William Hague – 2001 Speech on Two Britains

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Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Leader of the Opposition, on 6 June 2001.

Thirty days ago, I began this campaign by saying we would show the nation a better way.

We have done that. We have set out how we will bring taxes down, how we will hit crime hard, how we will bring discipline, standards and choice to schools in every town and city, how we and we alone will keep the Pound. We have shown how we will deliver lower taxes while safeguarding spending on the vital public services.

Labour by contrast has ducked and weaved on tax and spending. They promise more money for services but refuse to say where it will come from. They cloak their plans for more stealth taxes on petrol on National Insurance on pensions in weasel words and arrogant evasions.

We have spelt out what it means to be genuinely tough on crime. Our support for the police will be as unflinching as our hostility to criminals. They will serve the sentence they are given, they will not be released on to our streets to offend again before they have served even half their time. Labour has had nothing to say about crime short of promising new police officers when they can’t even keep hold of the ones they’ve got. We have demonstrated how our schools can become places where children learn, where teachers teach and where heads are given the responsibility and authority to lead.

Labour can only repeat the mantra of ‘education, education, education’ while we put forward practical plans to deliver discipline, standards and choice to everyone.

We have shown we can make Britain a safe haven instead of a soft touch, by introducing reception centres that will speed-up the claims of genuine refugees. Labour and their Liberal allies have tried to avoid the subject and have offered no alterative plans of their own.

We have set out our plans to rescue the countryside, by ensuring that proper help is given to the rural businesses and farmers hit so badly by foot and mouth. All Labour have to offer are further attacks on our rural way of life

And we have shown how Britain can be in Europe, not run by Europe, how we can play our full part in the EU without surrendering our independence or our currency. Labour meanwhile plot to scrap the Pound without telling us how much it will cost, at what rate we would go in to the Euro or how a referendum in which they would set the question and determine the funding could ever be a fair one.

Issue by issue we have made and won our case. We have put forward answers that Labour have been unable to question and raised questions that they have been unable to answer.

I am proud of the campaign we have fought. I am proud of what my colleagues have said and done. I am proud of the campaign you have fought. We alone have set the agenda in this campaign.

But elections are fought on more than just issues alone. They are also about values, beliefs and commitment – the iron in the soul of a political party that can see it through bad times as well as good.

We have shown that iron. What a contrast to New Labour. What a contrast to Tony Blair’s endless convolutions that lead him to praise Margaret Thatcher in one breath and try to bury her in the next. Unlike him and them, we know who we are and we know what we stand for.

We have never campaigned to pull out of Europe.

We have never campaigned for higher taxes.

We have never campaigned for greater union powers.

We have never campaigned to scrap our nuclear deterrent.

But I will tell you who has, Tony Blair. No belief is too important for him to abandon it when circumstances dictate, No policy is so essential that Labour will hold to it no matter how temporarily unpopular it may be. No value is too central for it not to be jettisoned when the going gets rough.

That is not my way, nor is it the way of the Conservative Party.

Our core beliefs in freedom, justice, and tolerance, of respect for the individual, decency, a reluctance to meddle and interfere and above all our fierce belief that a country is happiest and most prosperous when the people and not the politicians rule have stood the test of time.

That is why in this Election we are clear about what we want.

We want people to keep more of what they earn, to be self-reliant and independent, to plan for their future.

We believe our society is stronger when people have the authority and responsibility to shape their own futures and those of others.

It is why we set such great store by upholding the rule of law and defending those who work hard and play by rules.

It is why we will fight to keep our country as a self-governing nation with the ability to control its economy.

These are the same principles I joined the Conservative Party to defend all those years ago, the principles I stood up and spoke for when I was 16, the principles I am proud to put forward as leader of the Conservative Party today.

They are principles not learned from books or seminars or pollsters, but forged from the people I grew up with, the community we shared and above all the family whose love and support has always been unconditional. They are principles that have never changed and never will.

I grew up in the 1970s, a decade torn by industrial strife and inflation. A decade when people seriously questioned whether Britain was even capable of being governed. In Rotherham, politics was never very far away because the evidence of the government was everywhere from the council estates where a lot of my friends at school lived, to the nationalised pits and steelworks that their fathers worked in.

