Well isn’t it fantastic to be back in Blackpool!
Our first conference here for fifteen years.
It was here in 1946 that Anthony Eden first spoke of the ‘property owning democracy.’
It was here in 1975 that Margaret Thatcher first spoke as our party leader.
And then again in 1979 for the first time as our Prime Minister.
Conservative memories made.
Conservative missions defined.
And it's a mark of what our party has achieved that we can proudly say for the first time since 1997:
This town now has two Conservative MPs!
Paul Maynard and Scott Benton are working with the government to transform a place failed by Labour
the party that left this town behind for decades.
And like hardworking Conservatives across the country they’re bringing growth, prosperity and opportunity.
A new Town Deal for Blackpool worth tens of millions of pounds.
Making good on our promises and getting on with the job.
That is our mission. I’m proud to be bringing Party Conference back to its spiritual home and bringing millions to the local economy.
When Conservatives say we back business, we deliver.
So, to everyone who made this happen: thank you!
Of all the moments of history our party has made in Blackpool,
the one I want to focus on today is Margaret Thatcher’s speech here in October 1989.
As the Iron Curtain was about to lift she stood here and told the Winter Gardens:
‘The torch of freedom that is now the symbol of our Party
became the beacon that has shed its light
across the Iron Curtain into the East.
Today that beacon shines more strongly
than at any time this century.’
Conference in March 2022 we must ask this:
Does the torch of freedom shine as strongly in Europe today?
Could Mrs Thatcher have foreseen that the Conservative Party would meet here in Blackpool more than thirty years later,
with the precious freedom of Europe
once again under threat from Russia?
A generation of Conservatives understood the threat of tyranny and their opposition to it defined their Conservatism.
So whilst much has changed about our party, this much remains the same:
It is Conservatives who always carry the torch of freedom.
And once again it is a Conservative Prime Minister who is leading the world’s response to the crisis in Ukraine.
We were the first European country to arm Ukraine with lethal aid.
We have imposed the biggest package of sanctions in the history of the United Kingdom.
And we are the largest donor of humanitarian aid.
As I walk with my children through the calm suburbia of Hertfordshire, its values so derided by the left,
I actually reflect on the great fortune we have to live in a nation defined by stability, security… and, yes, Conservatism.
For me, the privet hedges of suburbia are the privet hedges of a free people.
And I will make it my mission as Chairman to defend those values and those freedoms.
Right now, I am proud that Conservatives, like so many Britons up and down the country are playing their part to support the people of Ukraine in their hour of need.
Donating what they can, preparing their spare rooms, and organising their communities to give the brave Ukranians the warmest of welcomes.
Just as 50 years ago this October, the British people under a conservative government welcomed tens of thousands of Ugandan Asians fleeing Idi Amin’s brutal dictatorship.
And half a century later, our nation reaps the rewards with the prosperity they have generated and the public service they have freely given.
Dolar Popat, Mohammed Sheikh and Jitesh Gadhia are now Conservative peers in the House of Lords.
Shailesh Vara is in the House of Commons.
And our Home Secretary Priti Patel is part of the most diverse Cabinet in history.
Now this government has relentlessly focused on dealing with the Ukraine crisis.
But we must be just as relentless in dealing with its longer term consequences.
We must confront the fact that the combination of Covid and the Ukraine crisis are placing significant pressure on inflation and the cost of living.
We need to level with the British people about the causes of this and demonstrate the same resolve in dealing with it as we did with breaking the Brexit deadlock, as we did with investing in our game changing vaccine, and as we did in reopening our economy.
And we must confront the mistakes of the past.
Today we face Russian aggression, hampered by our lack of energy independence.
Our reliance today on Russian oil and gas was a course set by Labour governments who neglected to invest in new nuclear power.
Ed Miliband spent 10 years blocking it, when we could now be relying on it.
So it falls to the Conservatives to deliver energy independence for the first time in a generation.
Phasing out the import of Russian oil by the end of the year, exploring options to end our import of Russian gas.
Of course that means investing massively in our offshore wind capacity and other renewables; but it must also mean developing new nuclear projects, and re-incentivising new oil and gas exploration in this country as we transition.
Because the British people want to see a bit of conservative pragmatism, not net zero dogma.
We are conservatives.
We exist to conserve.
We will get to net zero.
We will save the planet.
