The speech made by Philip Hammond, the then Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, on 3 October 2006.
I watched some of the Labour Conference last week. It was better than a soap opera.
Tony Blair on his way out;
Gordon Brown on his way up;
And after that description of the Chancellor as “an effing disaster” – John Hutton probably on his way to JobCentrePlus.
But during a gap in the beauty parade of leadership contenders, they did find a bit of time to talk about social justice.
They obviously think they own that agenda.
You know how it is with them: you can tell by the tone, by the arrogance; by the way they take people for granted.
Now we are staking out our claim to that turf.
So I want us to send a message to them today. And it is this: “the Tories have got their tanks on your lawn”.
And I’ll tell you why: because Labour has failed. Failed the most disadvantaged in our society.
In Labour’s Britain, means testing is up, social mobility is down and income inequality is entrenched.
The poorest are paying a higher share of taxes, and receiving a smaller share of benefits than in 1997.
And the proportion of children living in workless households is the highest in Europe.
So much promised. So little delivered. And now they have run out of steam. Devoid of new ideas. Their top-down, centralised approach failing Britain’s most vulnerable people.
As for fighting poverty – most of them are too busy fighting each other.
So it falls to us to pick up the challenge of delivering social justice to the most disadvantaged.
Those who have not shared in the growing prosperity of our society.
Those who remain locked in a cycle of deprivation. Workless and without hope.
The mistakes and failings of one generation repeated by the next.
This is deep-rooted poverty – not just lack of money, but lack of aspiration, lack of self-esteem, lack of hope. It is a moral, as well as a material, poverty.
And tackling this poverty is a moral, as well as an economic imperative for the next Conservative Government.
It took the Labour Party almost the first hundred years of its existence to grasp that a competitive economy is the essential foundation for social justice.
But we have always understood that.
And we understand too that social justice is an essential foundation of a competitive, modern economy.
Because in 21st Century Britain, our human capital is our principal natural resource.
In the past our wealth was built on iron and coal, gas and oil.
But in the knowledge-based economy of the future, our prosperity will be sustained by the skills and the talents of the people who live in these islands.
So, we cannot stand by and watch children leave school without basic skills.
We cannot allow drug addiction to destroy promising young lives.
We cannot tolerate 5 million adults languishing on out-of-work benefits.
And we will not.
Social justice and economic competitiveness point us in the same direction: active support and investment to bring those excluded millions back into the mainstream of our society.
Through education; Through training; Through healthcare; Through work- support and childcare.
So that they can contribute to, and share in, our nation’s prosperity.
For their benefit. For their children’s benefit. And for the benefit of our economy and our society as a whole.
Delivering social justice and delivering the skills our economy needs.
Of course, there is another way to meet the needs of the economy. The way that Labour has followed. To rely on an influx of migrant workers. Make no mistake, we welcome the contribution that generations of immigrants have made to our country and to our economy.
But isn’t a continued dependence on uncontrolled migration a betrayal of the 5 million workless adults in Britain today?
5 million adults who already have homes; 5 million adults who are already using the NHS; whose children already have school places.
We owe it to them and, frankly, we owe it to ourselves, to make the effort and the investment that will allow them to fill the jobs that a growing economy will generate.
In the 1980’s Margaret Thatcher tackled head on, and reversed, Britain’s long-term economic decline. And we should be proud of that success.
But it left unfinished work: repairing the social consequences of radical economic change.
Labour, with its state-led model has tried, and failed.
So it’s down to us to finish the job. To tackle the deep-rooted social problems that still blight Britain today.
With the same passion, the same commitment, the same single-mindedness, with which we tackled the economic problems of the 1980’s.
Traditional trickle-down economics hasn’t done it. Labour’s centralised state model hasn’t done it either.
So we need a new direction.
A new direction that will succeed where Labour has failed.
And I’ll tell you how – By trusting people and by sharing responsibility.
By creating a genuinely level playing field for the private and voluntary sectors. So that they can share in the delivery of our social agenda.
By devolving power and resources to communities. So that they can tailor local solutions to local problems.
By creating a spirit of social responsibility, that will engage individuals, families, communities, businesses.
And because we want to help millions more people into work – older people, carers, and people with disabilities – we must make work itself more flexible.
Work tailored to the circumstances of the would-be workers, not workers squeezed into jobs that they don’t fit.
So, we need change.
But we also need continuity. Ideas and institutions that have stood the test of time.
So the family will be at the heart of our social policy.
Because the evidence that families provide the best environment for bringing up children is now so overwhelming that even the Labour Party has noticed it.
But, as usual, they don’t quite get it.
John Hutton said last week that the family is the bedrock of the welfare state.
He was wrong. The family is much more than that.
The family is the bedrock of our entire society.
So, a Conservative Government will support and nurture the institution of the family and will never allow the State to supplant it.
But, in modern Britain, families come in all shapes and sizes. We have to recognise that.
Because we aspire to govern this country, made up of all those diverse families. And to earn that privilege, we have to show that we value them all.
Of course, social justice isn’t only about children and families – it transcends generations, and pensioners are among the most vulnerable in our society.
That hasn’t stopped Gordon Brown snatching £5bn a year from pension funds.
Or extending means-testing to embrace nearly half of all pensioners.
But he is failing the most vulnerable of them; 1.6million are not claiming the Pension Credit to which they are entitled.
Because it is too complicated;
It is too intrusive;
And because they are too proud.
But their fuel bills and their council tax go on rising, just the same.
We understand the needs and aspirations of older people and we will put them at the heart of our policy development process.
Nobody should leave this hall today in any doubt that the commitment to social justice is at the very core of our new agenda for the Conservative Party. Both as an end in itself; and as a means to support a competitive modern economy.
Growth and prosperity.
The only long-term guarantees of social justice;
Of jobs, for all those who can work;
And of generous levels of support for those who genuinely cannot.
Labour has had its chance – and failed.
Now we must map out for the people of Britain our vision for society:
A society where opportunity is open to all;
And where all are genuinely able to benefit from it.
Where there are no hidden barriers or glass ceilings.
No sink estates written off as “no go” areas;
No self-perpetuating underclass, left without help and without hope.
Now is the time to take up that challenge.
To highlight Labour’s failure.
And to seize back the social justice agenda that they have tried, and failed, to make their own.
Time to show the people of Britain, by our deeds as well as our words, that they can, again, trust us.
Trust us to deliver social justice, and economic prosperity. Which together will form the foundation of the truly Great Britain that we aspire to build.