Conference speech, Blackpool 1977
William Hague (Conservative)
As a 16-year-old, I represent what may well seem to be the last generation for the Conservative Party. By all accounts, some ten per cent of first-time voters voted Conservative in the last general election. If that trend continues then perhaps some mathematician in the hall would care to work out just how many years it will be before it becomes impossible for the Conservative Party to win a general election.
That lack of support stems largely, in my belief, from the fact that the party is seen, rightly or wrongly, as standing for the maintenance of the existing political and economic order. The young people who voted so overwhelmingly against our party last time are people who believe in change — not change for its own sake but change because they are dissatisfied with the existing state of affairs in Great Britain. But the only form of change that has been offered to them in the past has been a change to the left — an irreversible shift of power, as the Labour Party has called it, supposedly to the people but in reality to the centralized state.
They must now be shown that it is possible to change in other directions. Indeed, not only possible to change but necessary to change. Every subsequent Labour government has encroached upon the liberty of the individual citizen. Every subsequent Conservative government has failed to do more than only marginally restore it.
What sort of world do young people want? Like the rest of the British people, they share the aspirations and hopes of the Conservative Party, but in this case it is not translated into Conservative votes. They want a society where effort and initiative are rewarded instead of stamped upon, where those who work the hardest receive the greatest reward, where those who take the greatest risk receive the largest profit.
They want to live in a world where it pays to work and, more important, where it pays to work in Britain. They do not accept the socialist argument that the government knows what is good for the people better than the people do. They do not want to go to Callaghan's promised land, which must surely rank as the most miserable and abhorrent land that has ever been promised to the people of a nation. But most of all they want to be free, free from the government, the government that they think should get out of the way, not intervene, not interfere in their lives. And I trust Mrs Thatcher's government will indeed get out of the way.
There is at least one school, which I think is in London, where the pupils are allowed to win just one race each, no more, for fear that the others might feel inferior. That is a classic illustration of the socialist state, which draws nearer with every Labour government and which Conservatives have never reversed. Half of you may not be here in 30 or 40 years' time, but I will be and I want to be free.
Economic policy can guarantee that freedom. Denationalization of certain industries and forcing others to cover their costs, large and progressive cuts in public spending, the year-by-year reduction of the proportion of the GNP spent by the state, in short, the creation of a free market economy.
There comes a time, as a country moves nearer towards a socialist state, when the party of the left ceases to be the dominant party, the reformer, and it is the party of the right that becomes the party of radicalism and change. If we should fail now to reverse the progress of socialism, we can write off the future of this party and of the country. But if we rise to the challenge and if we determine to roll back the frontiers of the state, we will not only capture the imagination and support of the younger people; we will save free enterprise and Great Britain, and create a capital-owning, home-owning democracy for the young people.