Iain Duncan Smith – 2003 Speech to Conservative Spring Conference

Ian Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith

Below is the speech made by Iain Duncan Smith, the then Leader of the Opposition, at the Conservative Spring Conference on 16th March 2003.

We are holding this conference with our country on the brink of war.

In the twelve years from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the fall of the World Trade towers, a dangerous idea took hold.

People came to believe that a new world order of peace and security had begun.

They were wrong.

Today, the stakes are high.

Not just for Britain and the United States but for the whole world.

The credibility of the United Nations and the Security Council are at stake.

The relationship between America and Europe is at stake.

Britain’s security is at stake.

Difficult decisions are necessary.

This is not a time to play party politics and I will not do so.

That’s why I’ve backed those who are ready to take on that tyrant Saddam Hussein.

I know some people have doubts;

Of course, no decent man or woman ever welcomes war.

But Saddam Hussein is a real menace to world peace.

He is a monster to his own people.

He has not disarmed despite twelve full years of second chances.

And he’s not disarming now.

John F Kennedy – at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis – said, “Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right.

Not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom”.

He warned: “The greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.”

That warning echoes across the decades.

It calls us to duty.

No one understands duty more than those who serve in our armed forces.

I had the privilege to visit them in Kuwait a fortnight ago.

They are the finest troops in the world.

I am so proud of them.

As they wait, think also of their families whose wait will be even longer.

I send them all our thoughts and prayers, as I say, God speed and come home safely.

As perilous as the international situation is – it would be wrong to be distracted from Britain’s domestic challenges.

For we have another duty.

To hold this government to account.

To provide effective opposition.

To build the alternative government this country so desperately needs.

Not since the 1970s – when the Conservatives last rescued Britain from Labour’s mess – has this country needed our party more.

Our party’s duty is clear.

It is to serve and to succeed.

That success will depend on all of us…

Working together; campaigning together…arguing together!

Well perhaps, not arguing together too much!

I’d like to pay tribute to each and every one of our Party members; our Association officers and our councillors up and down the land.

I thank all of you.

I know you fight hard for our cause.

I know you work selflessly for your communities, and for your country.

You work for the moment when Conservatives will restore hope and pride to Britain.

Today I want to talk about the opportunity before our party.

An opportunity to serve this country again.

Because – and let me give you a headline here – the new Labour project is dead.

Mr. Blair may stay in Downing Street for a couple more years but his mission is over.

His Third Way has reached the end of the road.

Just think, for a moment, about this government’s record:

Higher taxes.

But poorer public services.

More laws.

But less order.

Bigger promises.

But shrinking hope.

For six long years the British people gave Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt.

But there is no doubt now.

Tony Blair’s day of reckoning is fast approaching.

The British people are ready for change.

They want change founded on fairness.

Fairness for vulnerable people and fairness for the backbone of this country.

We need to reassure them that Conservatives can deliver that fairness because we build on success.

Our successes at home – in Conservative councils throughout Britain.

And on what is already working in other countries.

Let me begin by recording the significance of Labour’s latest failures and broken promises.

More and more people are having what you might call ‘wake up moments.’

They are moments triggered by yet more news of this Government’s failure, incompetence and dishonesty.

In pubs…

At the school gates…

On the factory floor…

People are talking about the moment they realised that this government was conning them.

For some the wake-up moment came last summer during the ‘A’ levels fiasco.

Never again will those people trust Mr. Blair’s promises on education.

For some the wake up moment came a few months ago when Labour stopped sending burglars to prison.

Never again will those people trust Mr. Blair’s promises on crime.

For some, the wake up moment came when their council tax went through the roof and for others it will come when Labour’s National Insurance Jobs Tax takes yet more pounds from their wage packet.

Never again will those people trust Mr. Blair’s promises on tax.

For some, that wake up moment will come when Labour attempts to sign up Britain to a European Constitution and a European single currency.

Never again will the people trust Mr. Blair’s promises on Europe.

No Mr. Blair – we’re not going to let you sell the birthright of the British people.

In 1997 Mr. Blair led people to believe that things could only get better.

Many people had such high hopes of him.

In 2001 they heard another set of promises and – although doubtful – gave Mr. Blair one last chance.

Remember those promises?

Remember that grin?

There isn’t so much to smile about now.

Mr. Blair has squandered a golden economic inheritance, and two large parliamentary majorities.

Every year he’s taken an extra one hundred billion pounds of tax from you… and all for nothing.

This Labour government is a one hundred billion pound a year failure and history will not judge it kindly.

Not least because history will be written by people who have to pay Labour’s frightening top-up fees.

It will by read by people who have to face up to the consequences of Labour’s cynical raid on pensions.

Labour isn’t just hurting people now; it’s stealing their futures.

Many British people feel that they’ve been taken for a ride.

You’ve saved for years for your retirement but your pension is dropping in value by the day.

You’re working longer hours and paying more tax than ever before.

