Well Conference – doesn’t it feel fantastic for us to be back at a real Conservative Party conference again?
I know that the wonders of modern technology helped us to stay connected during the darkest days of the covid pandemic…
…but man cannot live by Zoom alone and there’s really no substitute to being here.
Gathered together for the first time since Boris Johnson led us to …
Thanks to all of you who made it happen.
And to my brilliant predecessors James Cleverly and Amanda Milling.
For me this is a very special moment.
I grew up in the Conservative Party.
I was a member of staff of the Conservative Party.
And today I am truly honoured to be the new Chairman of the Conservative Party.
I’ll tell you why.
Not just because we’re the oldest and most successful political party in the democratic world.
Not just because we have led this country through some of the most significant events in its history.
Not even because we have developed policies that have spread prosperity to millions of people.
It’s because I know, and you know, that this is a fundamentally decent party.
You might not always hear it from our opponents, but I see it every single day.
Our councillors, who tirelessly serve their communities.
The many thousands of members and volunteers, for whom support for our party is just one part of their contribution to civic life.
From fundraising for hospices…
…to running dementia cafes
…to serving as school governors.
…and joining the army of covid volunteers in our hour of need.
You are the backbone of our country.
And our service is shaped by our values.
We believe that everyone deserves the best start in life.
That means a decent education like the one I received at my local state school.
That means decent healthcare, free at the point of use, which my family and I have benefited from time and again, thanks to our NHS.
That means decent opportunities to live and work in safe, pleasant communities.
The Conservative Party I believe in is moderate, pragmatic and open.
We hold true to our values but we are never dogmatic about how we apply them.
To be an effective party of government we have to translate these values into policies and deliver them.
Put simply - we have to get on with the job.
We are doing that with education where the bold reforms initiated by Michael Gove have transformed our schools…
…and where Nadhim Zahawi, a vaccine programme hero, will deliver the outstanding schools our children deserve.
We are doing it with health where we have chosen to massively invest in better hospitals, more doctors and more nurses.
The vaccine programme showed what we can achieve in an emergency.
But responsible government also demands that we tackle and resolve long term, ingrained problems.
Ones that previous administrations have put to the side as too difficult.
Fortunately, we have a Prime Minister who is not afraid to be bold.
That’s why this government has grasped the nettle of delivering sustainable funding for our social care system.
This Conservative Government will at last remove people’s fear of having their own home sold from under them.
Because of the cruelty of the lottery of dementia.
But Conference, unlike some other parties, we as Conservatives know that first class public services can only be paid for by a strong economy and free enterprise.
And it’s our good fortune that in Rishi Sunak we have a world class Chancellor to guide us through tough times to that better future.
• Britain now has the fastest growth in the G7,
• Unemployment has fallen for seven consecutive months,
• Wages are rising.
• Our entrepreneurs and innovators are creating more billion dollar tech firms than France and Germany combined.
All underpinned by that most basic Conservative instinct, sound public finances and living within our means.
A Conservative government delivering on the people’s priorities.
Of course, no government is perfect.
But I’d like to think that at least we have the wisdom to listen to people and the humility to learn how we can do better.
That’s why we are looking again at our planning reforms.
Our opponents - particularly the Liberal Democrats - have shamelessly stoked fears that changing the planning system will lead to ugly and disproportionate development.
I don’t believe that - and I can tell you that if we were to rip up controls then my constituents in Hertsmere would have a thing or two to say about it.
But it’s no good saying to voters in places like Chesham & Amersham “Trust me - I’m a politician.”
Yes, Britain’s growing population must have new houses but it’s clear that additional safeguards are needed.
We need to set out in law measures to protect our towns, villages and precious countryside from being despoiled by ugly development.
Watch this space.
But, Conference, questions about our values run deeper than that.
Do we believe at heart ours is a decent country?
A country of rule of law, democracy, and freedom.
Where people who work hard and do the right thing can get on in life, and provide for themselves, their family, and their community.
Where genuine problems and injustices are tackled with energy and good faith.
My answer, and I know your answer, is a resounding yes…
That is why I am so saddened by a small but very vocal group that profoundly disagrees.
They see a different Britain…
…dominated by privilege and oppression.
