’s not a crime to want a better school for your child, better healthcare for your mother, and a better life for your family. But it is criminal when politicians hold out these promises without a detailed, deliverable plan. People are fed up with talk. They want action.
Talk not action
Tony Blair has been all talk. He gets swept away with his rhetoric and his dreams. He’s told us about the Euro being our ‘destiny.’ Well, you know, most people don’t actually want a date with destiny. They just want a date with a dentist. Tony Blair has promised so much, but he has delivered so little. That’s why people have come to think the problems we face are just like the British weather - something you moan about but cannot change. But we can get a grip on these problems. Where there is cynicism, we can bring hope. I’m not going to promise you a fantasy land, but I do want to take you to a foreign land. In France, they don’t have waiting lists. In Sweden, parents can choose the school they want. And in New York, it’s now criminals who walk in fear, not the public.
I want Britain to be the country that is the envy of the world. And I know that this is the party that can make it happen. Because we instinctively trust the generosity, the initiative and the common sense of the British people.
Action on crime
And the first problem I’ll get a grip on is crime. The gloves will come off. What Giuliani did in New York, what Ray Mallon did in Middlesbrough, we’ll do for the whole of Britain. A war on crime.
Three weeks ago, on a Saturday night, I went out on the streets of Brixton with people from local churches. I saw the problems their community is up against. In two hours we didn’t meet a single policeman. Not one. This was inner city London, just before midnight, on a Saturday night. No wonder people feel the police have become distant and remote. The problem is that the police are handcuffed by paperwork. They now have to spend almost as much time at the station as they do out on the streets. And now this Government is making it worse. The police will now have to fill in a form every time they stop someone. Not stop and search, just stop someone. It takes seven minutes to complete that form. Just think about it. If a police officer stops half a dozen unruly youngsters, he’ll have to spend the best part of an hour filling in forms.
I don’t want police filling in forms - I want them on the streets doing their job. People are fed up that when the police do catch criminals the punishment never seems to fit the crime. Under a new Labour law, shoplifters will only get a fixed penalty fine and no criminal record. Theft is now no worse than parking on a yellow line. I promise you I’m not making this up. And five years ago, Labour introduced an early release scheme. Since then 3,600 crimes - including rape - have been committed by criminals let out of prison early. Every one of those crimes could have been prevented. All this has to change.
We need a government that will stand up for the silent, law abiding majority who play by the rules and pay their dues. A government that will put their rights first. This is what David Davis will do. Day One, that form police officers will have to fill in every time they stop someone that form will go into the appropriate filing tray. The bin. Week One, Labour’s early release scheme that will go. Month One, we’ll start to recruit 5,000 more police officers a year. And we’ll do something else. Career criminals and dangerous offenders should be in prison, not roaming our streets. So we will build more prisons.
Action on drugs
Everyone knows that drugs are at the root of a lot of crime. There can be few families not touched by the blight or worry of drugs. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. I want to give hope and practical support to those families. Many addicts fall into crime to feed their habits. If they’re caught, I think they should be given a choice. Prison or treatment. So we’ll increase the number of rehab places tenfold from 2,000 to 20,000. We must give families the chance to win back their children from drugs. Life is far too precious to be written off.
Action on school discipline
Drugs are a symptom of a wider problem. As a society, we’ve blurred the distinction between right and wrong. We’ve tolerated a slow but relentless decline in personal responsibility. Too many people now believe that they are no longer responsible for their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. And while we’ve let responsibility decline, we’ve allowed ‘rights’ to proliferate. You hear it all the time: ‘I’ve got my rights.’ The verbal equivalent of two fingers to authority. The Human Rights Act has tipped the balance of justice away from the victim in favour of the troublemaker. That’s why we’re reviewing it. And if it can’t be reformed, we’ll get rid of it.
We have also undermined discipline in schools. Too often teachers find their authority challenged when they discipline children. But teachers know their pupils. They know their names and they understand their character what they are good at and what they find difficult. And we should trust them to exercise their common sense and judgement. So on day one, Tim Collins will start to give head teachers control over their classrooms. They’ll have the final say on expulsions. Disruptive pupils won’t be able to wreck other children’s education.