And despite the tax you’re paying, the schools, hospitals and trains you depend on – still aren’t working.

You respect the law but get no protection from those who don’t.

You do your bit for others and just get hassle in return.

It’s no surprise that some people are asking themselves:

What’s the point?

What’s the point of doing everything you can; when it feels like the system is stacked against you?

The people who work in Britain’s public services feel this more than most.

Professional initiative and independence have been ripped out of our public services.

Ripped out by a Government that thinks it always knows best.

A government that prescribes to our doctors and nurses, that lectures our teachers, and that handcuffs our police officers.

Let’s not forget, it’s doctors and nurses who take life and death decisions.

It’s teachers who are trusted with our children’s schooling.

It’s police officers who protect our homes and our families.

We rely on them all.

They shoulder huge responsibilities on our behalf.

They are the real heroes of our communities.

Yet this Government doesn’t trust them.

Instead it hands over your money to a million bureaucrats who are miles from the frontline of our public services.

The British soldiers of the First World War were described as lions led by donkeys.

Today our public services are staffed by doctors and nurses, led by number-crunchers.

Teachers led by target-setters.

Police officers led by pen-pushers.

That is why the tax you are paying is not giving you the better healthcare or the better education or the better policing that you need.

It’s being wasted in a system that insults and undermines the dedication and professionalism of the people who really do know best – the people at the sharp end.

So: what’s missing in Blair’s Britain?

I’ll tell you what I think it is.

It’s fairness.

The British people don’t expect the earth.

They – just – want – a fair – deal.

Labour preaches fairness;

The Conservative Party practises fairness.

We believe in a special obligation to the young and to the old.

We believe in helping people who are least able to help themselves.

We believe in giving a youngster in trouble a chance to go straight.

We believe in opportunity for people of every background.

And we reject the lonely individualism of those who would allow everything – and stand up for nothing.

Crucially, we understand that fairness cuts two ways.

Conservatives appreciate you have to be fair to the people who pay for the public services and for society’s other responsibilities.

People who build and run businesses.

People who provide for their families and their futures.

People who play by the rules and aren’t a burden to the police or courts.

People who are patriotic.

People who advance social justice by giving to their communities.

These people don’t belong to a special interest group.

Theirs is not a trendy cause.

And they are forgotten by this government… except, of course, when Gordon Brown wants their money.

But they are the quiet strength of our nation and, yes, they are getting angry.

These people are the backbone of our country and this Government has ripped them off.

Voters are deserting this failing government.

But the Liberal Democrats are not an alternative to Labour.

They are its dark shadow.

If Tony Blair is new Labour.

Charles Kennedy is old Labour.

But, have I got news for you, Mr Kennedy;

By the next General Election we will make sure that every voter knows what your party really stands for.

Before May’s elections, Liberal Democrat Candidates will cynically attempt to distance themselves from Charles Kennedy’s policies.

But Liberal Democrat councils are just like Labour councils.

And in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, it’s impossible to tell the difference between Labour and the Liberals.

They both tax more.

They both waste more.

And they both deliver less.

Why vote for more of the same – only worse?

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are both in thrall to a culture of despair.

The cynical despair of politicians who’ve lost the will to make a difference.

They have always been content to manage decline.

Conservatives never have and Conservatives never will.

People no longer believe Labour’s promises.

They’ve watched Labour fail.

They don’t want their hopes dashed again.

But they need proof that the Conservative Party is different.

And that means we have to be straightforward.

We must promise only what we can deliver.

There’s an urgent job that needs to be done and we have to show that we’re up to it.

Labour, like a cowboy builder, promised perfection, charged the earth and built something that’s falling apart.

Well, enough is enough.

They build on sand.

But we’ll build on rock.

At home, we’re already building on a very strong record in local government.

The independent Audit Commission has proved that Conservative councils provide better quality services at a lower cost than Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Conservative councils are led by people who’ve run businesses, worked in the public services and given to their communities.

They don’t waste council taxpayers’ money.

They don’t wrap projects up in red tape.

They get the job done.

That’s why we need more Conservative councillors elected in May.

That’s why we need more Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament and in the Welsh Assembly.

And our programme at the next General Election will be built on what’s already working in other countries.

There’s New York’s successful war on crime.

Australia’s tough but fair asylum policy.

Holland’s rich mix of high-achieving, local schools.

France and Germany’s hospitals where the sick do not have to wait.

We’re learning from what works elsewhere in the world and we’re going to make it work for Britain, too.

So, I can say with confidence:

The next Conservative Government will put 40,000 extra police officers on Britain’s streets.

And this will be funded by our quota system which will restore order to Labour’s asylum chaos.

So chaotic that – on Friday – Labour’s system was judged the weakest in Europe.

By reforming Britain’s public services Conservatives will stop the waste of taxpayers’ hard-won earnings.

We will give headteachers authority over their schools.

They will have effective powers to restore discipline in the classroom.

