Good morning, everybody.
It’s absolutely fantastic to be back here in Blackpool.
I first spoke here 25 years ago, 1997. I was the freshly defeated candidate for Clwyd South. And I did the appeal. But I didn’t think they could get Jeffrey Archer that day.
Because we, as you recall, we’d been more or less wiped out. And what a joy it is to come back here today, quarter of a century on and find that we have more Conservative MPs than at any time since the 1980s. And that we not only hold Clwyd South, we hold Blackpool South, my friends.
As we meet today, a tragedy continues to unfold in our European continent, a vicious and a barbarian attack on innocent civilians, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1940s. And, Mr. Ambassador, Sir, there you are. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, Ukrainian ambassador, I want to repeat to you directly what I told your wonderful president Volodymyr Zelenskyy yesterday. We stand with the Ukrainian people, and our hearts go out to them.
And tens of thousands of people in this country are opening our homes, to the people of Ukraine. We say thank you to them, and we applaud them. And with every day that Ukraine’s heroic resistance continues, it is clear that Putin has made a catastrophic mistake.
And you have to ask yourself why he did it. Why did he decide to invade this totally innocent country? He didn’t really believe that Ukraine was going to join NATO anytime soon. He knew perfectly well, there was no plan to put missiles on Ukrainian soil. He didn’t really believe the semi-mystical guff, he wrote about the origins of the of the Russian people; Nostradamus meets Russian Wikipedia.
I think that wasn’t what it was about. I think he was frightened of Ukraine for an entirely different reason. He was frightened of Ukraine, because in Ukraine, they have a free press. And in Ukraine, they have free elections. And then with every year that Ukraine progressed, not always easily, towards freedom and democracy and open markets, he feared the Ukrainian example. And he feared the implicit reproach to himself. Because in Putin’s Russia, you get jailed for 15 years, just recalling an invasion, an invasion. And if you stand against Putin in an election, you get poisoned, or shot.
And it’s precisely – that’s what happens – and it’s precisely because Ukraine and Russia have been so historically close, that he has been terrified of the effect of that Ukrainian model on him and on Russia, and he’s been in a total panic about a so-called “colour revolution” in Moscow itself.
And that’s why he’s trying so brutally to snuff out the flame of freedom in Ukraine, and that’s why it is so vital that he fails, because a victorious Putin will not stop in Ukraine, and the end of freedom in Ukraine will mean the extinction of any hope of freedom in Georgia and then Moldova – it will mean the beginning of a new age of intimidation across the whole of Eastern Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea – and if Putin succeeds in crushing Ukraine, it will be the green light for autocrats everywhere in the Middle East, in the Far East.
This is a turning point for the world. And it’s a moment of choice. It’s a choice between freedom and oppression. And I know there are some around the world, even in some Western governments who invoke what they call “realpolitik”. And you say that we’re better off making accommodations with tyranny. I have to say I believe they are profoundly wrong. And to try to renormalise relations with Putin, after this, as we did in 2014, would be to make exactly the same mistake again. And that is why, and that is why, Putin must fail.
And I know that it’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom, every time: I can give you a couple of famous recent examples. When the British people voted for Brexit, in such large, large numbers, I don’t believe it was because they were remotely hostile to foreigners. It’s because they wanted to be free to do things differently and for this country to be able to run itself. Give you another example, where the British population came forward to be vaccinated at such incredible speed voluntarily. Unlike many other countries, I’m sure it was partly because they wanted to avoid catching Covid, very sensible thing to do – by the way, I hope you’ve all had your boosters – you have? – well we’re getting ready for a fourth jab, because we’re going to need it. But I’ll tell you why people did it. Why? Why did the British people come forward? I mean, 90 percent , we got entirely voluntary. Entirely voluntary. It was because they wanted to get on with their lives. They were fed up with being told what to do, by people like me. They were!
