David Davis – 2006 Speech to Conservative Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by David Davis to the Conservative Party Conference on 1 October 2006.

David Cameron wants to change the Conservative Party.

I’m speaking today because I’d like to tell you why I agree with him.

There is one change that I want to see more than any other.

A change of government.

Today, I’d like to talk about how I think we’re going to get it; why we’re going to win the next election.

History

The Conservative Party is the oldest and most successful political party in the history of democracy.

We should all recognise that every single significant Conservative Prime Minister was remarkable because they changed the party and transformed the country.

For me the first great Conservative was Pitt the Younger.

The label certainly fitted – he was even younger than the leader we’ve got now.

Pitt took the tired old Tory Party, the party of the shires, of privilege, of turning back the clock, and he made it into a party which was popular, modern, and successful.

So how did he do it?

Well he certainly didn’t do it by throwing the old Tory Party away and starting all over again.

Pitt was a conservative.

He took the essential principle of the Party – loyalty to the Crown and to the nation – and he made it serve the age.

Pitt was a great patriot and a great war leader. He saved the nation from Napoleon.

He was a brilliant administrator. He cut taxes and opened Britain to free trade.

And above all, he was compassionate. He and his friend William Wilberforce brought about the end of slavery in Britain.

Pitt exemplified the principle that to be Conservative is to be modern, freedom-loving, and decent.

Other great Conservatives followed. I can only do justice to three this afternoon.

It’s fair to say that Disraeli shook the Tory Party up a bit.

Disraeli’s genius was that he saw what democracy could do for the Conservatives.

And, he saw how the Conservatives could use democracy to transform our country for the better.

He gave the vote to working men in the urban areas, and passed the largest body of social legislation in the entire Victorian period.

So Disraeli took the Conservative party from the country to the cities.

He made ‘One Nation’ the slogan of our party – the idea that we govern not for any class, or any interest, but for the whole country.

And what about that towering Conservative, Winston Churchill?

After six years of World War Two, the voters chose a Labour government to look after the peace.

So Churchill took a hard look at his own party and realised it had to change.

We had been so busy winning the war that the party organisation was still stuck in the 1930s.

And, people wanted better living conditions than they’d put up with in the 1930s.

Churchill understood that.

And, he changed the party.

He launched the Industrial Charter – that great document which made peace between the Conservative Party and the welfare state.

After six years of Labour, the Conservatives were back in power for 13 years.

In those years, earnings rose twice as fast as prices.

Home ownership nearly doubled.

Savings multiplied by ten.

What was that dangerous phrase coined by Harold MacMillan?

‘We’d never had it so good’.

Of course, it didn’t last. Labour got back in.

Devaluation. Inflation. Stagflation. Strikes. Bankruptcies. Rubbish lining the streets.

All the horrors of government by trade union.

But then came – that’s right – Margaret Thatcher.

Let us never forget what we owe to that lady!

We owe her our freedom from the threat of the Soviet Union.

We owe her our freedom from socialism at home.

We owe her our prosperity, and our pride in our country.

She made Britain great again, and the whole nation knows it.

But as a party we also owe her this:

Margaret Thatcher gave us the perfect example of how a Conservative leader should lead.

She didn’t have an easy time of it at first.

A lot of you will remember:

She had to fight against the old guard that wanted her to stick with ideas from the past.

But she persevered and she took the government of Britain and made it work for the British people.

Like Disraeli, Margaret Thatcher made a whole generation of hard-pressed men and women into Conservative voters.

Vision

So what do all these leaders have in common?

It’s simple.

They were visionaries. Radicals, if you like.

They took the party they loved, and turned it in a new direction: to face the challenges of the day.

Pitt, Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher were all agents of change, who transformed our Party, and more importantly transformed our country.

During the dark days over the last nine years, I’ve never doubted for one minute that the Conservative Party would have the resilience and resourcefulness to recover.

And, that is why we are the oldest and greatest party in the world.

Because, with every generation we have been able to renew ourselves.

To find in our philosophy the ideas that address the challenges of our time.

And, that is what we are doing again today.

Conservation

We have an odd name, our Party.

Don’t worry – I’m not going to suggest we change that too.

That oak tree is enough for now.

By the way, I don’t mind the oak tree.

Have you noticed that the trunk leans to the right?

That’s good enough for me.

The name Conservative is right.

We want to conserve the things that we love about our country – and which Labour hate.

But we face a particularly formidable task.

To do what we want to do, we are going to have to shock the British people.

Shock them out of their growing loss of faith in our democratic system.

Shock them out of a belief that politics in Britain is progressively more sleazy and corrupt.

Shock them out of the idea that politicians are in it only for themselves.

That the promise of today’s bright new government leads inevitably to the broken promises of tomorrow’s tired old government.

And we’ll have to shake voters into the realisation that the Conservative Party is the party to mend that broken faith, clean up that grimy self interest, and deliver on those unmet promises.

And we’ll have to do that by leading by example keeping promises and saying what we mean.

It was Edmund Burke who said that “History is a pact between the dead, the living, and the yet unborn.”

And so the next Conservative government should see themselves as public servants three times over:

As servants of our history, the men and women who made Britain great and who are no longer with us. As servants of today’s nation, the people who we represent today, and as servants of the generations yet to come.

And as Conservatives, we know the best way to serve today’s generation and tomorrow’s is by preserving the best of our country.

Preserve our great nation, and its freedom to act in its longstanding tradition of wise and ethical action in international affairs.

Preserve our great institutions and with them the traditions of liberty and justice, of freedom and compassion that have marked this country out over the centuries.