That should view its values and history with shame.
A mantra that results in bullying and haranguing of individuals, elected representatives, and public institutions.
So called cancel culture.
And we’ve all seen this simplistic narrative in action.
Divisions are heightened, statues torn down, and history rewritten.
But, Conference, I’m afraid it’s even worse than that.
Anyone who dares resist this argument – anyone who objects to this woke aggression – is branded as instigating culture wars!
Like our Equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch, who has suffered relentless abuse from the left.
Kemi, we are with you.
Because in my previous role I saw first-hand the damage those campaigns can do to our institutions.
That is why we must be robust in empowering them to stand up to this bullying.
To defend the interests of taxpayers who ultimately fund them.
And to keep our national heroes like Nelson, Gladstone and Churchill in the places of honour they deserve.
Now, you might imagine that a responsible opposition party would be only too keen to demonstrate to the British people that it is on their side against this argument.
In fact, I’m afraid the opposite is true.
Today’s Labour Party has got woke running through it like a stick of Brighton rock.
Labour’s problems go far wider and deeper than the Jeremy Corbyn faction.
To prosper in the Labour Party you must at some level endorse this world view.
Previous generations of Labour leaders, activists and voters would look in dismay at what Labour has become.
It used to be the party of the workers, proud, practical and patriotic.
Men like my grandfather, Harry Dowden.
‘Red Harry’, as he was known, worked in the rail yards of north London and was a trade union rep for the National Union of Railwaymen.
He was a Labour man through and through.
His world view was forged by the Great Depression and the war.
But he was also a patriot who loved Shakespeare and reading about history.
If you want to know why Labour lost the last general election so badly, it’s because so many of the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of people like Harry Dowden in communities up and down the country believe that Labour has turned its back on them.
But the difference between our parties is also to be found in our tolerance.
A recent study found that half of Labour supporters would think badly of friends or family voting Conservative.
But only one in seven Conservative voters said the same thing about a loved one voting Labour.
It’s so much easier to get along with people when you believe they at least have good intentions even if they’re profoundly wrong.
It’s much harder if you are so puffed up with moral certainty that you think those you disagree with you are wicked…
…or, dare I say it Conference, scum.
Another difference is that we respect democracy.
When we lose, we take it on the chin, regroup and move on.
In 2016 we had a momentous referendum in which Britain voted to leave the EU.
As it happens, I was on the losing side, but it never crossed my mind for a moment to dispute the result.
Instead I vowed to do my bit to deliver Brexit.
I just wish people like Keir Starmer had done the same.
And at this conference you will hear different viewpoints debated in a civilised way.
Contrast that with last week in Brighton when a Labour MP, Rosie Duffield, feared to attend her own party conference because she dared to dissent.
Another Labour figure who I suspect didn’t make it to Brighton is Councillor Theresa Norton.
Instead she was arrested four times as a leading figure in the blocking of motorways by climate protesters.
Millions of ordinary Brits, like all of us, care deeply about tackling climate change,
But when they are working hard to rebuild their livelihoods after covid, the last thing needed…
…is arrogant Labour activists blocking their access to homes, workplaces and hospitals.
Fortunately our new policing bill will curb these irresponsible antics.
But let me end with this pledge.
To you, my fellow Conservatives.
The Prime Minister gave me this job so I could be your voice:
Around the Cabinet table,
In the media,
At the campaigning coalface.
I’m here to represent you.
I’m also here to get our Party machine ready for the next election, whenever it comes.
…Hiring great new staff to build the team to win.
…Recruiting 50 campaign managers – right now.
…Beefing up by-election capability.
…Harnessing the most advanced digital and data techniques from around the world.
We know that we can only win with your hard work and support.
And we’ll give you best possible tools for victory.
And to pay for all this?
I’ll be working with the man who delivered the firepower for the last general election…
…my brilliant co-Chair Ben Elliot.
We’ll do it not just for our party, but for our country.
That is the Britain that I know, and I grew up in.
It’s the same Britain that is admired around the world.
A country where if you work hard, you can get on and provide for your family and your community.
Our values are the values of this nation.
Moderate decent values translated by our Prime Minister and our government into a programme that delivers for Britain.
Let’s get on with the job.