William Hague – 2006 Speech to Conservative Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the then Shadow Foreign Secretary, at Conservative Party Conference on 1 October 2006.

Well, there we are: a centre-right leader who’s changed his party, appealed to his country and defeated a left wing government in power for three terms.

And isn’t it great to see from David Davis’s superb speech the unity of purpose and personnel that our party now enjoys.

Our leadership election was so successful that both the other parties wanted one too.

Now Labour’s never ends, and the Lib Dems wish they’d never had one.

And I will tell you this: when I look around the Shadow Cabinet table, and I listen to the canny thoughts of David Davis, the down-to-earth wisdom of Liam Fox, the sharp insights of George Osborne and the brilliant visions of Oliver Letwin and David Willetts – to name but a few – I have never been more convinced that we can win.

And when I go to meet people around Britain – such as the woman I met in a deprived area of Wakefield last week, who said ‘please give us some pride in our country again’ – I have never been more sure that people need us to win.

And when I look across at the Government front bench, six feet away in the House of Commons; Gordon Brown scheming, Tony Blair seething and John Prescott snarling, I have never been more certain that we’ve got to win.

It is one of my great privileges to ask parliamentary questions of our Deputy Prime Minister. Sometimes I think I should thank him for the joy he brings in to our lives.

I am ever so polite to him. Partly because nothing makes him crosser. It’s not difficult to make him cross. Every day he wakes up angry and goes to bed furious.

When we discussed the Olympics I asked him if he might put forward a new sport for Beijing – croquet. I even reminded him of Rule 1c of Oxford Croquet, which says that when you have scored a certain number of times you are declared to be ‘pegged out’ and have to be removed from the game.

Well now he is to be removed from the game. Things will never be the same,

– no more references to the ‘Balklands’,

– never again will we hear that the greenbelt was Labour achievement that they intend to build on,

– no more hitting the voters.

And, let us hope, no more imposition of unwanted regional government, no more transport plans for ten years abandoned after four, and no more jacking up of everyone else’s council taxes while forgetting to pay his own.

Seven years ago John Prescott made the one sensible remark of his life. He looked up at the Dome and said ‘If we can’t make this work, we’re not much of a Government’.

I think that in the ludicrous script for Tony Blair’s farewell tour, which had him being serenaded on Songs of Praise and applauded on Blue Peter, presumably before disappearing dewy-eyed towards some great Cliff Richard villa in the sky, instead of visiting twenty iconic buildings opened since 1997 he need go to only one to sum up his premiership. There it stands – vast, expensive, over-hyped and empty – the perfect monument to the high hopes and pitiful delivery of New Labour.

There we have seen them these last weeks, while our soldiers bravely fight on in Afghanistan, our health workers worry about redundancy and our primary school results decline, ministers doing nothing but fight each other in their own jealous little world. And the bad news for them is that they are not just fighting because they loathe each other, although loathe each other they do. The Labour party is turning on itself because after nine years of their government they have produced a country where violent crime and school truancy have rocketed, where hard-working citizens are ensnared in officialdom, where we are falling behind in our ability to compete just as Asian economies snap at our heels.

They have given us a Government so inefficient that we have 700,000 more public servants but no-one can find a dentist, so incompetent that the Home Office releases foreign prisoners and then fails to find them, loses track of illegal immigrants and ends up employing them, so complacent that as 20,000 jobs are lost in hospitals the Health Secretary describes it as the ‘best year ever’. We have rarely endured a Government that has so rapidly, shockingly and comprehensively lost its way.

I have always argued that Tony Blair is not new at all but is actually another Harold Wilson. The similarities are uncanny, from both starting with the claim to be modern and new, to both ending up disgracing the honours system. And both will have left behind something that could never have been said of a Thatcher, a Churchill, or even of an Attlee – that the whole thing was an act, the entire business a con, and the entire period a wasted opportunity.

And this is the legacy he will leave – he has ensured that politics has never been so mistrusted and the word of government has seldom counted for less. His legacy is that the coinage of politics has been debased amidst the rampant inflation of pre-announcement, re-announcement, false announcement and the search for the days to bury bad news.

And now they seek renewal from Gordon Brown. Well, I just say this about Gordon Brown.

It was my job to respond to his first budget. And I remember how he concealed as a minor reform to taxes on dividends, the robbing of £5 billion a year from the pension funds of the people of this country . By now that comes to some £50 billion, an unimaginable sum. Today, people retiring are already finding their pension funds worth much less than nine years ago. And I say this: I will never believe that anyone who takes away the income of generations of pensioners without even having the decency to admit he was doing it should guide the destiny of our country.

Last week he told the Labour Party there was a poverty of opportunity and aspiration in this country. And for once he wasn’t talking about opportunities for old chancellors of the exchequer to become Prime Minister. He was talking about school pupils. ‘Don’t tell me we couldn’t have done better for them’, he told his Party. We’ve been telling him that for years. But who has been in government for the last nine years while a poverty of aspiration has spread among our schools?

Never in modern times has a Government enjoyed such immense public goodwill and huge parliamentary majorities in its opening years in office. And never have such assets been so squandered.

