Iain Duncan Smith – 2002 Speech to Welsh Conservative Conference

Ian  Duncan Smith
Ian Duncan Smith

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Leader of the Opposition, Iain Duncan Smith, to the Welsh Conservative Conference on 24th May 2002.

I have spent much of the last three months looking first hand at the symptoms of political failure.

I have seen evidence of drug abuse – lying alongside evidence of children playing.

I have seen poverty – not just a lack of money, but of hope and ambition.

I have seen the evidence of crime – graffiti on walls of abandoned houses where people have lost respect for their own community.

The failure of politics is evident here in Wales.

We must be a Party that speaks for vulnerable people as well as for the rest of society.

And we are becoming that Party again.

Here in Wales you’re leading the way.

You have shown how the interfering policies of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are letting these people down.

If Labour have achieved anything through their devolution settlement, it is to expose the myth that they are on the side of people in Wales.

For they are now in government in Wales, propped up by their Liberal Democrat allies.

The Liberals claim to be the real opposition to Labour in Westminster. They stood on their manifesto here in Wales.

Yet at the very first sniff of power they have rolled over. Their cynicism takes your breath away.

So where before Labour and the Liberals blamed all Wales’ problems on the Conservatives, they now have to take responsibility themselves.

The Labour Party has to explain why hospital waiting lists in Wales are spiralling out of control.

Labour politicians have to explain why one hospital in South Wales has the longest waiting lists in the developed world.

When parents and children look at their crumbling school buildings and ask why they are being educated in such appalling conditions, they will remember that Labour told them it would all be better after devolution.

Of course, it is not.

Because Labour in Cardiff have the same instincts as their colleagues in London.

Rhodri Morgan may not call himself ‘New’ Labour, but beneath the surface the same instincts and prejudices remain.

Centralised control, rather than devolution to the front-line.

Stifling innovation, rather than encouraging initiative.

Outdated dogma, instead of new ways of thinking.

For the past five years Labour has spent its time centralising our public services with targets and ten-year plans. It has drowned individual initiative in directives and dogma.

British People deserve better than this. Wales deserves better than this.

Yet Labour plough on regardless. When something doesn’t work they throw more money at it. They are the ultimate proponents of ‘one-more-heave’ politics. They believe everything is basically fine, as long as we push a little bit harder everything will fall into place.

Wales spends more as a nation on health than Holland does, but waiting lists are longer now than they were in 1997. In Holland they get the right to treatment 4 weeks after seeing their GP.

This approach is delivering neither fairness nor efficiency.

In this new century, we are still trying to run our public services in the same way we did after the Second World War.

The result is disastrous – and vulnerable people suffer the most.

When the health service fails, it is the vulnerable who suffer. It is the elderly person who cannot be discharged from their hospital bed because there is no care home for her to go to. It is the small child left waiting hours in A&E. It is the person who has to spend their life savings on a heart by-pass operation in South Africa.

When the transport system doesn’t work, vulnerable people can’t get to work or seek out training opportunities. Pensioners can’t access health care or even do something as simple as their shopping.

When schools are struggling to find enough teachers, it is children who suffer the most.

After five years of undermining the authority of teachers in the classroom and the ability of heads run their own schools, is it any wonder that so many people are turning their backs on the profession?

These are all problems politics is supposed to help solve. Instead, Labour’s politics is making them worse.

Conservative solutions

So it falls to Conservatives to provide the solutions where Labour have failed.

And our solutions are based on a simple message – Trust People.

Trust people to choose what’s best in education.

Trust people to know what’s best for their community.

Trust people to run their own lives.

It is a concept that’s alien to our opponents.

It’s not just Labour. Liberal Democrats don’t even trust people enough to tell them the truth.

At one press conference in London during the General Election last year. Charles Kennedy said that, because of their involvement in the National Assembly: ‘Rather than just promising what we would do if we were elected, we can show you what we have done where we are in power’.

And what have they achieved?

Hospital waiting lists – up.

Teacher shortages – up.

Manufacturing job losses – up.

And what about Plaid Cymru?

Well, what about them?