We wanted to take back control of our lives. And so I’m proud that this government has done the things that so many people said were impossible. We got Brexit done. I’m proud that we delivered the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, not once, but twice and the fastest booster route rollout. And, of course, yes, I am proud that this government has been in the lead in sticking up for freedom in Ukraine. This was the first European country to send defensive weapons to help the Ukrainians. And now dozens are following our lead. And I’m very grateful to my friend Ben Wallace – also there in the front row – for his foresight many months ago. And for getting me to read Putin’s crazy essay, which I did – and we are talking continuously, Liz, Ben and I, we’re talking continuously – to our colleagues in the in the Ukraine support group to discuss what more we can do. And those conversations go on literally every day, and there will be more.
I’m proud of what we did on sanctions. We were in the lead in sanctioning SWIFT and the banks, certainly banning Aeroflot, we’ve now sanctioned more banks and individuals than any other European country, and we will be detaining their yachts and their assets. And, of course, there is a cost to all these actions. Of course there is, but the cost of doing nothing will be far, far higher. Putin’s war is intended to cause economic damage to the West and to benefit him. And he knows that with every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil, he gets billions more in revenues from the sales of oil and gas. And that’s the tragedy of the situation. He’s been preparing for this moment, by pushing hydrocarbons on the west like a back street pusher, feeding our addiction, creating a dependency. And now he wants to weaken the collective will to resist by pushing up the cost of living, hitting us at the pumps, and in our fuel bills. And so we must respond and we’ve got to do everything we can to help people with their daily costs, help people with the cost of living, and, of course, that means doing all the things that we’re doing: lifting the living wage, cutting council tax bills, helping with fuel costs, giving billions to councils, millions more to help people in particular hardship.
The best possible answer, of course, is to make sure that this is the traditional Conservative answer to make sure that we have a strong economy and strong economic fundamentals with well paid jobs. And thanks to the speed of that booster rollout, we have the fastest growing economy in the G7. Unemployment now actually back to the level it was before the pandemic, virtually a record low, 3.9 per cent, youth unemployment at or near record lows. But if we’re going to deal with a particular cost, the biggest cost that families now face and tackle these rising fuel bills, the energy spike, we must take the bold steps necessary to end our dependence on Putin’s oil and gas.
And that is what we are doing, in the immortal phrase: it is time to take back control of our energy supplies. After years of short termism and hand-to-mouth solutions, we are setting out a British energy security strategy. And we will make better use of our own naturally occurring hydrocarbons, rather than import them top dollar from abroad and put the money into Putin’s bank account.
That does not mean in any way that we will abandon our drive for a low carbon future, we’re going to make some bets on nuclear power – and big bets on nuclear power – not just the big projects, but also the small modular reactors. And we’re going to take that bull-at-a-gate spirit of the booster rollout and use it to build more offshore wind, double quick time, and many other investments in clean green power. But if you ask me how we’re going to pay for all this, I can tell you that I’ve been going around the world recently, and I’ve been talking to international investors who are yearning to make colossal long term investments in British green infrastructure. Colossal. And there’s a reason why people want to come to this country, many, many reasons why they want to come. But you’re seeing them invest massively in everything from tech to finance to green power.
And that is that they know what this government is doing. They know about – I mean, you may not believe it, but they do – they know about our levelling up agenda, my friends, they do. They’ve heard of it. They have, they’re very well informed. And they know that we have a plan to unleash the potential of this whole country and they can see how we are doing it, making our streets safer with 20,000 more police rounding up the county lines drugs gangs, that cause such misery, stopping and searching the kids with the, with the, knives; giving the police the powers that they need. And by the way, giving the criminals the serious sentences that they deserve for the crimes that they commit. Tackling the middle class use of drugs by the way that helps to drive so much of the consumption but doing things – Thank you for that small clap for that – I think it’s about time that the government stood – that the government said – that we don’t tolerate this kind of… it is driving misery across the whole country. It’s driving the county lines gangs and we have to be absolutely frank about it.