Action on schools and hospitals
Hard-working families want to restore respect and decent values. But they also want value for money for the taxes they pay. Billions of pounds of their money have been spent on education. But much of it has been wasted on bureaucracy. Twelve pages of government paperwork land on head teachers’ desks every single day of the school year. And what do we have to show for it? A third of all eleven year olds still cannot write properly.
Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money have been spent on the NHS. And what have we got to show for that? Bureaucrats, people waiting in pain for operations, dirty hospitals. More people die every year from hospital infections than are killed on Britain’s roads. That’s more than a statistic. It’s a tragedy for thousands of families, including mine. Two years ago my mother-in-law died from a hospital acquired infection. Yes she was old. Yes she was frail. But she still enjoyed life. She need not have died.
Britain needs a Government that will give hard-working families value for the taxes they pay. And what greater value can there be than the dedication of those who work in our schools and hospitals? Look at the astonishing devotion to duty of our doctors and nurses. Their motives are the highest, their skills immense, their energy an inspiration. Think of the commitment of our teachers. Teaching is a noble profession. Teachers simply want the satisfaction, the sheer joy of inspiring the next generation, and of passing on that most precious commodity: knowledge. Is it too much to ask that we trust their judgement, their experience and their expertise? Let’s set them free to follow their vocation, and give of their best. So in week one, Andrew Lansley and Tim Collins will start to scrap Whitehall targets for hospitals and schools. Teachers will run our schools. And doctors and nurses will run our hospitals. We’ll trust patients and parents too - so they can choose the hospital and school which best suits them and their family. No one should have to shut up and just take what they’re given.
Conservatives will give everyone the kind of choice in health and education that today only money can buy. That’s what I call social justice. There are people in Britain who have to wait months for operations on the NHS. Not far from where they live, other more fortunate people only have to wait weeks. We’ve all paid for the NHS. It’s our NHS. So why shouldn’t you be able to go to the hospitals that can treat you more quickly? With the Conservatives, you will. We’ll also give more choice to parents. Parents know better than anyone what is best for their children. If we want selection, if we want school uniforms, if we want schools that excel at sport, as parents we should be able to choose them. That is the way to give parents the good local schools we all want. But giving parents and patients choice, and giving professionals more control, means cutting back on the pen pushers who run too much of our lives. On day one, Oliver Letwin will freeze civil service recruitment. And I’ll do my bit too.
In Downing Street there’s something called the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit. Yes, the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit. Now there’s a contradiction in terms. That Delivery Unit was recently advertising for jobs. Job Title: Joint Action Leaders. Joint Action Leaders. What on earth does that mean? What do these people actually do? I’ve got the ad here - let me read it to you. Applicants ‘need a track record of diagnosing, analysing and developing workable solutions to key blockages to public service delivery.’ Well, that’s clear then. It’s DynoRod in Downing Street. And for key blockages, read Gordon Brown. These Joint Action Leaders are paid £70,000 a year each, much more than an experienced midwife gets in a real delivery unit bringing babies into the world. In week one of a Conservative Government, I will order the closure of the Downing Street Delivery Unit. It may not be the biggest waste of money in Whitehall, but it sums up what’s going wrong. Tony Blair’s got a Delivery Unit but there’s no delivery. I won’t have a Delivery Unit, but I will deliver.
Action on pensions
I will deliver for pensioners. If you want to know about a family, look at how they treat their older relatives. And if you want to know about a country, look how it cares for older people. It’s a scandal that this Government took the best pensions system in Europe and turned it into one of the worst. Can you imagine what it feels like to have saved for your retirement only to find that the money you’ve put aside isn’t there? That the value of your pension has been destroyed by Gordon Brown’s stealth taxes? How are pensioners on fixed incomes meant to cope with an ever-increasing Council Tax? And what a way to treat people who have worked hard and saved all their lives to make them fill in a twelve page means test form to get what they are due. I want to live in a country where we honour our older generations, cherish their wisdom and care for their needs. A country where they can live out their days in security and with dignity. Respected. Protected.
