It’s great to see you all here. And great to be back in Melton Mowbray.
Last time I was in this town I was pounding the streets, campaigning against a disastrous policy: the alternative vote system. So it’s good to come back and talk about something positive.
And to see so many friends here today.
It’s one year and one day since I launched the new Conservative Policy Forum in Birmingham.
I made a promise back then.
I said that no matter who you are, where you live, or what your experience of politics is...
....you would have a strong voice about the issues which matter for the future of Britain....
....and your voice would be heard and would count
What I said then has come true.
...with more than 200 active CPF branches, from Loch Fyne to Truro, Delyn to Ipswich...
...in pubs, town halls, agricultural fairs, young people’s groups...
...covering everyone from charity workers to magistrates, entrepreneurs, small business owners, students, stay at home mums, retired manual workers, hairdressers...
...ranging from their teens to their nineties.
You are all coming together to share your collective expertise.
You are feeding your findings directly to the Ministers and Secretaries of State.
And you are working towards the policy challenges of 2015.
How do we ensure higher employment rates?
How do we safeguard the future of our aging population?
How do we reduce bureaucracy?
How do we deliver affordable housing?
How do we tackle child poverty?
How do we preserve our natural environment?
These are issues that really matter, and these are just some of the issues on which you have produced incisive, crucial reports over the last 12 months.
What’s more, at this year’s Party Conference you staged a series of CPF panel sessions and even debated on the main stage.
Doesn’t this just prove the maturity and strength of our party?
And show that there’s a straight line that goes from the grassroots to the centre.
The progress is amazing:
Participation has increased from eight per cent of Conservative constituencies when we started out...
To a massive 45 per cent today!
So I want to thank those people for making this happen.
First, your voluntary director, Natalie Elphicke. My goodness she’s doing a great job.
Let’s take a moment to say thank you to her for all she’s achieved.
Next I want to say thank you to our President of the National Convention, Fiona Hodgson and congratulate her for her recent honour.
It was her motivation that drove forward the CPF.
Now she’s driving it on as Vice Chairman.
She’s also a great friend and we need to thank her for her support (applause).
Thank you also to Daisy Meyland-Smith and her team at CCHQ. They’re at your service and they’re working hard to get your views to Ministers.
...to Oliver Letwin, your hardworking Chairman...
...to David Willetts, who delivered the fantastic CPF speech at Party Conference.
And to many, many more.
Why am I reeling off all these names?
Because it shows how serious our Party is about the CPF.
You are central to our plans.
To get that manifesto right.
And to secure our ultimate goal: an outright Conservative majority in 2015.
So no pressure then...
I really believe that the CPF is a key plank of our vision for the Party.
One survey showed that if people have a bigger say on policy they are more likely to be members of a political party.
The CPF is putting this into practice.
And it is feeding into our wider mission to bring the Conservative family together.
What you have been doing in your groups is so important.
Thrashing out ideas, fleshing out suggestions – scrutinising, debating, proposing, arguing, consulting.
All with the aim of ensuring our party gets the right policies for 2015.
Policy is the lifeblood of politics.
It’s the practical application of our principles.
It’s how we make our country – our world – better.
And boy has this country borne the brunt of poor policy making for too long.
Those 13 long years of Labour.
Where crazy policies would make their way from the back of an envelope to a headline and onto the statue book...
...quicker than you could say ‘things can only get better’.
I mean, you could write a book about Labour’s most ludicrous policies.
Here are some of my favourites:
Tony Blair marching criminals to cash points.
Peter Mandelson’s invented sport for the Millennium Dome – surfball.
David Blunkett’s proposed gangster rap summit.
And the current one that Miliband and Balls seem to be running with:
Getting our country out of a debt crisis – by creating more debt.
Could anything better demonstrate why Britain needs our ideas and not theirs?
The great thing is, you’ve not just got the ideas; you’ve got the experience.
You’ve run shops, you’ve managed farms, you’ve started businesses, you’ve brought up families.
That’s why I’m proud that this party, the Tory party, will always listen to you.
And particularly delighted that your considerable resources are being pooled in four expert groups.
On Learning and Culture; on Home Affairs; on Foreign Affairs; and on our Public Services and Infrastructure.
It is great to see the chairmen of those groups here today as well.
For me, diversity is one of the greatest strengths of the CPF.
As Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party it’s my job to enforce discipline.
But I have an approach that surprises quite a few people.
I ’ve got broad shoulders.
I’m relaxed about differing opinions.
I welcome debate.
Lady Thatcher argued – incidentally, in her 1968 speech to the Conservative Political Centre – that consensus between political parties is dangerous.
That for democracy to thrive, opposition and debate are essential.
Of course, she was right.
But I would go one step further.
And say that uniformity within parties is not healthy either.
We should be bold enough to be a broad church.
Interviewers constantly ask me about varying views in our Party.
But isn’t debate what politics is about?
Isn’t that how some of the best ideas come about?
After all, as everyone in this room can probably tell, I welcome free thinking.
Yes, it causes my press officer sleepless nights.
But one of the things I really admire about our Party is that we’re free thinking, open minded, strong enough in our beliefs to be a broad church.
And that’s one of the reasons why I’m a Tory – which I know is what you’re going to discuss in your first session today.
Because we have MPs, peers, councillors, MEPs, activists and supporters from so many different backgrounds.
Because we have the right ideas for the times.
All the ideas we talk about.
Are rooted in our Conservative values:
Aspiration. Opportunity. Enterprise. Fairness. Responsibility. Free markets. Lower taxes. Strong families.
These are the values that inspired me as the working class daughter of immigrants, growing up in 1970s Yorkshire.
They are the values that were championed by Peel, by Disraeli and of course our greatest peacetime Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
A nd these are the values we are delivering in Government.
As we work with another Party in Coalition.
In fact, isn’t this pragmatism, this working in the national interest, this commitment to fixing our country.
The most powerful demonstration of our Conservatism?
So I encourage you to be brave, be bold, be courageous and think big – this is the right time to do it.
If you think about what the CPF has achieved in just one year, how it has grown, think what you can do in the years to come.
So thank you for listening.
And I hope you enjoy this weekend.