Today we're launching our campaign for the European elections with a simple message: on 4th June, a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for change.
This isn't some empty slogan - it's a statement of serious intent.The pledge that Conservative candidates are signing today is a pledge to make change happen.
If our candidates are elected on June 4th, they will be part of a new group in the European Parliament, committed to a new vision for Europe.
And with their signature of this pledge they are also sealing a commitment to cut the cost of politics to deliver more for less, to represent Britain's interests in Europe, and to help clean up the political system.
Why is this declaration of change - this pledge - so important?
TRANSPARENCY AND ETHICS
First, because trust in politicians has been shot to pieces.
The expenses. The extravagance. The excuses.
People need to know that we completely understand how badly we have gone wrong and they want to see we're making every effort to put things right.
It's our fault and it's our responsibility - and by signing this pledge our candidates for the European Parliament are showing they get that.
This pledge sets out new standards of ethical behaviour and clear rules.
One - Conservative MEPs will publish online a breakdown of all office costs, signed off by a certified accountant.
Two - they will publish online details of all travel: to Brussels, to Strasbourg, to any other country.
Three - they will publish the names of each member of staff they employ.
Four - they will publish details of all meetings with lobbyists and interest groups.
And five - all of the above will be subject to examination by a scrutiny panel.
In Brussels, just as in Westminster, transparency is the first essential step in cleaning up politics and it is the first big change that Conservative MEPs will make.
There's a second reason why this pledge is so important.
It's going to help bring change to Europe.
Twenty years ago the Berlin wall came crashing down.
From the rubble rose new realities and new priorities.
And with the enlargement of the EU to include those countries that had been locked out of freedom, there is a new Europe too.
But sadly, we still have the same old EU.
Still too introspective, obsessing over its own procedures.
Still too centralised, regulating and controlling from Brussels.
Still too wasteful, spending vast amounts of money.
By signing this pledge, Conservative candidates promise to act on all these fronts.
Our MEPs will argue for an EU that stops looking in on itself and starts looking out to the world.
We want a Europe that rises to the challenge of climate change, that helps lift billions out of poverty, and that responds to the greatest economic crisis in living memory by fighting protectionism and being a force for free and fair trade.
Instead the EU spends too much time navel-gazing and obsessing over internal processes.
Right now, they're trying to ram through the Lisbon Treaty - the old EU Constitution - against the wishes of their people and against the best interests of Europe and the wider world.
We are the only major party that has consistently opposed the Constitution - and its successor.
By signing this pledge, we're putting it on the record in black and white:
We support a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
And we will change the law in Britain so that never again can powers be handed over to Brussels without first asking the British people.
Our next task is to fight the EU's culture of centralisation and over-regulation.
Brussels can be a force for economic dynamism - but too often it acts like an economic millstone.
Since 1997, the EU has burdened British businesses with nearly £50 billion worth of red tape.
Almost half of all the regulations imposed on our businesses come from Brussels.
This was bad enough in the good times.
Now we're in a recession, it's economic suicide.
We need to cut the red tape that makes the lives of our businesses so difficult, to help them compete in the global economy, grow and develop, to take on more people and create more wealth, and to lift us out of this recession and set us on the path to recovery.
That's why today, with this pledge, we promise:
To support the return of social and employment legislation to national control.
To cut the administration costs of all EU legislation by a quarter.
And to defend our opt-out from the Working Time Directive.
MORE FOR LESS
Finally, we're going to make the EU deliver more for less.
Because families and businesses are tightening their belts and making every pound go as far as possible.
Because dealing with Labour's Debt Crisis demands a government of thrift.
And because if we don't deliver more for less, our economy will be labouring under high borrowing, high taxes and higher interest rates for years to come.
All that applies to the EU too.
It's now vital that we make the EU understand that, and get real value for money for British taxpayers.
That's why we promise to oppose all wasteful spending throughout the EU.
It's why we're calling for an end to European Parliament meetings in Strasbourg: heaven knows - one European Parliament is more than enough.
And it's why we'll work to save up to one billion euros a year on the EU budget.
More than that, we will defend our rebate.
In May 2005, Gordon Brown pledged that Britain's EU rebate was 'justified and non-negotiable'.
Four months later, he said that 'if we are to make poverty history... let us seek to make the excesses of the CAP history'.
Yet by that Christmas, he agreed to an EU budget deal that cut Britain's rebate by £7 billion with no guarantee of CAP reform at all.
Any government that is serious about defending the interests of the British taxpayer has got to be serious about defending our rebate.
That's why we promise that with the Conservatives, the UK will not pay more than our fair share to Europe.
