William Hague – 2000 Speech on Believing in Britain


Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Leader of the Opposition, on 5 September 2000.

Today, with the publication of Believing in Britain, the Conservative Party takes another step to advance our common sense revolution.

This Outline Manifesto sets out both the basic principles that guide our Party and the key elements of a bold programme for the next Conservative government.

Today we are sending a copy of Believing in Britain direct to the home of every member of our Party, together with a ballot paper. For the first time in the Party’s long history, the basic principles of our programme for office will reflect the democratic will of the whole Party.

I hope and believe that Party members will vote overwhelmingly to endorse Believing in Britain. And in doing so, we will send out a message that there is one political party that still has confidence in our people and ambitions for our country.

There are some themes in Believing in Britain that will be familiar to many of you. Our commitment to a strong, low tax, competitive economy. Our determination to win the war against crime. Our concern to protect the countryside and enhance rural life. Our belief in a Britain that is in Europe not run by Europe. Our pledge to keep the Pound. And with these familiar themes, we set out new thinking and new policies about how we might achieve them – for example, you have already heard this week of our plans to put British companies at the forefront of the IT revolution, and about our proposals for ‘reserved powers’ that will protect the independence of our country.

But Believing in Britain also contains many new themes and new policies for the Conservative Party.

Policies to endow our universities and set our schools free, so that the next generation are the best educated and trained people in the world. Policies to transform our inner cities and get rid of the worst tower blocks that blight the lives of so many. Policies to provide young people who want it with a funded alternative to the basic state pension, so that tomorrow’s pensioners share in the wealth our country. Policies to give Britain a health service we can be proud of, in which doctors and nurses are set free from political interference. Policies to end the scandal of children in care; policies to help disabled people return to work; policies to encourage charities and voluntary groups to flourish.

In short, Believing in Britain is a striking new social agenda for Conservatism based on one very simple, very Conservative principle: Freedom.

Freedom for parents, for families, for pensioners, for teachers and doctors and nurses; freedom for inner city communities, for universities and schools, hospitals and local councils; freedom from big government, bureaucratic control, and all the targets, and gimmicks, and bossy, nannying, Whitehall interference that are the hallmark of the present Government.

This new Conservative social agenda of devolving power to local people and local institutions and local communities shows that we have listened and learnt, and that we trust the instincts of the British people.

It shows that we have the energy and the ideas to tackle the deep seated social problems of our country.

It shows that we are not just interested in a healthy and strong economy, but also in a healthy and strong society too.

Conservatives know the sort of Britain we want.

We want a Britain where the creative and the talented can get ahead, because the government gets out of their way.

We want a Britain where communities thrive and public services serve the public, because the government has handed back power to local institutions and given choice to local people.

We want a Britain where the old and the sick and the vulnerable are cared for because the government reforms the welfare state to strengthen family life and personal responsibility.

We want a Britain where women are safe to go out in their own street at night and parents need have no fear when their children play outside because government supports the rule of law with all its might.

We want a Britain where the people of this country can hold their government to account because the country still governs itself.

We know the sort of Britain we want.

We want a Britain which the people of Britain themselves are crying out for – an ambitious, self-confident, prosperous, decent, responsible, independent country that is, quite simply: the best place in the world to do business, the best place in the world to live, and one of the most admired and influential counties in the world.

Believing in Britain reflects those three ambitions.

It shows how the next Conservative government will make Britain the best place in the world to do business.

We will make Britain a world centre for the new economy, because we understand the way new technology is changing the rules.

As business becomes more mobile, Conservative Britain will be cutting taxes. We will reduce the burden of tax and spend more on vital public services. That is because we will plan spending increases in line with the growth of the economy. For Government cannot spend what the nation hasn’t earned.

As global trading becomes easier, Conservative Britain will also be cutting regulation. We will establish regulatory budgets for Whitehall departments and exempt small businesses from whole classes of red tape.

As the opportunities provided by the internet and the IT revolution expand exponentially, Conservative Britain will be the capital of the new economy. Today, we set out a comprehensive package of specific policies to help IT industries flourish in our country – including reforming damaging brain-drain taxes, radically deregulating the telecommunications industry and encouraging more competition in local internet connections.

And as good education becomes the most important resource a country can possess, Conservative Britain will transform our schools and universities so that they equip the next generation with the skills they need and liberate all people by giving them the chance to reach their full potential in a first class education service.

One of the most exciting policies in Believing in Britain is our proposal to set our universities free for suffocating government control to become world-class centres of excellence. We will use the money raised from future government sales similar to the sale of the mobile phone licences to endow universities so that they are progressively less dependent on government funding.