But what we’re doing goes far beyond that. And people around the world can see what levelling up is: doing the massive extension of fibre optic broadband – and I’m just trying to look for Nadine, where is Nadine, perhaps she isn’t in here? – But, Oliver, you were doing it. Massive expansion when you were at DCMS with full fibre Gigabit broadband. It is a great thing for our country. And we need to do it: we will go further and faster investing massively in road and rail and not just the colossal schemes of the integrated rail plan, northern powerhouse rail, making sure that the Midlands and the North of the country finally get the kind of commuter-style rail networks that have been taken for granted for so long in the South East. Huge schemes that we’re doing: they’ll be transformative for the UK economy – but look at the little things that we’re doing as well – relatively smaller schemes such as the new tram improvements in Blackpool, which I was delighted to see the other day. I congratulate the Blackpool authorities on what they are doing because it’s driving tourism, it’s driving investment – even more investment – here in in Blackpool. That’s what levelling up is.
I went for a run. You may not believe it, but I did. I went for a run this morning on the beach. Absolutely beautiful. Better than anything in the Caribbean. That is not near-gallantry. It is true. And it’s true – I mean, that time of the morning, 6:45, sun coming up. Unbelievable. Tide right out, ribbed sand stretching for miles and miles, and obviously beautiful. And as I ran along, I saw over new hotels and the new attractions that will benefit from that new transport infrastructure going in – the new tram. Of course, government has a role. Safer streets, better health care, better schools, better education, creating the conditions for that investment. But in the end, you need the private sector. The animal spirits of the private sector to come in and have the confidence to invest. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the fundamental symmetry at the heart of our Conservative vision.
And as I was running along the sand, I saw a man who seemed to be prospecting with a kind of steel pole, or tube. And I asked him what he was looking for, hydrocarbons perhaps. What do you think he was looking for? Anybody have any idea? I tell you, he wasn’t searching for oil. Well, he was looking for lug worms. And he showed me some lug worms that he had caught. And I will tell you, my friends, the lugworm is not perhaps the most beautiful of God’s creatures. But bigger fish love lugworms. And I want you to know that we Conservatives back everybody in this country who gets up early and invest their time and their skill and their energy and their effort in the hope of a bigger return. You need to use a lugworm to catch a bream, my friends and I have a bream. As they say.
I have a vision of a one nation conservatism that takes that capitalist spirit and uses it. Uses our wonderful free market system to make sure that we have the revenues further for Rishi Sunak could pay for our fantastic NHS and the 50,000 more nurses and the thousands more doctors that were are hiring, pay for all the wonderful staff who are clearing the COVID backlogs, pay for our defences, pay for Ben Wallace’s troops, pay for our 20,000 more police officers, pay for investment in skills. Like what we’re doing with the Blackpool and Fylde College, the new Multiversity that’s opening – because that is what levelling up is all about. And it is those wonderful public services that create the climate of confidence, which means that private sector investment comes in and it works: this formula for levelling up I believe is right for the whole country. It’s vital to understand this. It’s vital that it works. It works everywhere. By unleashing talent everywhere across the UK – still, under the old model the most imbalanced European economy, by unleashing can everywhere – you stop the overheating and the stress and the overdevelopment, that is a part of the failed economic model, and we take the whole country forward together. That’s what we’re going to do. That’s why Rishi – I think he’s totally right to be driving at a new age of post Brexit entrepreneurialism – tough word to say, you know, but you know what I mean? Low business taxes and other fiscal incentives, the eight new free ports, and all the new freedoms that we’re currently taking, driven by Jacob, who’s our invigilator of these things – to do things differently and do things better? And now that we can – and I think it’s because of the spirit that people can see in this country that we’re seeing a surge of investment in the last few months, another billion just this week from Al Fanar, from Saudi Arabia in Teesside to make green aviation fuel, on top of a billion from Nissan for a Gigafactory, a billion from Mubadala for Life Sciences, 6 billion from Iberdrola Spanish company in East Anglia wind farms, 1.5 billion from Blackstone in labs in the creative sector. The list goes on and on.