But whether they were miners, factory workers or small businessmen like my own dad, they were decent hard-working people with standards who wanted their children to have a better life than they themselves had had.

We all went to the same schools, used the same family doctors and hospitals and wanted the same things, but it wasn’t a Labour Government, the supposed people’s party that made it possible to fulfil those ambitions. It was because of Conservative Government that my friends and neighbours eventually saw a real improvement in their lives.

Slowly but surely better jobs and more opportunities came the way of our country as the Conservatives ended union tyranny, brought down taxes, and widened home ownership. For the first time in decades there was a real sense that we were no longer the sick man of Europe.

The people I went to school with are now doing many different things. They own their own homes, they save for their pensions, they enjoy wider choice in their lives. Many now have families of their own. I took my own route to Oxford, business school in Europe and leading the Opposition. But the values we shared then are the same values we share now: pride, directness, generosity of spirit and, if I’m honest, a certain stubborn streak.

A lot of them voted Labour at last election. They did do in spite of their values not because of them. They did so because they wanted what their own parents had wanted for them: better schools for their children, better hospital care for their families and because they believed Tony Blair when he said he would keep their taxes down and make their streets safer.

So imagine first their disappointment, when he broke those promises, and then their anger when he blamed them for his own failure to deliver. His attack on the forces of conservatism and his attempt to heap all the ills and evils of the 20th century on the heads of decent people must rank as one of the most ill-judged political comments of all time.

Tony Blair may have retreated in the face of the Women’s Institute and others, but they still remember, we still remember. And tomorrow the world will find out that the forces of conservatism are on the march.

I have met them by the thousand during my Election campaign.

They are farmers laid low by a foot and mouth outbreak which has lasted longer and bitten deeper than it need have done because of the dither and delay of this Government.

They are the small businessmen and women crippled by Labour’s taxes and new bureaucracy.

They are the teachers, the police, the doctors and the nurses who have been weighed down by red tape and political interference when they simply wanted to do their job.

They are the market traders I met in Smithfield this morning who shouted at me ‘Whatever you do William, win’. Or in many cases, ‘Go on William, wipe the smile off his face’.

They are down-to-earth people who in a quiet way love their country and are privately appalled by Labour’s plans to scrap the Pound and to undermine Britain’s independence.

Above all they are people who don’t always think of themselves as Conservatives, who don’t always vote Conservative, but who are in the end the backbone of this nation.

Tomorrow they have a choice. And tomorrow, I know they will be marching with us. They know the stakes are too high to risk another term of Labour Government. They know that, above all, because of Mr Blair’s plan to scrap the Pound and surrender to Brussels, this could be the last General Election in Britain when we can still run our own affairs in this country.

Because tomorrow is a choice not just about who will run this country for the next five years, but about the country that their children and grandchildren will inherit.

I am in no doubt about the kind of country people want.

They want a Britain that is in control of its own destiny and a society where they can be in control of theirs.

A Britain whose streets are safe for families and the vulnerable; not a Britain safe for convicted criminals.

A Britain where basic values and discipline are taught in our schools and where doctors and nurses, police and teachers are respected for what the work they do; not a Britain where the rule of law is denigrated and the people running our public services are demoralised.

A Britain where people keep more of what they earn and are encouraged to be independent the better to help themselves and others; not a Britain where families and retired people are taxed and taxed again until they are left depending on the state for their very existence.

An independent Britain with its own currency; not a Britain so lacking in self-belief that it gives up the right to run its own affairs or its own economy.

These are the two Britains on offer, and tomorrow is the last chance to choose between them.

The more widely I have travelled, the more people I have met during these last 30 days, the more I am certain of the kind of Britain the vast majority of people want.

So if you have had enough of arrogance and spin and broken promises, if you want a Government that offers you only what it can deliver; I say vote for what you value.

If you have had enough of higher taxes and creeping dependency, if you want a Government that values self-reliance and believes you can spend your money more wisely than it can, I say vote for what you value.

If you have had enough of being told that we should be ashamed of our history and cannot govern ourselves, if you want a Government that believes in the future of our country, I say vote for what you value.

Vote Conservative tomorrow and on Friday we will begin the work of making this nation once again the equal of the people who live in it.

Vote Conservative tomorrow and Britain will again be a place we can all be proud to call our home.