To those who have given so much, we must surely give more. That is why in our first month David Willetts will take steps to restore the link between pensions and earnings. There’ll be an extra £7 a week if you live on your own, and an extra £11 a week for a couple. We need a Government which gives pensioners back their dignity. That’s what most people want. But only a Conservative Government will deliver it. So my message to you is simple. If you want to give pensioners back their dignity, whatever party you are from, come and join us.
Action on tax
But pensioners are not the only ones who have been let down. Everyone’s been let down by Labour on tax. I want to help those who want to get on in life. The family with a new baby who need a bigger home. The couple who both work, but still don’t seem able to make ends meet. Today they are all paying the price of a government that is taxing too much. Young couples, wanting to buy their first home, face hundreds of pounds of Stamp Duty. The poorest households shoulder the highest burden. And teachers, doctors and policemen now pay top rate Income Tax. People who bought their council houses in the 1980s are now being clobbered by Inheritance Tax. This is all wrong. It’s unfair.
And there’s more trouble ahead. Whatever the uncertainty about Tony Blair’s future, one thing is certain. If Labour were to win again, we’d have Blair’s third term tax rises. And they’d be painful indeed. Council Tax for the typical family of £2,000 a year. Conservatives will stop Blair’s third term tax rises dead in their tracks. We’ll get a grip on public spending. We’ll save billions of pounds by cutting government waste. And that will help to put us back on the path to lower taxes.
People work hard for their money and they deserve to keep more of it. Families know better than any government can how best to spend their money. So be in no doubt. When I can, I will cut taxes. This week we have set out the taxes we have in our sights, the taxes I want to make fairer, simpler, lower. But I’m not like Tony Blair, I’m not going to make promises I can’t keep. I don’t want you to leave this hall today with a false prospectus. We must be honest with the British people. It’s that word again - accountability.
Action on Europe
I want to be accountable on Europe, too. On day one, we will set the date for the referendum on the Constitution. So if the election is next May, we will hold that referendum before we meet again next October. Europe isn’t working properly today and the Constitution will only make matters worse. The European Union is spewing out too many regulations. It’s holding our economy back. We cannot go on like this. It is a recipe for certain economic decline. We need a new approach to Europe. Let me explain why.
The British people don’t want to be part of a European super-state. But other European governments are determined to press ahead with ever closer integration. Britain has tried to stop them. So all we get are arguments and bust-ups. Everyone feels frustrated. It’s not a terribly clever policy. This is what I will do. Some of our European partners want to integrate further. I’ll say to them - fine. Britain will no longer try and stop you. But we must have something in return. We want to bring powers back from Brussels to Britain.
It is not enough to say No to the European Constitution - though a Conservative Government will. It is not enough to say No to the Euro - though a Conservative Government will. It’s time we went further. We want out of the social chapter, which is a threat to British jobs. We want out of the common fisheries policy, which is destroying communities. And we want more British aid to be distributed from London and less from Brussels. It’s time to bring powers back to Britain. There’s a word for it - accountability. That’s what most people want. But only a Conservative Government can deliver it. So my message to you is simple. If you want to bring powers back from Brussels to Britain, whatever party you’re from, come and join us.
Action on immigration
The British people are open, generous and compassionate. We have a proud tradition of giving refuge to people fleeing persecution, and welcoming families who want to settle here and work. We have a long tradition of firm but fair immigration controls. But today, immigration is chaotic and out of control. Four out of five failed asylum seekers are never removed from the country. And government officials have granted work permits which they knew to be fraudulent. All this rankles with people. They feel their tolerance and fairness are being abused. And they are increasingly concerned about the impact of immigration on our public services - our schools, hospitals and transport. But that’s hardly surprising.
Immigration has doubled under Labour. And we have a Home Secretary who believes that there is ‘no obvious upper limit to legal immigration.’ I think we’ve reached a turning point. We cannot allow unlimited immigration to Britain to continue. We need a Government that gets a grip on this shambles. A government which helps genuine refugees. A government that gives priority to families who want to come here, work hard and make a positive contribution to our country. So in week one, Michael Ancram will signal Britain’s intention to pull out of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. We want asylum cases to be decided more quickly and more fairly. We want to allow genuine refugees to get to the front of the queue. That’s what I call fair. And in month one, we’ll set out plans to enable Parliament to put an annual limit on the number of people who come to Britain. No Conservative Home Secretary will ever say ‘there is no obvious limit to legal immigration.’