Believing in Britain also shows how the next Conservative Government will make Britain the best place in the world to live.

We are going to have a common sense revolution in the way our public services are provided.

We may be the fourth largest economy in the world at the dawn of the twenty first century, but you wouldn’t know it if you visited some of our schools, or many of our hospital wards, or tried to travel on our congested roads, or spent time in parts of our inner cities.

It is not surprising when our public services are interfered with constantly by politicians who are blind to the choices and preferences of those who use it, patronising and untrusting of the people who work in it, and have turned their back on all that we know makes enterprise work.

Today we show how will use patient choice, and the clinical judgment of doctors and nurses, and co-operation with the independent sector to help us transform the National Health Service from its present state of crisis into health system the people of Britain deserve.

Today we show how we will use parent choice and the trust of teachers to help us transform education in Britain from a heavily centralised system where too many schools suffer from low standards and poor discipline, into a great diversity of high achieving, ordered, parent and teacher-run Free Schools where the money goes straight to the classroom and not to bureaucrats.

Today we show how we will support families with Family Scholarships and by reintroducing a recognition of marriage into the tax and benefits system. And we show too how we will encourage charities, faith-based groups and voluntary organisations, so that people do not always turn to the state when they need help.

We are going to have a common sense revolution too in the way welfare works.

Our welfare system and policies to protect vulnerable are failing. As presently constituted how could they do anything else but fail? Anything would fail that penalised responsibility, was so badly targeted, was so needlessly complicated, was so unwilling to police its own rules, was so tolerant of a culture of failure.

Today we show how the welfare bureaucracy will be transformed so that those who work in it are rewarded most when they get people off welfare into work.

We show how welfare for disabled people will be reformed so that those who want to work are helped with rehabilitation and so that those who are able to save aren’t penalised when they do so.

And, in one of the most important sections of this document, we set out our plans to reform the pension system so that today’s pensioners are given real dignity and choice, and so that tomorrow’s pensioners – today’s young people – are given the chance to build up a funded alternative to the basic pension. Let’s be clear. The basic state pension will still be paid to all who want it, but now people will have a genuine choice.

Believing in Britain brings the common sense revolution to transforming our inner cities, which for a generation have trapped people in poverty and bad housing and crime-ridden estates. We’re going to get rid of the worst tower blocks, we going to protect people from ‘nightmare’ neighbours and we going to make sure these communities get the good schools and the proper law enforcement they deserve.

We will expand on both our pensions policies and our inner city proposals in due course.

And we are going to have a common sense revolution in the war against crime.

Today we commit ourselves to reversing Labour’s cut in police numbers, to making sure criminals serve the sentences handed down in court, to abolishing special early release, to getting persistent young offenders off our streets, to tackling the evil of drug and child abuse, and by fighting the war against the criminal with no holds barred.

And as we make our country the best place to do business and the best place in the world, we will ensure that Britain is one of the most admired and influential countries in the world. We do believe in Britain.

Extraordinarily, the Conservatives will be the only major party fighting the next election determined to stop the surrender our most precious right as a country – the right to govern ourselves.

By a combination of deliberate act and complacent failure to act, within a decade, perhaps less, many of the things that make our country a country, that make our nation a nation, that make Britain ‘Britain’, could have disappeared. And there we would all stand, the generation that threw away the rights and independence that so many of our countryman lived for and sweated for and died for.

Say what ever else you like about a Conservative Britain, but at least a Conservative Britain will still be Britain.

We live in a time of peace, of stability and of prosperity. The great mistake would be to do nothing and to change nothing and to reform nothing. Spend the money, take the stability for granted, let the future look after itself.

That is what we fear our country is doing. Even though we have a Government that started with every political and economic advantage: a strong economy bequeathed by their predecessor, one of the biggest parliamentary majorities in history, unprecedented goodwill from the public and the media. They are frittering it away and squandering the chance. Our taxes are rising, our public services are failing, our inner cities are not improving, our welfare system is unreformed, our independence as a country is being undermined.

Within a few years the money will have gone and we’ll still have the bills to pay. Within a few years business will have moved away and we’ll have the memory of a happy yesterday. Within a few years we’ll try desperately to act but even our power to do so will have been given away. Our country will pay dearly tomorrow for today’s complacency and drift.

There is an alternative. I think the British people can take it. I think they can take it because they are ambitious for Britain. They have confidence in Britain. They believe in Britain. And so do we.