William Hague – 2001 Speech to Conservative Spring Forum


Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Leader of the Opposition, to the Conservative Spring Forum on 4 March 2001.

As we gather here this weekend, we think of our fellow members and friends who had planned to be with us today in Harrogate, but who have had to remain at home or on their farms.

The thoughts and sympathy of the whole Conference are with all those whose livelihoods are at risk from the spread of the foot and mouth disease.

The pall of black smoke from the funeral pyres of slaughtered animals across our nation today tells the desperate story of a countryside in crisis.

I know from my own constituency that, for farmers already struggling in the depths of the worst agricultural depression for sixty years, this latest blow could not be more cruel or more bitter.

We support all the Government is doing to eradicate the disease and we welcome the financial support they have announced.

People have responded with calmness and restraint to this crisis. In postponing a protest in which they had invested months of preparation, the hundreds of thousands of people who were due to take part in the Countryside March for Liberty and Livelihood have shown great responsibility and courage.

I believe it would show the nation’s solidarity with the countryside in this terrible hour if the Government were to suspend consideration of the Hunting Bill in Parliament at least until those who wish to protest against it are free to do so again.
This morning we have also heard of a different kind of courage – the courage of one young man in a Burmese jail. James Mawdsley.

We heard about his unwavering belief in freedom.

We heard of his passionate commitment to democracy and hatred of oppression.

We heard of his defiance in the face of the extraordinary efforts made to silence him.

And we heard of his pride that he is part of this Conservative family.

By his actions James Mawdsley reminded us of all that is best about our Party.

We remember the enduring values that have run through two centuries of Tory history.

The Tory values that stretch back to the days when Wilberforce freed the slaves, and Pitt led a war against tyranny, and Burke wrote his great tracts and Shaftsbury stood and watched the pauper’s funeral and dedicated his life to the poor.

The values that animated the Conservative leaders of the Twentieth Century: the leadership of Winston Churchill, the resolve of Margaret Thatcher and the decency of John Major.

All of us are proud to be part of this Conservative family.

And the values that have shaped our past must also guide our future.

The determination to fight for freedom and democracy.

The resolve to protect our national independence.

The courage to speak the truth in an age of spin and political correctness.

The self confidence to fight for our beliefs even when the odds are against us and to fight so hard against those odds that we win.

The boldness to fight the next election on the most ambitious Conservative programme for a generation.

For we are going to go further than any government has ever gone before to hand back to individuals and families the ability to shape their own lives.

At his Party’s Spring Conference, Tony Blair said that we were to blame for cynicism about politics. What a typically cynical attack from a man whose entire career has been built on one piece of cynicism after another.

When a Cabinet Minister who is sacked for telling lies is re-appointed, in the face of every constitutional convention, only for the same man to be sacked again from the same Cabinet for the same offence by the same Prime Minister – no wonder the public are cynical about politics.

When the Lord Chancellor violates the trust of his great office of state to solicit party donations from people whose careers he can control, and then says ‘I’m not sorry, and I’d do it again’ – no wonder the public think that power has gone to their heads.

When we have a Deputy Prime Minister who tells people not to drive cars but has two Jags himself, and where the Minister who tells people not to have two homes turns out to have nine himself – no wonder the public believe politicians are hypocrites.

And when the man who holds the highest office in politics will say anything and do anything to stay in power, when he thinks nothing of deceiving the public and Parliament, when he stuffs offices of the Crown with his cronies from Islington, breaking every promise on which he was elected, spinning yet another gimmick and yet another re-announcement in order to disguise his failure to deliver on anything at all – no wonder the public say they don’t trust their Government.

This morning we read in the papers that, at the last election, the Labour Party hired American students to infiltrate our campaign.

Well, we have a confession to make. They weren’t the only ones playing that game. We hired a bearded buffoon to infiltrate their campaign. But we never thought in our wildest dreams that he’d end up as Foreign Secretary.

None of the worthless promises and miserable failure of Labour’s first term compares to what they have in store if we were to let them win again.

Just imagine four more years of Labour. Try to picture what our country would look like.
Let me take you on a journey to a foreign land – to Britain after a second term of Tony Blair.

The Royal Mint melting down pound coins as the euro notes start to circulate. Our currency gone forever.

The Chancellor returning from Brussels carrying instructions to raise taxes still further. Control over our own economy given away.

The jail doors opening as thousands more serious criminals walk out early to offend again. Police morale at a new low.

The price gauge on the petrol pump spinning ever faster as fuel taxes rise still further.

Letters arriving on doorsteps cancelling yet another round of hospital operations under a Government that is all spin and no delivery.

That’s Labour’s Britain four years from now.