They are increasingly becoming an irrelevance. Their only concern seems to be whether their former leader should stand for the Assembly again.

Frankly, I think that says more about them than anything else. While everyone else is discussing the future, they’re debating the past – or whether Merthyr should host the Olympics.

People in Wales cannot look to them for solutions to today’s problems.

So it falls to us. Wales has always been our priority. That is why I recreated the position of Shadow Secretary of State for Wales and that is why I asked Nigel Evans to join me in the Shadow Cabinet to lead the charge.

That is why I asked Nick Bourne to come to Shadow Cabinet and show us how his leadership in the assembly is proving so efficient.

And that is why I asked Jonathan Evans to come to Shadow Cabinet to show how he is battling for us in Europe.

Three big hitters – three big targets – Labour, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru – I almost feel sorry for our opponents.

Next year’s Assembly elections will be a referendum on Labour’s record.

But they will also be a judgement of how much we’ve changed as a Party.

It is not enough for us to wait for Labour to lose the trust of the people. We have to ensure that people trust us again. We have to be a credible alternative. Thanks to Nick Bourne and his team, we are providing that alternative.

If it had not been for Conservatives in the National Assembly the decision to spend millions of pounds on an unnecessary new building would have gone largely unopposed.

The self-indulgent waste of time and money on new logos and titles would have gone unnoticed.

Most important of all, the Administration’s decision to spend vast amounts of money while utterly failing to improve public services in Wales would go unchallenged.

Without us, there would be no opposition at all in the Assembly. And that’s why I want to see many more Conservatives elected to serve in Cardiff Bay next year.

The Assembly elections must be the springboard for our fight back to win back Welsh seats in Parliament.

Because I am an unashamed Unionist.

I am a proud Scotsman by birth, but I was educated in Wales. Anglesey, just up the road from here, was my home for some of my formative years.

I went on to serve in Northern Ireland and now I represent a seat from an English constituency. So I know that the things which unite the constituent parts of the United Kingdom vastly outweigh the things that divide them.

And I know we need to win again in Wales.

We are already attracting support from a wider cross-section of society than ever before.

You need look no further than here in Conwy.

Your candidate for next year’s elections here is Guto Bebb.

He is the former Chairman of Plaid Cymru’s Caernarfon constituency. He even ran Dafydd Wigley’s election campaigns. But he said the Party’s lacklustre performance in the National Assembly, and its internal divisions, led him to join the Welsh Conservatives.

He is an excellent candidate, and I look forward to seeing him serving under the Conservative banner in the National Assembly.

And they’re not just coming over to us from Plaid Cymru.

Last November we welcomed Dan Munford into the Conservative fold.

Dan used to be a Liberal Democrat. He worked for them as a researcher, he even stood as their candidate for Parliament, but he came to conclude that the Party was ‘neither liberal nor democratic’.

He is an excellent addition to our team.

And just last month we welcomed back a former Conservative supporter. Heather Douglas was a Liberal Democrat councillor in Cardiff, but she has recognised that the Conservatives are the only principled opposition party in Wales.

We are glad to have her back.

The choice that these people and other like them have made to join the Conservative Party is proof that we are changing.

But as we change we will remain true to our principles. We do not have to ditch all that we believe, like Labour, to win the trust of the people again.

We want to help people be more independent of the State; we want to reduce the power of the State over people; to increase the choices available to citizens; to provide greater security for our fellow citizens; and we want to remove obstacles to enterprise, both at home and abroad.

Conservatives believe in a government that devolves power and responsibility to local communities.

A community can consist of many things – families, local schools, charities and places of worship, but it cannot consist of government taskforces and committees, run by politicians from Whitehall or even Cardiff.

This morning I visited a day centre for people with learning disabilities right here in Llandudno. It helps people cope with everyday tasks, it gives them an opportunity to take part in sport and offers the chance for them to work.

It isn’t run by Central Government or by the Assembly, but by local volunteers: people from the community supporting the community, helping vulnerable people who are too often left behind.

It is in such places that problems are confronted and overcome.

