Theresa May – 2003 Speech to Conservative Spring Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Theresa May at the 2003 Conservative Spring Conference on 15th March 2003.

Today, we meet in the shadow of great and terrible events.

The situation currently unfolding in the Gulf dominates all our thoughts.

British servicemen and women are preparing to risk their lives to disarm Saddam Hussein and to uphold the rule of international law.

The debt we owe them is immense.

Let us send them a message today: we’re thinking of you. We back you. We believe in you.

But while we support what our armed forces are doing, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. There is widespread concern about war. Many people feel the Government’s actions should be opposed and they ask us why we aren’t doing it.

The reason is because we believe Tony Blair is taking a risk to make the world safer. And as a matter of principle, he deserves support.

But I know we need to continue to make the case. Leadership isn’t just about embarking on a course and expecting others to follow. It’s also about explaining. It’s about taking people with you. It’s about being open and honest.

We must set out point-by-point why this conflict is necessary.

And we owe it to the people of this country to take their concerns seriously and explain why it is right, indeed it is moral, for Britain to act.

So let’s firstly be clear about what this war is not about.

This is not about oil and profit.

If it were we could achieve our aims far easier by striking a trade deal with Saddam Hussein.

This is not a war against Islam.

Many Muslims would like nothing more than to see the back of this evil dictator.

And above all this is emphatically not about American global domination.

Critics often accuse Americans of being isolationist. Now they accuse them of Imperialism.

But can anyone really question why – today – Americans are determined to act against those who have shown a willingness to do them harm?

No. When people ask what this conflict is about, we must be clear and honest.

This is about forcing Saddam Hussein to comply with international law.

This is about forcing him to disarm.

Above all, this is about the safety and security of Britain.

On September 11th, billions of people around the world saw for the first time the immense destructive power of the new terrorism.

We now all know, in a way that many didn’t realise before, that there are people and organisations that have no moral limits, who are prepared to butcher totally innocent people, however young, however helpless, just to advance their own fanatical cause.

The new terrorists are well organised, lavishly funded and highly motivated.

They are actively seeking terrible new weapons of mass destruction.

And, let’s not kid ourselves, we are a target.

Not because of anything we’ve done. But because of who we are.

The new terrorists of Al-Qaeda are at war with the West because our free societies are everything they hate.

The question we must ask ourselves is this:

Should we wait…

Or should we take action now to stop it happening?

You only have to ask the question to know the answer.

The western democracies must have a proactive strategy for identifying and neutralising terrorists.

And not only those who carry out the atrocities – but those who have the means, the mentality and the motive to help them.

I believe Saddam Hussein is such a man.

Any objective observer attempting to identify those who might have the means and the motivation to supply weapons of mass destruction to Al-Qaeda or other similar groups would have his name right at the top of their list.

He has shown he does not recognise the rule of international law.

Some people say we have known about his evasion for years. Why act now?

To them I would say one thing: Remember September 11th.

‘Why now’, cannot – and should not – mean not now.

Resolution 1441 didn’t just ask Iraq to work with the weapons inspectors. It demanded full compliance and active cooperation so there could be no conceivable doubt.

Since that Resolution was passed, Saddam Hussein has done everything in his power to resist full compliance and delay active co-operation. His time is running out: of that, there can be no conceivable doubt.

It is time for him to disarm by choice or by force.

Our policy on Iraq is based above anything else on this country’s national interest.

And over the past months, we have been fortunate to be led by Iain Duncan Smith who has shown the capacity to look beyond passing newspaper headlines and tackle the big challenges of our time.

Iain has been warning of the threat from Saddam Hussein since 1995. He has consistently advocated strong international action to force him to disarm.

After I have finished speaking, Iain will address the international situation. We’re lucky to have as our Leader a man who is not afraid to take a stand of principle on the really big issues.

At times of crisis like this people expect their politicians to be able to put aside short-term party advantage in the country’s interests.

But, the problem for most people is why, when major crises pass, do politicians go back to point-scoring rather than working together…

Bad mouthing rather than supporting others when they know they’re right…

Mud-slinging when what people want are ideas and solutions.

Britain is changing. The public have become more discerning. A world in which most people are automatically Labour or Conservative no longer exists.

We could just accept this as a new fact of life in the 21st Century.

But I believe this is an opportunity – an opportunity to show people we have solutions to their problems.

And we must seize the opportunity to build a bridge to the millions of people who feel their voice is simply not being heard.