State scholarships will open the door of opportunity for children in failing schools.

We will put clinical priorities first by scrapping Labour’s politically-motivated targets for the NHS.

And because Conservatives trust nurses and doctors, we will create foundation hospitals with real freedoms to serve local communities.

These freedoms will stop the suffering caused by the current system’s failings.

Just think of people who’ve waited months for a desperately needed operation.

So desperate for treatment that they use their life savings to pay for it outside the NHS.

Labour won’t face up to the fact: the system fails these people.

Labour always defend the system against the patients.

Conservatives always put patients first.

That’s why we’ll help people who’ve paid their taxes, and can wait no longer, to get care faster in a private, public or voluntary run hospital of their choice.

We call that our Patient Passport.

And it’s not just patients that deserve fairness.

Conservatives know that parents, students, passengers and victims of crime deserve fairness, too.

That’s the difference between us and Labour.

Conservative policies will help everyone in Britain.

They will help everyone who is worn down by failing schools, rising crime, substandard healthcare, child poverty and insecurity in old age.

Our agenda is so vital for people in vulnerable communities like Easterhouse, Glasgow.

I will never forget my visits to them and to Gallowgate and Moss Side and Hackney and Grangetown and all the many other places where hope is in retreat.

These are the people in Labour’s heartlands that Tony Blair has forgotten.

The Conservative Party will not forget them.

Some say: ‘they’re not Conservative – and never will be’.

They said the same 25 years ago when Conservatives introduced the right-to-buy – giving council tenants the opportunity to own their own home.

Now we plan to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants, too.

Much, much more still needs to be done today for people unfairly excluded from all that Britain has to offer.

Our party – the party of Burke, Disraeli and Shaftesbury – fulfils its greatest purpose when it upholds fairness for every person in Britain.

Not only for the disadvantaged but for the hard-working, law-abiding, patriotic majority who deserve a fair deal, too.

So, when you’re next asked why vote Conservative? say this:

One:

Conservatives in local government already spend taxpayers’ money more carefully and get the job done.

Two:

Conservatives want a fair deal for everyone.

For those who rely on public services;

For those who work in them; and for those who pay for them.

And three:

Conservatives are passionate about making Britain’s economy and public services work again.

We will deliver because our programme is built on what already works at home and elsewhere in the world.

All of our efforts; all of our energy – will be devoted to the urgent tasks facing the British people.

Devoted to getting on with the job…

Not Mr Blair, just to getting on TV.

In the last eighteen months the mission and purpose of our party has been renewed.

This party is now – and always will be – the party of enterprise and prosperity…

But we are also a party committed to better public services.

This party is now – and always will be – a party that keeps taxes low and gives people power over their own lives.

This party is now – and always will be – a party of freedom, tradition and national pride…

But we are just as much a party of fairness.

We are a party committed to those who need society’s help and to those who provide it.

We stand for justice for the victim and justice for those who need help to mend their ways.

We believe in compassion that helps vulnerable people and compassion that rewards responsibility.

In practical terms:

Fairness requires us to help people fleeing from persecution and to stop the scandalous abuse of Britain’s asylum system.

Fairness demands that we properly punish criminals and that we help young people to escape the conveyor belt to crime.

Fairness leads a Conservative government to always appreciate the dedication of single parents and to reward marriage for the dedication and stability it provides children.

This is my agenda.

An agenda for fairness.

It’s Conservative.

Conservative in heart and mind.

In idealism and practicality.

In vision and reality.

If ever there was a common ground of British politics then this is it.

It’s where the British people stand.

It’s where we stand.

My mission – a mission for the whole Conservative party – is to safeguard our prosperity and to improve our public services.

To build one nation.

To create a Britain that is fair for all its people.

We will not be distracted from this mission.

Ours is a great party.

And sometimes, great parties are tough to lead.

So, I took on this job thinking it would be hard.

And, you know what?

It is!

It is hard.

But it’s not as hard as bringing up a child on an inner city estate.

It’s not as hard as saving all your life and seeing your pension fund plundered by the government.

It’s not as hard as watching your mother wait and wait for an operation she desperately needs.

It’s not as hard as seeing the country you love divided and demoralised.

I didn’t seek the leadership of this party for its own sake.

I sought it so that we could give back hope to our country and to all its people.

People who are sick and tired of Labour’s broken promises.

Sick of a failing health service.

Tired of taxes… raised and wasted.

Sick of the drug epidemic.

Tired of government spin and lies.

People don’t expect the earth.

But they want a fair deal.

And they deserve a fair government.

From Easterhouse to Hackney, amongst pensioners and the young, you can hear the beating heart of a discontented Britain.

Discontented and dismissed – they’ve lost faith that things could change.

It is our challenge to re-unite this country and to restore fairness.

This is a challenge worthy of us – we must respond.

Our country is waiting.

Our party is ready.

Ready to build a Britain to be proud of;

For a people that deserve the very best.