And if there are meant to be so many people enthusiastic for another four years of Labour, how come you never meet any of them?

Labour’s Britain four years from now.

Could anybody stomach it?

The Dome still for sale.

Peter Mandelson re-appointed to the Cabinet for a fourth time.

The Liberals, on the edge of their seats, still convinced that a referendum on proportional representation is just around the corner.

We’re not going to sit idly by and let this happen to our country.

That’s why Michael Ancram has prepared us to fight the best organised, most vigorous, most spirited campaign we’ve ever fought in order to save Britain from this nightmare.

We are going to say to all the people who have been hit by Labour’s stealth taxes: Can you afford another four years?

To all the people who are still waiting for their operation: Can you really wait another four years?

To all the people who are still waiting to see a policeman on their street: Can you really wait another four years?

To all the parents who are waiting for better education: Can you really wait another four years?

So we’re ready for the fight. We’re ready because of the changes you have made to our Party. We’re ready because of the victories that you have won in local and European elections.

But above all we’re ready to speak for the people of Britain: for the mainstream majority who have no voice, for the hard-working people who feel they are ignored, for the men and women who despair that their country is being taken from them. We are not going to let them down.

We’re ready and we can win.

As the next election draws near, people are beginning only now to focus on what the two parties stand for.

Well if there’s one thing above all that sets me apart from Tony Blair, it’s this: I’m not embarrassed to articulate the instincts of the British people.

The governing of this country has drifted far away from the decent, plain speaking common sense of its people. Its time to bring it back. It’s time to bring Britain home.

We have a Government that has contempt for the views of the people it governs.

There is nothing that the British people can talk about, that this Labour Government doesn’t deride.

Talk about Europe and they call you extreme. Talk about tax and they call you greedy. Talk about crime and they call you reactionary. Talk about asylum and they call you racist. Talk about your nation and they call you Little Englanders.

This Government thinks Britain would be alright if only we had a different people.

I think Britain would be alright, if only we had a different Government.

A Conservative Government that speaks with the voice of the British people.

A Conservative Government never embarrassed or ashamed of the British people.

A Conservative Government that trusts the people.

I trust the people.

I trust the people on tax. People know that you can’t spend more than you have. And they know that that holds true for governments as well for them. It seems like common sense to you and me. But not to Gordon Brown.

He’s already running up huge bills on your behalf. He’s promising to blow billions of pounds of your money. And what’s spent today will have to be paid for tomorrow.

With Michael Portillo as Chancellor, Britain will spend no more than it can afford; and Britain will tax no more than it needs.

We will scale back the waste and bureaucracy that has grown up like a fungus under this Government. We’ll cut the size of Whitehall and cut the number of politicians.

I’m going to reduce the size of the Cabinet, cut the number of ministers, reduce the size of the House of Commons, campaign for a European Parliament with 100 fewer members, halve the number of political advisers, and abolish a huge swathe of Labour’s regional bureaucracies and agencies – and their offices in Brussels.

It is the mission of the next Conservative Government to build the Responsible Society. That’s why I want to support the people who are trying to do the right thing.

To the hard-working people who set a little bit aside each month, to provide for their children, or to fund their own retirement, I say: you should be rewarded not punished. You should be allowed to keep every penny of the interest on your savings. You’ve already paid tax on your money once; you shouldn’t have to do it twice. We’re going to make your savings tax free.

And to the pensioners who have paid their contributions throughout their lives, and who now want the dignity of independence, I say: you have already done your bit. You shouldn’t have to go on paying. We’re going to take a million pensioners out of the tax system altogether.

And to the younger people who don’t want to rely on the state in their retirement, I say: you should have the opportunity to build up your own pension fund. You should be able to use the National Insurance system to fund your own retirement. We’re going to give you the choice we never had to be independent of the Government.

And to married couples, struggling and sacrificing to do their best for their children, I say: you are doing the right thing. You are providing the stable homes that children need. Your contribution should be recognised. That’s why we’re going to introduce a new Married Couple’s Allowance – a transferable allowance worth as much as £1000. It’s time we had a Government that supported the idea of marriage instead of doing everything it can to undermine it.

Spending only what the country can afford, rewarding savings, encouraging independence, supporting marriage: people know that these things are common sense. And I trust the people.

And I also trust our doctors and nurses and teachers and policemen. I say let them get on with their jobs without politicians peering over their shoulders.

To the teacher weighed down with paperwork, I say: you’ve been messed around too often. You came into teaching to spend your time teaching children not filling in forms.

Listen to Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools: ‘David Blunkett has … wasted taxpayers’ money, distracted teachers from their real responsibilities and encapsulated the worst of the discredited ideology that has done so much damage since the 1960s. He has just not delivered. A generation of children has been betrayed’.