When the Cold War ended, we all hoped that our children and grandchildren would grow up in a safer world. That hope was shattered on September 11th 2001. Our world changed. Taking a plane, going on the Tube - all these things suddenly carried a new risk. Meanwhile, we face the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. How do we confront this sense of insecurity? How do we tackle these threats? First, people need to be told the truth about the threats we face. And if we consider the threat to our freedom and our interests merit military action, we should not flinch.
Every day, British servicemen and women face great danger in Iraq. The way they carry out their duties does Britain proud, and makes Britain proud. I believe it was right to go to war, that’s a controversial view. Many people would prefer me to say something else. But that is how I see it. And I owe it to you to tell you how I see it. The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. Saddam had provoked two wars in the Gulf. He had used chemical weapons against other nations and against his own people. No one knew if and when he would get his hands on more weapons of mass destruction. So I think it was right to go to war. But I also think its right to tell the truth.
In the run-up to the war, Tony Blair did not tell the truth. He did not give a truthful account of the intelligence he received. He did not behave as a British Prime Minister should. Tony Blair has said that mistakes were made. He has said he accepts responsibility. But it is not a question of responsibility. It is a question of credibility. I hope that we will not face another war. But the world is a very dangerous place, and you can never be sure. What if this Prime Minister asks people to trust him again? Could the British people trust him a second time?
If you want people to trust you, you must trust them. Of course, I don’t believe that we are right about everything and Labour politicians are wrong about everything. Neither party has a monopoly on virtue. But I do believe that there are times in our history when Conservative ideas are more relevant to the challenges Britain faces. And we have reached one of those times today. I am a Conservative because I believe that if people are given a choice, they will make the right decision for themselves and their families. I am a Conservative because I understand that families are better at spending their hard earned cash than governments are. I am a Conservative because I want people to be big, and the State to be small. I am a Conservative because I know that government should be accountable to the people, not people to the government. And I am a Conservative because I have an inherent belief in fair play.
No one should be over-mighty - not the trade unions, not the State, not corporations, not the European Union, not even the Prime Minister. We want to live in a society where people have the freedom to get on in life and get on with their lives, safe in the knowledge that government will provide them with security. Freedom and security: two timeless Conservative ambitions. This is what makes me a Conservative. And I believe it’s what makes all of you Conservatives.
So when people ask you on the doorstep, ‘I can’t stand Tony Blair, but why should I vote for you lot?’ Here are ten words to remember. School discipline. More police. Cleaner hospitals. Lower taxes. Controlled immigration.
Ten words to address the problems that are worrying people today. Remember those words. And remember one more: accountability. Don’t forget to tell them. We won’t just make a difference, we’ll be different. We’ll be accountable to them. We’ll do what we say. There’ll be less talk, more action. Optimistic about our people’s future? Yes. Ambitious for Britain? Certainly. But always utterly practical. Ours is a philosophy that is rooted in reality. And it delivers. Britain is the best country in the world. It delivers for our country. We all love our country. But everything I have and everything I am I owe to this country.
I was born in July 1941, two weeks after Hitler invaded Russia. Those were very dark days. In the next four years, millions of people were killed. Many lost their lives on the battlefield, at sea and in the air. Many lost their lives in cities blitzed from the air. And many lost their lives in the concentration camps set up by one of the cruellest tyrannies the world has ever known. My grandmother was one of those killed in the concentration camps. If it hadn’t been for Winston Churchill, and if it hadn’t been for Britain, I would have been one of them too. That’s why when I say I owe everything I am to this country, I really do mean it. I owe my life to it.
My father told me Britain was the best country in the world. I think it was. And I think it still is. But I know we could be doing so much better. And it’s because I think I can help make things better that I am standing before you today. Put simply, I’m here so I can give back to Britain a tiny fraction of what Britain has given to me.