People who hope that by paying extra taxes they will get the operation they need when they need it – but fear they will not.

People who hope their savings will provide them with a secure future – but fear their pension will be worth nothing.

People who hope their child’s hard work will be rewarded by a university place – but fear they won’t be able to afford it.

People who hope that their children are safe going out at night – but fear that they are not.

These are the voiceless millions who hope for a party to speak for them.

We must be their voice.

We must be that Party.

This Government has dashed people’s hopes and played on their fears.

We must show that we are a credible alternative to this Labour Government.

That means working together as one party united.

It means talking the people’s language – living in their world.

It means showing that we agree with them that everyone should have a fair chance to fulfil their potential.

It means showing that we care passionately about the things they care about.

It means being 21st Century Conservatives.

Conservatives who are open and honest, clear about where we stand, and ready to take the tough decisions necessary to make this country better.

It means challenging the artificial divisions that have built up in politics in this country and that have so bedevilled our chance to get things right.

There is no contradiction between helping young criminals off the conveyor belt to crime and putting more police on the streets.

There is no contradiction between supporting businesses and helping the vulnerable.

There is no contradiction between a low tax economy and better public services.

You see, we understand how to improve public services without wasting taxes, because that is what Conservative Councils do.

Over the past few months, I have seen a great example of the Conservative Party in action at its very best. Our councillors at work.

They’ve been working hard to provide a fair deal for local people.

But don’t take my word for it. Look at what the Audit Commission has to say. Conservative councils are the best. They take less of your money but deliver better services than others.

A real record of success. Conservatives in Government delivering results.

Our Conservative councillors record helps us show that Conservatives in government can make people’s lives better.

It will be a great help when it comes to persuading people of our case at the general election.

But it won’t be enough.

We have to show in everything that we believe, say and do that we are 21st Century Conservatives.

Conservatives whose belief in freedom makes them cherish the diversity it brings.

Conservatives who know the virtue of paying your own way but believe in helping those who can’t.

Conservatives who believe in their country and recognise that Britain is at its best when it is helping to build a better world.

The people who have supported this party through thick and thin know these things in their hearts. But this Party has always been at its best when our appeal has extended beyond those who think of themselves as life’s Conservatives.

When our hopes have matched people’s hopes and we’ve worked together to realise them.

Helping people from across the spectrum, because the right policies give a fair deal for everyone – regardless of background, income, gender, religion or race.

The Conservative Party is at its best when at its broadest.

We must show people now that we have the policies and the commitment to deal with the problems of today.

Challenges where Conservative values point the way forward.

Challenges in health.

The challenge of one million people on waiting lists.

People waiting for hours in accident and emergency when they would be seen much quicker in other parts of Europe.

But only Conservatives have the vision to learn from abroad how those values could be better delivered.

Challenges in Education.

The challenge of one in four children leaving primary school unable to read, write and count properly.

30,000 children finishing school without a single GCSE.

It’s the Conservative belief in standards, discipline and effective teaching methods that points the way out.

Challenges in law and order.

The challenge of a crime being committed every five seconds.

Criminals with only a one in forty chance of being caught.

It’s the Conservatives who are looking at innovative ways to help young people off the conveyor belt to crime.

And trusting local people when they say they want more police on their streets.

In every area of our lives, Conservative values can deliver results.

That’s why people in today’s Britain should be at home with today’s Conservative Party.

People who are determined to help the poorest in society, and who believe that penalising the rich for being rich helps no one.

People who believe they have a duty to pay their taxes, and who believe that the Government owes it to them not to waste their money.

People who want a successful NHS for everyone, and who believe that people let down by the NHS should be helped to go elsewhere.

People who hope the best possible schools for their own children, and for everybody else’s.

People who believe that Britain is a force for good in the world and that we can learn from other countries too.

That’s what people in 21st Century Britain believe, and what we as 21st Century Conservatives believe.

Our job now is to build a bridge between us.

And the careful and sensible way we have been developing our programme over the past 18 months helps us to do just that.

We have begun to build that bridge.

We have an ambitious and progressive agenda for government.

Our country faces huge challenges in the years ahead.

We must be open, honest and clear.

Clear about who we are and what we stand for.

Clear about what we can deliver and what we want to achieve.

To those people who feel the country is going in the wrong direction…

To those who feel let down or betrayed…

To those who feel they are being ignored…

We say simply ‘join us. Come with us.

We will be your voice’.

Together we can build a bridge to a better future.

Let’s show them we can do it.