The end of term report on a Labour Government. A generation of children has been betrayed.

Labour have been listening for too long to the so-called experts who think that competition is a dirty word and that communicating facts to our children is elitist. Well, they’ve had their chance and, in all too many schools, we can see the result: poor discipline, declining standards and low expectations.

Let’s not be afraid to speak the common sense truth: you can’t have high standards without good discipline.

Let’s trust the common sense instinct that says that children need a structured day, that heads know most about their own school, and that teachers should be free to get on with teaching.

When Theresa May is Education Secretary we’re going to set our schools free with their own admissions policies. Parents will get higher standards and a real choice about where to send their children. And teachers who run disciplined classrooms will get our support not end up in court.

And what’s true for our schools is true for our hospitals. To the patient queuing up even to be allowed on to a waiting list, I say: you’ve waited long enough. Doctors, not politicians, should decide when you are treated.

When Liam Fox is Health Secretary, there’ll be guaranteed waiting times and those with the most serious conditions will be treated first. Nurses will be nurses, not pen pushers. And instead of Labour’s dogmatic hostility to any form of private medicine, we’re going to expand the total health care available in the country by supporting instead of attacking those who take out personal medical insurance.

People know that it’s just common sense. And I trust the people.

And I trust the people on crime. Labour may dismiss the views of the mainstream majority as prejudiced and ignorant. They may scoff at our calls for punishment that fits the crime.

But we know, and the British people know, that we will never defeat crime until we put more police on the street and given them the support they need to do their job.

It seems common sense to you and me. But Labour, once again, prefers to listen to the self-appointed experts: to the liberal sociologists, who have so much to say about the rights of the criminal, and so little about the rights of the victim.

I met a lady a few weeks ago on a housing estate in Newark who said to me: ‘I can’t remember when I last saw a policeman on my street. And I’m frightened to go out after 5 o’clock’.

I say to her: every street should be safe. And to the people who feel that their own town centres are closed to them on a Friday night, I say: we will crack down on violence and yobbery.

We will stop releasing prisoners early. We will reverse Labour’s cuts in police numbers. We will support our police where Labour has undermined them.

And we will take on the compensation culture that pays out thousands of pounds to IRA terrorists who shoot their way out of jail. Such payments insult the victims of terrorism and disgrace our country: I believe it is an outrage.

The people of Britain want a Home Secretary who will give them back their streets. They want a Home Secretary who will speak up for the victim, not the criminal. Ann Widdecombe will be that Home Secretary.

And it’s common sense that when we’re dealing with an international trade in asylum seekers, we should make Britain a safe haven not a soft touch.

So to the law-abiding citizen, who wants to help those genuinely fleeing persecution, but who also wants fairness in the system, I say: we will sort out the asylum crisis. The next Conservative Government will assess the validity of asylum claims within weeks, not years. And, where applications are unfounded, immediate deportation will follow.

This country must always offer sanctuary to those fleeing from injustice – Conservative Governments always have, and always will. But it’s precisely those genuine refugees who are finding themselves elbowed aside by claimants who have been rehearsed in how to play the system.

Once again, Labour despises the opinions of the people it is supposed to represent.

But we trust the people. They are not bigoted or ungenerous. They understand that Britain has responsibilities to those who have been displaced by war or persecution. But they can also read maps. And they can tell that something is going badly wrong when tens of thousands of people are crossing the entire length of the European Continent, travelling through safe countries en route, before suddenly lodging an asylum claim in Britain.

And they can tell that something is going badly wrong when desperate people hide in the undercarriage of high speed trains to get through the Channel Tunnel.

We will clear up Labour’s asylum mess. We will welcome genuine refugees, but we will be a safe haven not a soft touch.

That is not bigotry. It’s plain common sense. People know it. And I trust the people.

Above all, the people of Britain believe in their country. They are not narrow nationalists. They are not xenophobes. But they take pride in what our country has achieved.

No country has contributed as we have to the freedom of mankind. Through the centuries, we have aligned ourselves with the cause of nationhood everywhere. In the Nineteenth Century, we sponsored the independence of Italy and Greece and Hungary, and we nurtured the freedom of the South American Republics. In the Twentieth Century, we twice fought for the cause of all nations against tyranny.

We introduced the world to free trade. We carried law and freedom to new continents. These were our achievements as a sovereign and united country. And they are achievements that we should be proud to teach in our schools.

But now we have a government that scorns and despises all the things that have made our country what it is. A government that holds Britishness cheap.

You can see it in their failure to defend the Union of the United Kingdom.

It is because we believe in the Union that we have accepted the wishes of the peoples of Scotland and Wales to have a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. But there is a logical consequence, also vital to the survival of the Union.