We just don’t want Vladimir Putin taking it over while we are doing it.
And we know the alternative.
Next week marks two years of Sir Keir Starmer as Labour leader.
And in that time he has really managed to stamp his personality on his party:
dull, uninspiring and bereft of ideas.
Some in his party believe that he is not “real Labour”.
Well, I can see what they mean.
Certainly he has more faith than any Liberal Democrat that Ed Davey is the path to government.
But let’s not be complacent about the threat that Starmer’s party still poses.
Let’s remind people of his sincerity in campaigning to have Jeremy Corbyn – that NATO opposing Putin apologist – installed as the nation’s Prime Minister.
And let us thank Boris Johnson for making sure that fate never befell our nation.
But the danger has not passed.
The Corbynistas are still there.
Starmer can’t resist kowtowing to the cancel culture brigade because his base are the cancel culture brigade.
He’s frightened to defend women’s rights or to protect our heritage from vandals because he fears he would then be cancelled.
He won’t argue against state handouts because his Party don’t believe in rolling back the vast Covid state at all.
And he can’t even get his MPs to vote for measures to stop self-righteous activists blocking roads because the gluers and lockers-on are his own Labour councillors!
Starmer would have left us in Brexit limbo
He would have left us in the European Medicines Agency.
And he would have left us in lockdown.
And that is why we cannot let them into office.
I’ve had the pleasure of fighting many elections, both inside and outside the party machine.
And you know as well I do that it’s never been plain sailing.
Of course we face a tough path through the locals and onto the next General Election.
We will be seeking a fifth Conservative win.
A feat never achieved before.
And the challenge starts this May.
Thanks to your hard work, we go in defending results that defied expectations in 2017 and 2018.
But at a time when people are worrying about the cost of living we need to be reminding people that the best way to tackle the cost of living locally
is to elect Conservative councils that cost less and deliver more.
And it is that message: delivery today, delivery tomorrow, and delivery the day after
that will carry us through the Local Elections and onto the General Election
And when that General Election comes, it’s going to look much more like the campaign of 2015 than that of 2019.
So we’re going to have to fight this one seat by seat, promise delivered by promise delivered, doorstep by doorstep.
And from May, we will begin our two year election campaign with the launch of our target seat strategy, building on the experience of the 40:40 campaign in 2015, building capacity, developing profiles, and framing the choice.
And to implement this, we have a great team:
I've appointed Tony Lee as our new director of campaigning
the man who masterminded Andy Street’s campaign.
I’ve recruited more than a dozen new campaign managers embedded across the country and working in critical defence areas today.
And I’ve just opened our new Leeds HQ.
Which means that when people call to speak to Conservative central office, the next question we’ll ask is “which one?”
But we all know that people matter more than the party machine.
And that’s why we need to attract the very best candidates.
Our diversity challenge is not some leftie tick box exercise that dumps people into one category or another.
It’s our way of finding talent from all over the country and from all walks of life.
Our new candidates must match the new conservative party.
The Party of Darlington and Doncaster –
as well as Devon and Dorset.
The party of mill towns and mining towns –
as well as the metropolis.
So today I’m announcing that we are reopening the candidates list for the next General Election with a big, open call for candidates.
We don’t mind what job you do, what you look like, how old you are or where you are from.
We’re just looking for people with real political conviction who instinctively share conservative values.
We’re looking for people with judgement, with integrity, and with wide ranging life experiences.
And for the first time, candidates will be put through a new process, a process that matches the best in class from organisations and businesses around the world to give us the most representative and best candidates we’ve ever had.
Let us contrast that depth and breadth of our talent against the out of touch Islington elites of the modern Labour Party.
I’m proud to be a comprehensively educated boy from Watford who now gets to chair the Conservative Party.
I’m proud to be the son of a factory worker who gets to sit around the Cabinet table.
I’m proud to represent a constituency where people get up early each day and work hard to provide for themselves and their families.
And I’m proud of our party.
A party with men and women from all walks of life, bound by common conservative values who believe in our country, our history, our traditions and the great role we have played in the world.
Those are the values of the British people.
They are the values of the Conservative Party.
Our instincts are their instincts.
Our values are their values.
Blackpool conferences have been the launchpad for many Conservative election victories.
So let’s make today the start of yet another great journey.
Let's get on with the job.