It is absolutely astonishing, a billion here, a billion there, you’re talking about serious money, you’re talking about tens of thousands of high wage, high skilled jobs. And there’s another reason of course, why investors come here. And when they think about the UK, and what it’s going to be like for themselves and their families, they think about the time that they’re going to be spending in the UK, and I tell you something, it is the invincible strength of this country that we believe, by and large, and within the law, that people should be able to do whatever they want, provided they don’t do any harm to anybody else. And that’s called freedom. That’s called freedom. And we don’t need to be woke. We just want to be free. And that’s why talented people are fleeing Russia, quite frankly, right now. And that’s why they’re flocking to the UK.
And to get back to my theme. That’s Putin’s tragedy. That’s his tragedy there. Actually, there’s a sense in which his disastrous error in Ukraine is itself an argument for democracy and freedom. I mean, seriously, if Putin had a free press, if he had the BBC on his case – I’m deadly serious, he would know, whatever you may think, he would have known the truth or a version of it – he would have known the truth. If he had free, impartial, responsible journalism, let me put it that way. Then he would have known then he would have known the truth that the Ukrainians are a proud, proud nation with a charismatic leader, and he would have known before he set out on this disastrous and inhuman venture that they would fight to defend their homeland. He would have known that, and he wouldn’t have locked himself in this echo chamber of sycophants. On which subject, if Putin had to explain himself to a real parliament, with real backbenchers whom, of course, all leaders must have a very, very lively regard – who had backbenchers they had to justify themselves to every day, to their electors, and of course at elections – you know, I don’t believe that he would have been capable of such a crescendo of disastrous and self-destructive mistakes. Isn’t that the truth?
Now, I don’t believe that democratic freedoms are going to sprout anytime soon in the Kremlin, far from it, but with every day that passes, I think that Putin becomes a more glaring advertisement for the system that he hates and despises. And it becomes ever more obvious why we have to stick up for Ukraine. And we will. And that’s why we will continue with absolute conviction to stick up for freedom under the law, freedom under the law at home and abroad, even if it means making some tough decisions. We made a tough choice, for instance, over Christmas and New Year to keep going to keep our economy open. When some people said we should go back into lockdown – we made the tough choice to open up last July – when I think that the Labour Party said we were being reckless. Never forget, if we’d listened to Captain Hindsight and the Labour Party – I never tire I’m telling you this, but it’s true – we would still be in lockdown and we would certainly not be seeing the strong growth and employment that we’re seeing today. When the Labour Party and the current leader were trying with might and main to install a leader who wanted – I’m sorry, I’m serious – to abolish NATO, we were already training Ukrainian troops to fight. And it’s an absolutely incredible fact and it’s true – a t a time when Russia is being led by a President who is capable of bullying and threats, who’s plainly capable of making dangerous and irrational decisions – we have a Labour party whose shadow cabinet is stuffed with people who only recently voted to abolish the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent. That’s right. Eight of them. The Shadow Foreign Secretary – unbelievable – the Shadow Levelling-up Secretary, the Shadow Transport Secretary, I can’t get the entire list, but you can find it out. That’s them.
Do we want them in charge, my friends at this moment? Do we want them running up the white flag? Do you see them standing up to Putin’s blackmail? By the way, in the next few weeks: Do we want them running our councils where we know that up and down the country Labour councils cost you more and Conservatives deliver better services? Do we want them in charge of the economy of this amazing country of ours when there has never been a Labour government that left with unemployment lower than when they arrived? Let me tell you when you go out campaigning in the – in the – next few weeks, as we all will, joyfully. Let me tell you that my message to everybody on the doorstep is that it is Conservatives – it’s Conservatives – who get things done, even when they look difficult, and it’s Conservatives who take the tough decisions to help you, to be on your side, to help you with the cost of living. And it’s Conservatives who stand up for freedom against the blackmail of Vladimir Putin. I’ll tell you why they do it.
We do it, not out of ideology, because we know through long experience, that it’s only by sticking up for freedom, that we can deliver long term prosperity and security. And that’s what we will deliver together.
Thank you all very much. And thank you for coming to Spring Conference.