Across Wales, there are voluntary groups working in local communities to improve things like housing, childcare and the environment. There are 250,000 voluntary organisations in Wales, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers.

They are the glue that binds our society together.

Government cannot solve every social challenge but government can support these institutions and the values that energise them.

That’s why our manifesto for next year’s Assembly elections will contain practical ideas to support these groups – families, charities, social entrepreneurs.

And it will contain measures that will deliver real change in our public services.

I’m not talking about Labour’s tinkering reforms – a lot of spin and disruption, ending up with more of the same.

Labour want to replace 5 health bodies with up to 37 new organisations.

This is madness.

We want to replace 5 Health Authorities with one all-Wales health commissioning organisation.

That way we can keep politicians out of the day-to-day running of the NHS and let doctors and nurses get on with what everybody wants them to do: treating patients.

On education, we want to see more money going directly to the schools, rather than being siphoned off by politicians and bureaucrats.

On crime, we don’t just want to see more police. More police filling in more forms helps no one.

When I met Mayor Giuliani recently, he told me how he’d cut crime in New York by 60% in the past nine years.

It wasn’t by concentrating on the Mr Bigs. It was by putting more police where they belong out on our streets.

That’s what we need to work towards in this country.

These are the policies that will turn public services into services that the public want.

And people want the Welsh economy to be competitive again.

Nothing marks out the true instincts of the Labour-Liberal Administration more than its hostility to business, in this they take their lead from Westminster.

What is the £4bn tax on employers’ National Insurance if it isn’t a tax on jobs and wealth creation?

What is the extra £214 than an average worker will pay a year in tax on their income, if it isn’t an increase in income tax?

These measures say a great deal about what the Government really thinks about enterprise and working families.

And the recent speculation about the Euro says a great deal about their priorities for the country.

The Prime Minister has been dropping hints at a referendum on the single currency next year.

At a time when everyone is concerned about the state of their schools and hospitals, when we feel threatened by the rise in violent crime, he should be focusing on these issues instead of playing games.

If the Prime Minister wants Britain to adopt the single currency, he should say so, name a date and let the people to decide.

When he does, we will campaign vigorously for a ‘no’ vote.

Then get back to the urgent task of making this country fit for the century we are living in.

Helping the vulnerable means supporting communities and in Wales there is one community which has been particularly hard hit by Labour’s policies – the countryside.

Agriculture is central to the Welsh economy and to the Welsh way of life, but it is in a state of crisis.

Foot and Mouth, Bovine TB and the restrictions on the movement of livestock, Welsh farmers have received one slap in the face after another.

Labour’s refusal to sanction a full public inquiry into the foot and mouth is nothing short of a scandal.

And no-one should ever forget that the Liberal Democrats in Cardiff voted against our calls for a public inquiry. Shame on them.

Nor should anyone forget that it was Jonathan Evans, the leader of our MEPs in Strasbourg, who led the calls for a public inquiry there.

He stands up for the interests of Wales in Europe, not for the interests of Europe in Wales.

Of course the countryside is not simply about farming.

People in rural areas rely on local schools. Too many of them are in a poor condition in Wales and too many suffer from a lack of teachers.

Rural people need access to family doctors and hospitals. But they need to be able to get to them. High fuel costs continue to hit hardest in rural areas.

So does the decline in the postal service. Which is why I promise you this: whatever else happens, our commitment to universal postal delivery remains total.

These are the problems that Welsh politicians should be tackling. The Assembly would be held in higher esteem if it faced up to these issues rather than talking about banning hunting.

Welsh Conservatives face the same challenges as Conservatives everywhere.

We need to re-engage with people. That means talking about the things they want to talk about.

It means changing not who we are but the way we have been seen for far too long.

Here in Wales that process has already begun.

We are addressing people’s concerns. We are developing policies to tackle the problems they face.

Next year we have the chance to put those policies to the test.

I know that in Wales we have a team who can rise to the challenge ahead.

The tide will turn, but when it does we have to be ready.

Ready to give the people the public services they deserve.

Ready to give local communities the support they need.

Ready to make life better for all the people in Wales.