The speech made by Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Defence, in Manchester on 1 October 2023.
When people think of the Blitz they tend to think of London – the burning Docklands and St Paul’s shrouded in smoke.
But Manchester endured its own Blitz early on, in 1940, where some 680 people were killed.
Fortunately for our country, that kind of systematic destruction on this scale is a thing of memory.
But imagine if a trip to the market or restaurant could be your last; that you or those that you love might fall victim to a sudden attack by a cruise missile or suicide drone plunging from the sky.
This is daily life in Ukraine; on freedom’s front line.
Even as the fighting falls deep into its second year, it’s still hard to believe that a full-scale war is raging here, in Europe.
And Ukraine is not some long away distant country of which we know nothing.
It is part of the family of European democratic nations, and they are fighting for their very survival.
Fighting for freedom against an invader as ruthless as any in modern times.
A tyrant who sees civilians as collateral damage in a failed war of conquest he cannot win, but he also cannot find a way to exit either.
Putin hoped to take Ukraine by bluff.
A swift armoured invasion designed to seize Kyiv and install a puppet government.
Ukraine would be quickly, it would be overwhelmed, it would be reduced to a vassal state, its identity and freedom crushed.
But the Ukrainian people were not going to let that happen. And neither were we.
The United Kingdom stepped up.
We have provided billions in military aid – second only to the contribution of the United States.
We have consistently been first in responding to Ukraine’s needs.
The N-LAW anti-tank missiles wisely sent in advance by Britain – thank you to Ben Wallace – were crucial in those first early weeks when the fate of Ukraine hung in the balance.
And as N-LAWs struck fear into the hearts of invading Russian tank crews at the beginning, so our long-range cruise missiles do the same for Russian commanders today.
With weapons like Storm Shadow, everywhere in Russian-occupied Ukraine, is on the front line.
But we cannot – we must not – let up now.
The war is consuming weapons, ammunition and, yes, people at an appalling rate.
If Ukrainians are to prevail against the evil assault on their homeland, we must remain steadfast.
That’s why we’re helping to train their F16 pilots.
It’s why by the end of this year we’ll have trained more than 50,000 Ukrainian recruits, starting well in advance of the war.
And of course, it’s why Ukrainians have been welcomed by so many British families under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.
Including – for a year – in my own home.
Now, my wife and I were partly moved to act because our own ancestors fled to this country to escape the pogroms of Eastern Europe in an earlier age.
But what really moved us most, was the palpable sense of generosity from the British public for our new arrivals to Britain.
Complete strangers came forward with clothes, with schoolbooks for six-year-old Nikita, and most precious of all, their time to help ensure the three-generation Ukrainian family that came to live with us felt truly at home in the United Kingdom.
You know, we should never be complacent about this country, whatever our grumbles. This is a precious and incredibly generous land.
On my first visit to Ukraine this summer, I visited Nikita’s nursery in Kyiv.
I saw the apartment block across the road from his Kindergarten that had been destroyed by one of Putin’s rockets at the start of the war.
This was the attack that made Nikita, his mother, his grandmother, together with their dog – Max – flee from Ukraine.
Only, as I glanced across the street from his nursery this summer, there was no bombed out shell to view. The apartment block has already been completely rebuilt. Re-inhabited.
What I was witnessing was the iron resolve of the Ukrainian people. Ordinary people, maintaining a semblance of life even amongst air raids sirens.
Rebuilding their homes, the moment they get the chance.
And last week, as Defence Secretary, I visited Kyiv again.
And this time, I met with the steely resolve of President Zelenskyy himself.
At a time when he could have left the capital. At a time when he could have become a leader in exile. He did not, he stayed put. Providing inspiration for his people and he showed remarkable bravery.
Ukraine has taught us a lesson.
The war reminds us of the unprovoked aggression by one nation against another is still a reality in global affairs.
Left unchecked – we are all in danger.
And this is why we must invest in our defence.
That’s why, under the Conservative government, defence spending has exceeded £50 billion a year for the first time ever.
And conference, it is why we will maintain our leading position in NATO by increasing the defence budget to 2.5 per cent of GDP when conditions allow.
Because we know the world is changing. So as a result, we’re working ever closer with our allies.
Developing the latest naval technology to protect our Commonwealth kith and kin in the Pacific as they face up the challenge of the rapidly expanding Chinese navy.
Deploying two of the world’s largest and most advanced carriers in history the Royal Navy has ever seen, in the Queen Elizabeth, HMS, and HMS Prince of Wales.
We are ploughing billions into our own naval shipbuilding program, as well as civilian construction to create jobs and grow our economy.
And Britain is one of the few nations capable of operating in every ocean of the world, simultaneously.
Our ultimate national insurance policy is, of course, our at sea nuclear deterrent.
So, we’re building the new Dreadnought-class submarines that will carry Britain’s nuclear deterrent into the middle of the century.
And today I can announce that we have signed contracts worth £4 billion with leading British businesses to drive forward the development of the most powerful attack submarines ever operated by the Royal Navy.