Preserve our economic skills and competitive capacity, because that’s the only way can we offer security in old age to today’s generation, and a life of opportunity to tomorrow’s children and grandchildren.

And yes, preserve our countryside and environment because only then can we pass on what Margaret Thatcher called the “full repairing lease on our planet”, to the next generation in a form that they can enjoy and that we can be proud of.

You all know that I walk a couple of hundred miles of Britain every September.

Well, almost every September. I was a bit distracted last year.

This summer I walked with my son from coast to coast from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay across the Pennines.

And, as usual, two things struck me.

One is the awesome beauty of Britain.

Hill and dale, moor and fell, river and lake – this landscape is a gift from God.

It is our home – the most precious thing we have.

And we’ve got to conserve it.

So, when David Cameron talks about the environment he shouldn’t be saying anything new or surprising for a Conservative.

There can be no more Conservative idea than the conservation of nature.

And the other thing that struck me was this.

The people.

I walked through farms, villages, market towns.

I walked along pilgrim routes, old trade roads, the tracks made over centuries by the people of this country going about their business.

Today they go by rail, by air and by motorway.

But they are the same people who made those tracks I walked along.

Hardy. Strong.

Proud but not boastful.

Capable of great things – but happiest at home.

The people I talked to this summer reminded me once again why I went into politics.

I am in politics to conserve the tradition of liberty.

Tradition – because it is part of our inherited wisdom, distilled over centuries.

It is not some abstract invention.

It didn’t come by bloody revolution.

It is the bequest of ages.

And liberty – because it is the inheritance of free men and women.

And, we need to conserve that inheritance.

We have to conserve it from our enemies abroad – as we did under Pitt and under Churchill and under Thatcher.

We have to conserve it from our enemies here in Britain.

And, the test of whether we succeed is easy.

When I am locked in political combat with one of our opponents, and life is a bit difficult, I remind myself that what we are striving to defend was protected by millions of lives of previous generations, so a little political discomfort is worth taking.

And I remind myself of W. H. Auden’s poem, the unknown soldier, which contains the lines:

“To save your world you asked this man to die.

Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?”

That is the test we’ve got to pass. That the nation we pass on is one worth fighting and even dying for.

We have a Government whose idea of liberty is forcing us all to carry little cards to prove who we are.

They want to conscript us, number us, put us into little boxes.

They want to control us, manage us, nanny us.

They want to run our lives for us.

They even think they can spend our money better than we can.

And it is the eternal job of the Conservative Party to stop them – and tell them loud and clear that we are a nation of liberty.

That is the job for us.

Change

So, those are things we need to conserve.

Our country.

Our people.

Our tradition of liberty.

But to conserve those things we’ve got to change ourselves..

It has been said that a state without the means of some change is a state without the means of its own conservation.

The same goes for parties.

So what are the things we need to change?

That’s easy.

Too many people still think the Tories stand for the rich.

For the shires of England.

For the established and static not the inventive and creative.

And in a sense that’s all true and right.

We are in favour of people being rich. No shame in that.

As Abraham Lincoln said: ‘You can’t build up the poor….by tearing down the rich’.

We do love the shires of England.

We do respect the long established over the newly invented.

But we are so much more than that.

We are the party of the unfortunate, no less than the Party of the prosperous.

We are the party of the council tenant, no less than the landed gent or the dotcom millionaire.

We are the party of aspiration and hope, no less than achievement and comfort.

We are the party of all the people.

But if we’re going to have any chance of changing perceptions then we have to change our preoccupations.

This Conference should understand that the battle we face is no longer beating the government.

We have done that already.

They are doing are a good enough job of that themselves.

After all, how many more Labour Home Secretaries do you want?

No. The battle we face is no longer about defeating the Government, it is now about winning the people.

We have to talk about the things that matter to ordinary voters.

Nurseries. Schools. Hospitals and GP’s. The school run.

Opportunities for youngsters.

All the things that you and I talk about at home with our families when we’re planning the complicated business of life.

And, we have to change the way we look.

That means widening the range of people who represent us in Parliament.

I know this can be painful.

But we have to do it.

And you know, it’s working.

People out there are taking note.

They see us changing, and they like what they see.

Peroration

I mentioned earlier the dark days of the last nine years.

That was no reflection on the men who have led us these difficult last years.

William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard.

They kept the ship upright and afloat and they kept it moving forwards, through all the storms and turbulence.

But I am sure – in fact I know – that each of them recognises what David Cameron has done in 10 short months.

This time last year we engaged in an honest, open and democratic debate about the future direction and leadership of this Party.

I hope you agree that we set an example the other parties would have done well to follow.

It was a privilege to be part of that debate.

Some of you will remember that I said at the time that the process was designed to ensure that the next PM elected by the British people was called David.

And you can be quite sure I wasn’t thinking of David Milliband.

To that end, the time for debate is over. Now is the time for action; action to deliver a Conservative government.

Ten months ago you elected the next Conservative Prime Minister.

It is my job, and the job of all my colleagues, to get David into Downing Street.

And it is your job too.

Because the Conservative Party does not exist for itself.

It certainly doesn’t exist for us, the politicians.

It doesn’t even exist for you, the members – though it certainly wouldn’t exist without you.

It exists for the British people.

We are gathered here this week to re-dedicate ourselves to the job we have to do.

Let us go out from here renewed…

…restored in confidence…

…committed to the fight…

…determined to take our message into every home in Britain.

So that once again we can see:

A Conservative majority in Parliament…

A Conservative government in Whitehall….

…and a Conservative Prime Minister in Downing Street.