VOTE FOR CHANGE
So our message for these elections on June 4th is clear: a Conservative vote is a vote for change.
But there's something else I want to talk about today: a bigger change.
Over the past few days, I've been thinking hard about this political crisis and what we can do to fix it.
I've considered all the options - and I mean all the options.
And I'm clear about the best way forward.
Today I want to explain that view and ask for the country's support for it.
I think the scale of the problems facing Britain today - the recession, the debt crisis, and above all the political crisis - all point in one direction.
I think there is now only one way of sorting out the mess, and that is for Parliament to be dissolved and for a General Election to be held right away.
This political crisis has been caused by the politicians, so I don't think the politicians alone can solve it.
The public have got to be involved.
Think about the big questions that we as a country need to answer.
How can we make sure, in a fair way, that everyone has the chance to express their views about their MPs' behaviour, except by letting them vote in a General Election?
How can we agree, in a legitimate way, the changes we need to make to our political system - except in a General Election?
And how can we move on from this crisis, with a Parliament that commands the respect of the British people, except by letting them choose a new Parliament that they trust, in a General Election?
Think about the argument raging these last few days - about the Speaker.
Some MPs are calling for a new Speaker.
I'm calling for something more: a new Parliament to come together and choose who it wants as Speaker.
Yes, the party leaders have to take a lead - and I will go on doing so.
Taking responsibility, not blaming the system.
Establishing a process for money to be repaid.
Making sure that MPs take part in that process, and making sure that money is paid back - or taking away the whip.
And taking further action, as and when necessary, to remove the whip from those who simply should not be permitted to stand again under the Conservative banner.
All this has been done, and will be done.
But it's just the start of something that will only end with a General Election.
The action being taken in my Party and others - it's not a solution.
It's just preparing the ground for the ultimate judgment, a judgment that can only come from the people.
So - to coin a phrase - why put off what needs to be done?
Why not have the election now?
I know that some people might say: you're always calling for a General Election, what's so different this time?
The difference is that everything has changed in the last two weeks.
The need for change is ten times more urgent than it was before.
And a General Election is the only way of making it happen.
A General Election now would present big challenges to all the main parties.
I know there will be Conservative MPs who could be punished by their voters for the way they have behaved.
I have considered that very carefully.
And this is what I think.
First, I want to remind Conservative MPs that they need not be passive in this great political drama: they can show local leadership.
You are politicians.
Your job is to represent the people.
Your constituents are your boss - so get in front of them and put your side of the story.
Many of my colleagues are holding public meetings in their constituencies to listen to people's concerns, and to discuss how to put right what's wrong.
I will be holding one in my constituency on Friday.
No Conservative can ever be afraid of the British people.
We have always put our trust in their judgement and their strong sense of reasonableness.
But second, I want to remind Conservative party members and local activists of the rules we already have.
If you think your MP is not right to stand, there's a simple process for triggering his or her re-selection.
It only needs ten per cent of the members, or fifty people - whichever is the smaller number.
Obviously, this process is not to be used lightly.
But it is a process that can be used by Party members.
The Chairman of every Conservative Association can also trigger a re-selection process.
And, where necessary, the board of the Party can order it too.
Soon we will have before us, and will have scrutinised, all the information about the behaviour of all Conservative MPs.
At that point, I will consider asking the board of the Party to initiate a re-selection process where necessary.
But don't let anyone think these are substitutes for a General Election - they are not.
In the end, it is right that the ultimate verdict on this political crisis, and the behaviour of individual MPs, is passed by the people, not the politicians.
The judgment, in the end, must be the judgement of the voters, not the political elite.
CAMPAIGN FOR A GENERAL ELECTION
And so I want to announce today that we are turning the campaign we had planned for these elections. into the campaign Britain now needs: a campaign for a General Election, to be held as soon as possible after the 4th of June.
From tomorrow I want Conservative candidates and activists right across the country to start collecting signatures for a petition demanding that Gordon Brown calls a General Election.
And I want as many people as possible - whether you support Labour, or the LibDems, or no party - to join in.
Write to your local paper. Write to a national newspaper. Start your own petition.
Though the power of our collective pressure, we can force Gordon Brown to act.
No - there is no constitutional requirement for a General Election.
Yes - this Labour Government could cling on for another year, with or without a new leader.
But I don't think the country wants to wait another year to pass judgment on their politicians, and on this Parliament.
I don't think the country wants to wait another year before we start dealing seriously with the debt crisis and this economic crisis.
The political system in Britain today, from the Prime Minister downwards, is quite simply paralysed.
And it is now abundantly clear that the country does not want to wait another year to give all of us in Westminster a simple message:
We want change: now get on with it.