In the opening days of our administration, we will change the rules so that when matters that only affect England come before the House of Commons only MPs from England will vote.

And we have a Labour Government that scorns and despises the very Parliament to which they were elected.

Prime Minister’s Questions reduced to once a week. The Speaker driven to complain because announcements are being leaked to the press, not made at the Dispatch Box. The Prime Minister and his MPs rarely even in the Chamber. Parliament’s powers parceled out in every direction – outwards to Brussels, downwards to the devolved assemblies, sideways to our judges through the Human Rights Act.
Now, Tony Blair intends to give up the first and greatest of Parliament’s prerogatives, namely the right to control revenue.

Within two years of winning an election, Tony Blair would force this country into the euro.

It’s true that he’s had to promise us a referendum. But who will set the terms of that referendum? Tony Blair. Who will decide when to hold it? Tony Blair. Who will draft the question? Tony Blair.

If anyone believes that we’ll be allowed a free and fair vote, just take a look at the way in which Labour have already rigged the rules.

They’ve given themselves the right to use the Government’s resources to push for a “Yes” vote. They’ve fixed artificial spending limits, to give the “Yes” campaign a huge financial advantage. They’ve even written in a special exemption so that the “Yes” campaign can receive money from elsewhere in the EU.

They’ll spend every pound they can lay their hands on, until there’s no Pound left at all. And I say to everyone who believes in our country: make no mistake about it, this election is your last chance to keep the Pound.

And it’s your last chance to vote for a Britain that still controls its own destiny. Labour and their Liberal lapdogs have said that if they win the election, they will ratify the Nice Treaty, and establish a European constitution and the start of an EU legal system. And they’ll agree to the European Army.

If taxes and defence policy and even criminal justice were run from Brussels, what would be left for Westminster? What would be the point of holding elections here?

That is why the next election will be different. Because we won’t just be voting for the next government. We’ll be voting on whether the British Crown in Parliament should remain supreme in Britain. We’ll be voting to decide whether our people will remain sovereign their own country.

With Francis Maude as Foreign Secretary, the next Conservative Government will defend the independence and integrity of our country. We will renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy because, as Francis said, these outdated and failed policies have got to change.
And our Reserved Powers Act will write into the law of our land the powers and rights that we hold today and which we will pass to the next generation, so that no stroke of a pen from Brussels, or retrospective court judgement, can take those rights away.

In defending the sovereignty of our parliament, we defend the sovereignty of our people. We defend our right to live under our own laws.

So I appeal today to all those people who may not have voted Conservative before, but who believe in an independent Britain. At this coming election, lend us your vote. Vote for us this time, so that your vote will mean something next time, and the time after, and the time after that.

Each of you in this room will know people who are not Tory supporters, but who share our concerns about the way in which powers are draining away from our Parliament. Good, patriotic people, who may be lifelong supporters of another party, but who are not willing to watch their country being handed away.

They are people we must reach out to between now and polling day. And we should carry this message to them: we are the only Party that believes in an independent Britain. We are the only Party that has confidence in the character of our people. We are the only party that will articulate their common sense instincts.

The common sense instinct that the Government should be on the side of the victim not the criminal.

The common sense instinct that Britain should be a safe haven, not a soft touch.

The common sense instinct that we should not spend more than we can afford, nor tax more than we need.

And the common sense instinct that we should be in Europe, not run by Europe.

We are taking the fight to other parties that scorn and despise the instincts of the people they purport to represent. Other parties that dislike and mistrust all the things that make our country what it is.

Only the Conservatives have faith in Britain as an independent country.

Only the Conservatives want to pass on to our children the rights that we have inherited from our parents.

So as we go out in the next few weeks to campaign, we will be setting out our bold promise.

Elect a Conservative government and we will give you back your country.

We say to the pensioner trapped at home after dark for fear of crime: we will give you back your country.

We say to the pensioner trapped at home after dark for fear of crime, and the young woman afraid to walk down their own street at night – we will give you back your country.

We say to the parent who despairs of the onward creep of political correctness, and the patriot who sees a political class embarrassed of our proud history: we will give you back your country.

We say to businessmen overloaded with yet more red tape and regulation, and the family overburdened with extra tax: we will give you back your country.

We say to the people of our countryside who see their livelihoods and lifestyles under attack, and the people of our deprived inner cities who live in hope: we will give you back your country.

We say to millions of people who see our right to govern ourselves being steadily eroded, and the independence of our nation dismantled, and the currency of our people threatened with extinction: we will give you back your country.

In the election about to commence, to all these people, in every part of our land, from every walk of life we say: come with us, and we will give you back your country.