So let us be in no doubt, as we gather here in Bournemouth this week, that if we wish to serve our country and give people the chance of a better government, we do not really have a choice. We are not a debating club, or a pressure group. We have, all of us have, to do everything we can to make sure our party can win the confidence of the nation.

I hope you agree with me on this: we cannot rely on Labour to lose the next election; we must positively win it in our own right. And I hope you share my excitement that now, at last, it is possible to do so.

It is possible to win, first of all, because of David Cameron. I have worked, one way or another, with the last six leaders of our party and I served as one of them myself. So I think I know what I am saying when I say that for the willingness to listen, readiness to lead a team, and ability to hold steadfastly to the course he has set, David Cameron is already an outstanding leader who deserves the loyalty of us all.

It is possible to win, too, because wherever I travel I see that it is Conservative ideas that are positively transforming people’s lives. When was the last time you heard, anywhere in the world, of schools and hospitals being improved by centralised planning, or industries prospering under state control, or countries getting richer by taxing their citizens to the hilt? The spirit of freedom, decentralisation, and families running their own lives has always been ours, and now it is the spirit of our age.

And the third reason we can win is that when David Cameron tells us to change we say yes, we’re going to do it.

Our party has served Britain for so long because each generation who has led it understood when it needed to move on: whether it be Disraeli’s vision described by David Davis, or Harold Macmillan’s recognition of the need to house millions of people in the 1950s or Margaret Thatcher’s instinct in the 1970s that those millions were ready to own those homes for themselves.

So today, in a new century, we must respond to the need for change. As the destruction of our natural environment becomes a central challenge for all nations, who better to take up this cause than a party whose first instincts are to improve the good and preserve the best?

As drug abuse becomes the greatest scourge of our young people and violent crime escalates, who better to find the answers than a party that has always believed in responsibilities as well as rights?

And why shouldn’t the Party that has been organised from the inside out by women, has traditionally won the most votes from women and brought to office the first woman prime minister in western Europe, – why shouldn’t the Party that has done all these things see that women are fully and properly represented on the benches of the House of Commons?

I went to a reception a few weeks ago for our aspiring women candidates. I was meant to give them encouragement. They were energetic; they were clever; they were accomplished; they were eager to get on with winning; they were immensely impressive – the last thing they needed was encouragement. In fact it was me that received the encouragement.

“You can win”, they said.

“We are your new generation”, they said.

“None of our friends wants Labour anymore”, they announced.

I went away inspired. I went home and I said if we can get half of those people into parliament, Gordon Brown will be run out of Downing Street faster than he can fiddle his figures again.

So now we must do it. You, me, all of us must change even if it’s hard. If changing our party to understand the problems of urban Britain means delving deeply into our troubled cities, we must do it. If it means, for me, learning from mistakes we made in the past, or even being patient with John Prescott, I must do it. And if it means, for you, selecting more candidates who are women candidates, then I say to you, you must do it.

And let us remember too that there are now millions of people in Britain of minority ethnic backgrounds, and that, facing as we do the great issues of social division and home-grown terrorism, the answer is not to reject people but to welcome and integrate them. We will have performed the most powerful service if we can bring forward as members of parliament people who will show all those people that they too can get to the very top in a country which also belongs to them.

Wherever you look, the political world is changing. Last month I was given a lecture about the benefits of privatisation. But I was in Shanghai, and the speakers were from the Communist Party of China.

We will be privileged to hear at this conference from two pre-eminent international figures, each of whom may become president of their great countries, and each of whom also carries a message of change to their party. Nicholas Sarkozy is telling his Gaullists that the French social model has to change. Senator John McCain is telling Americans that climate change must be tackled, and that if we are to defeat attacks on our free society, we must uphold the highest ideals of respect for human dignity ourselves.

Their speaking to us is a sign that our party is once again taken seriously the world over.

Whether they succeed in their own countries is something we cannot influence, but whether we succeed in ours is up to us and us alone. And so as David Cameron seeks to bring necessary change to our party, he will receive from me the most unwavering support.

We live in an age of political cynicism. People have given up having faith in politics. They have heard too many promises from a Government that does not deliver, that counts appearance above reality.

If we have learned anything in recent years it is that people need from us an overall vision of Britain from which our policies are derived, not piecemeal policies adopted one by one. That is why we are right to begin this year by demonstrating our purpose, direction and principles.

We must all be conscious this week of the people we meet around the country. We can picture them now: teachers retiring early and utterly demoralised, residents of noise-ridden housing estates who lives are never free of anti-social behaviour year after year, people with small businesses who are staggered by the red tape, and even people who want to emigrate from what ought to be the best place to live in the world.

They do deserve better. They deserve a party that will trust people to make a difference.

After someone else has made a mess of things, the Conservative Party has always been there to put things right. We have always had the same values – freedom, an understanding that real change comes from individuals and families working together in society, not from the state. And our values have always been relevant because as Britain has changed and grown we have changed and grown. We have always succeeded when we applied our values to the Britain of the present.

If we want to make a difference we need to change with Britain.

The British people want a change of government.

They need us to change, because they need us to win. All of us have our work to do, so let all of us now do it.