These hunter-killer AUKUS submarines will empower the Royal Navy to maintain our strategic advantage under the sea – enabling us to compete with emerging navies anywhere in the world as our world becomes more unpredictable and dangerous.
Today’s announcement will support thousands of jobs, from Barrow-In-Furness where these submarines will be built, to Derby where our reactor-build facilities will be expanded.
And by backing British businesses to develop them, we are taking the long-term decisions we need to boost our defence industry and to grow our economy.
Under our Prime Minister’s leadership, the Conservatives are putting the UK at the heart of NATO.
Vladimir Putin shattered peace across Europe, but in doing so he made our collective will and our resolve more important than ever.
And in response, the UK is taking a leading role in ensuring NATO remains the bedrock of our security for us and our allies.
We are one of NATO’s very few members exceeding the critical 2% of GDP target for the amount of money which is spent on our defence. And, of course, we are the largest defence spender in Europe and we are delivering the capabilities our alliance needs.
Today, I can announce that the UK has stepped up again, with two new deployments.
First, in response to a request from our Polish friends, RAF Typhoons are landing in Poland as I speak, to support our NATO ally with the growing threat of Russian interference.
Deploying ahead of Poland’s elections, they will be a powerful way of undeniably showing Putin that this Conservative government will protect democracy and freedom from any despotic tyrant that threatens our allies.
Second, at the end of what I think has been a concerning week, there’s been a request from NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and so I have authorised the full deployment of a battalion-sized UK Strategic Reserve Force to NATO’s Kosovo peacekeeping mission.
In the days ahead, hundreds of soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment will join the 400 British service men and women already in Kosovo.
And, as the best of the best, I know our soldiers will do the United Kingdom proud.
We have been unwavering in our support for NATO – contributing to every allied mission that they have and supporting them this weekend, so that when NATO contact us, they knew the answer from the United Kingdom would be yes.
As Conservatives, we put our nation’s security first.
Which is more than can be said for Labour.
So, what is Keir Starmer’s approach to our fundamental security?
Simple. He personally campaigned to make one Jeremy Corbyn, Prime Minister. The man who called for NATO to be disbanded.
Starmer actually backed plans for Britain to adopt a ‘non-nuclear, non-aligned defence policy’.
In plain English, that meant scrapping Trident, abandoning NATO and leaving us naked in the face of nuclear threats from the Kremlin.
And that isn’t just the Starmer of the past.
Since then, he has gone further – appointing a Shadow Foreign Secretary who has repeatedly voted against renewing our nuclear deterrent.
You know, in the military sphere, it’s sometimes good to keep your enemy guessing.
The problem with Kier Starmer is that on policy, he keeps everyone guessing.
What would Britain’s armed forces look like after five years of Labour?
The man will say anything – anything – to get himself elected.
But one thing we do know is that you just cannot trust Labour on Defence.
And if – perish the thought – Labour get back into power, the old habits will resurface. Defence – always dismissed and disparaged by the Left – will be the first casualty.
Our service people and defence industries, and our veterans all deserve much better.
Conference, we must not let that happen.
But there is one area in which we absolutely must do better.
Service life is tough enough on families – service men and women – without having to put up with sub-standard accommodation.
There are too many old and creaking buildings in our estate, and that lowers morale.
Our accommodation estate is in fact very large. Indeed, if the Ministry of Defence was a Housing Association, it would rank amongst the biggest in the land.
So, I am making it a personal priority to improve its quality.
Which is why we’re injecting £400 million to ensure that we provide the modern accommodation that our service families deserve.
And while resolving this problem will not be instantaneous, I am determined that we fix it in order to support our brave men and women at home, as well as on the front line.
And while we’re on the subject of morale, I want to end by saying something about our Party.
One of the things I most admire about the military is that they don’t gloss over the harsh realities.
Now, times are tough. We are behind in the polls. The pundits tell us that Labour is a shoo-in. And we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t sometimes feel the pressure.
But for those who think that this conference is going to be nothing more than inward looking or downcast, I say this: This country faces an important choice; Rishi Sunak, who will make the hard but necessary long-term decisions to get the country on the right path for the future…
… or Sir Keir Starmer – a man focused on the short-term and lacking the backbone to make the big changes that Britain needs.
In Rishi Sunak, we have a leader who has weathered a brutal baptism of fire and is coming through. His mettle has been tested and not found wanting.
He has stuck to his course, trusting in what he believes to be right for the country. It doesn’t always make him popular in the short term – but that is the price of doing the right thing.
We need leadership that puts the national interest over self-interest, and does what is right, not what is easy.
Now, I trust the British people, their good sense. They can spot a serious man to take the tough decisions.
And they can spot an opposition leader who has made an art out of political opportunism.
So, let’s take the fight to Say-Anything-Starmer.
He’s measuring the curtains. He thinks he’s home and dry. He thinks that he can take Downing Street by bluff.
But as the steely Sir Claude Auchinleck said before the first battle of El Alamein – when the British had their backs to the wall and Rommel seemed to be triumphant:
‟Let’s show him where he gets off.”