Good afternoon conference,
If a week in politics is a long time, then a year can seem like a lifetime.
As you can see, the months have etched themselves into my forehead…
And likewise I’m sure it has been a tiring period for you, our members and activists knocking doors and delivering leaflets.
…Without you we are nothing, you are the backbone of our great Conservative party so thank you for everything you do.
During that period in Wales, we’ve seen some historic advances, not to mention some painful losses.
In May’s local government elections the Welsh Conservatives achieved some record-breaking results.
We fielded more than 600 candidates; doubled our council representation, and took control in six local authorities across Wales.
And although not the result we’d have liked, the general election, gave us many reasons to be upbeat.
The Welsh Conservatives made history by receiving 34 per cent of the vote…our highest share of the vote in Wales since the 1930s.
But on the battlefield, we’ve sadly suffered some losses too.
In June we lost three excellent Members of Parliament:
…Byron Davies, Craig Williams and Doctor James Davies…
Each have served the Party and their constituents with unwavering distinction.
Although they will be missed, I am confident their time will come again.
Byron has already got started as the new Party Chairman in Wales and I’ve got no doubt he will do a great job.
And while the result in June wasn’t what we had hoped for…
…We are in government at Westminster making decisions that improve the lives of people across Wales and the United Kingdom.
Decisions like we saw in December with the introduction of an historic funding floor for Wales.
Thanks to the Conservatives and the leadership of Theresa May, the decades-old complaint about underfunding in Wales is now over.
We’ve signed major city deals in Cardiff and Swansea, and made significant progress on a North Wales Growth Deal.
And in the summer, we had the biggest of the lot – a longstanding thorn in the side of the Welsh economy – scrapping of the Severn Bridge Tolls.
Removing the tolls will deliver a £100million boost to the Welsh economy lifting productivity and prosperity for families and their communities.
Great news for commuters – even better news for business…and I’d like to thank the Wales Office, led by Alun Cairns, for their tireless efforts in securing this development.
But the recent changes in the electoral landscape have shown us that we have some lessons to learn.
First and foremost, we need to speak outside our traditional voter base.
To defeat the unforgiving socialism of the Labour Party, we need to show that Corbyn is nothing more than a seductive and destructive lie…
And we need young people on our side.
And that begins by speaking to them – speaking to their needs…
…If we don’t then false prophets and their falsehoods will flourish.
At a time when Labour are happy to shamelessly swindle our young people with promises they can’t keep, and have no intention of keeping….
We need to persuade young people that fairness and aspiration matter more than quick fixes and expensive gimmicks.
To say how the Welsh Conservatives would use the new tax powers in Wales in a way which uniquely benefits young people.
How we’ll put extra money in their pocket so that they can raise deposits for their own home…
…and scrap stamp-duty for 1st time buyers so they can get on the ladder.
How we’ll ensure that all public sector staff in Wales under the age of 25 are paid the living wage…
…And make Wales a country that works for young and old.
Because as we’ve seen with Labour’s social media activity: a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
Our hard work versus Labour’s entitlement; responsibility versus a dereliction of duty; democracy versus a Venezuela-light vision of the world.
Jeremy Corbyn is a real threat not just to this government, but to public services, the economy and the very future of our nation.
And we need to take that threat seriously, because in Wales we’ve seen first-hand what a Labour Government can do to our people and communities.
In Labour-run Wales you are twice as likely to be on an NHS waiting list…
…Your children are less likely to achieve Five GCSEs above C…
…And take-home pay is the lowest of all nations in the United Kingdom.
And what about hardworking families looking to buy their own home?
Labour have pulled up the ladder on aspiration scrapping the best housing policy ever delivered – Right to Buy.
A Conservative policy which has done more for social mobility than any Labour Government has ever achieved.
And if we learned anything during the General Election it’s that we need to articulate a vision which reaffirms our status as the party of aspiration.
We need to explain to people in practical terms how Conservative ideas such as Right to Buy can transform lives for the better, no matter what your background is.
We need to continue delivering for all four parts of the United Kingdom as we’ve done over the last seven years.
In Wales’ we’ve got one of the world’s youngest and fastest growing capital cities – full of potential ready to be unleashed.
And further down the M4 we have our only Premier League City, Swansea, which awaits an important decision on the much-discussed Tidal Lagoon…
We have taken brave decisions in the past, and we need to make another now.
Because let’s be clear…
…people across the country depend on our Party to govern and to govern in the national interest.
The threat is clear and for that you only have to look at the dangerous rhetoric from the Labour Party conference last week.
The farce of a national conference where talk of Brexit was banned by that lovely bunch Momentum.
A conference where the Shadow Chancellor told us he’d bring PFI back “in house” at an eye-watering cost to the country’s finances...
…A conference where Corbyn and McDonnell told us, quite happily, there would be a run on the pound if Labour got into power….
…As if it was as normal as popping down the shop for a pint of milk!
The prospect is frightening…
And that’s before you delve deeper into the hypocritical nature of the Labour Party and their policies.
Before the election, Corbyn promised thousands of young people across Wales and the rest of Britain that tuition fees would be banished for good.
Yet what happened in Wales only four weeks after June’s election?.....
….The Labour-run Welsh Government didn’t abolish the fees. No…
…In a disgraceful betrayal of youngsters across Wales, they hiked them up to a figure higher than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
Whether it’s PFIs, Tuition Fees or the EU, you simply cannot trust the Labour Party.
And I know that this hall, like the country at large, contains a broad range of views on the European Union.
But as Conservatives we define ourselves by the pragmatic way in which we approach a changing landscape...
…And I know that we are all dedicated to making Brexit work for the whole of the UK…
…Even if it’s not always easy to put our feelings to one side.
As someone who backed leaving the European Union, I carry the odd scar on my back for that decision, but I can also empathise with colleagues who found themselves on the wrong side of the result.
In 1997 when the public voted by a narrow margin to establish the National Assembly for Wales, we found ourselves on the wrong side of history.
However, while Conservatives initially opposed devolution, the decision of the Welsh public was final.
We didn’t try to overturn the result, we got on with the job of shaping the institution, for the better of Wales and for the better of the United Kingdom.
And in Wales, it’s fair to say it has been frustrating that the Labour Party has not adopted a similar approach to Brexit.
Instead of engaging in pitched battles with the UK Government at each and every turn…
…that energy should be used on improving public services and getting the Welsh economy ready for the opportunities ahead.
To take full advantage, the political establishment in Wales needs to do some serious soul searching.
Brexit poses a number of opportunities and of course a number of challenges.
And those opportunities are vast for Britain.
The opportunities to break into fresh new markets, and to shape a new policy framework which delivers for Wales and the United Kingdom.
But they will be missed if the governing establishment in Wales does not shake off its collective state of mourning.
Where possible, where we can help, the Welsh Conservatives are willing to act as the bridge between the Welsh Government and our colleagues in Westminster…
To ensure difficulties are overcome in our nation’s interest.
Because as the Prime Minister rightly outlined in Florence…it will be a damning judgment of us all, if we do not rise to the moment.
The stakes are high and it is incumbent on all of us in the Conservative Party to unite, put personal agendas to one side for the greater good…
…The challenge upon us is immense and we must work united behind our Prime Minister as she leads us on this historic journey.
Because if we don’t, we risk everything…
…The Brexit negotiations…
…Our national security…
And the frightening prospect of Jeremy Corbyn in 10 Downing Street.
The opportunities are vast, the challenges too.
So come on Conference, let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with the job.
Our country needs a united Conservative Party governing in the national interest.