The leader of the Conservative party appears on the Conference platform.
The backdrop he speaks against is precisely the same shade of blue employed by Labour the previous week. He walks to the lectern. Takes out his speech, which is in a leather folder, by Smythson. He places the papers before him.
He pauses, waits for the applause to die down.
He seems almost absent, academic. Curiously unengaged with the hullaballoo of the conference hall.
The hall quietens.
(This is the long version. I will also do an edited highlights)
Thank you. It is good to be here, with old friends and new.
We Conservatives have always welcomed converts.
Here, in Birmingham, the home of Joe Chamberlain, radical liberal and Conservative statesman, we know that wisdom doesn’t reside in one party.
So I want to welcome, especially, the newest believer in the power of conservatism to improve the nation, a Mr Edward Miliband of Primrose Hill.
[PAUSE FOR REACTION]
Now.. my friends, If Mr Miliband wishes to join the grand tradition of Disraeli, of Butler, of Macmillan, of Macleod he’s most welcome.
in this party we leave the purges and the expulsions and the bitter hatreds to others.
Any convert to probity in our national finances, to the conservation of ancient liberties, to the steady reduction in the harsh burden of taxation is a friend to this government and to me.
No matter how surprising the conversion or how late the hour! I look forward to his support.
So, in that friendly spirit, may I say I enjoyed Mr Miliband’s speech.
I know what it is to give a speech without notes.
As a former leader of the opposition, I admire the art. It is a rare skill to speak for an hour or more.
It is a rarer skill yet to speak so long and say almost nothing.
I am convinced he has good intentions.
Of everything else? Well, I suppose history must be our guide.
Mr Miliband spoke of Disraeli’s speech in Manchester.
He spoke about it. I read it.
I understood then why he was inspired. It must have sounded oddly familiar to him.
Here is Disraeli on a dying radical government:
“Extravagance was being substituted for energy… The unnatural stimulus was subsiding. Their paroxysms ended in prostration. Some took refuge in melancholy… their eminent chief alternated between a menace and a sigh.”
Well, some things never change, I suppose.
Left wing governments end in extravagances, menaces and sighs.
Then Conservatives are faced with the hard task of national reconstruction – and are savaged for their pains.
It’s always the way, I think,
Tory traditions are praised, old Tory heroes beatified.
But the Tories cleaning up the current mess, today?
Well, they are lower than vermin.
If our opponents think we Conservatives govern out of malice, I can only shake my head at their childishness.
But I won’t return the insult.
I don’t think my opponents are bad men or women.
The greatest moment of this year owes so much to two Labour Prime Ministers.
We can say their names at this conference.
Tony Blair. Gordon Brown. One won us the Olympics, The other guided it successfully.
I differ with them on many things, but I honour their service and their love for our country.
So let us put aside, for one day, the usual partisan nonsense. The times are too serious for that.
Let us speak honestly, and frankly. Admit mistakes. Tell the truth.
This government faced no easy task two years ago.
We came to office with a nation at the brink. Unemployment rising. No money left.
A political system shamed, a government staggering under the accumulated weight of a decade of mis-steps.
We had one inheritance. Debt.
Was all this the fault of one party?
My opponents made things worse, much worse, but they were not to blame for all the ills of the world.
But I say this to my friends in the Labour party:
If you cannot admit that you spent too much, wasted too much, regulated too much, indebted us too much, then how can you ever be trusted not to make the same mistakes all over again?
For we all remember how it used to be.
Proud boasts of growth today, growth tomorrow, growth forever. Not by the hard work of the British people but by the stimulus of a politician.
And all the while, the clock ticking ever closer to midnight.
That is when we came in.
We had to avoid a possible crisis of confidence in Britain.
Now, perhaps we would not have been quite Greece. After all, Conservatives fought to keep us out of the Euro.
But we were exposed. A staggering financial system. A decade long decline in manufacturing. A shortage of investment. Unemployment high. Business start ups low.
We had a choice.
Some suggested that in a desperate attempt to stimulate growth we should have piled debt on debt, risk upon risk, governed like a gambler trying to make back what he has lost with an ever larger bet on Red.
-May I be honest? – perhaps we could have spent, and got lucky. Perhaps Europe might not faced crisis. Perhaps America’s recovery might not have stalled.
Perhaps we could have borrowed and borrowed and never been asked if we could repay.
Well, I tell you.
I rejected that gamble with our nation’s future.
I reject it now. I will reject it always.
I reject that gamble because there is only one sure way out of the greatest economic crisis for sixty years.
Not my words, by the way, those of Alistair Darling.
The choice we face is not really between left or right.
Not between cruel or compassionate.
Not even between toff or marxist.
The choice is between a nation built to last or a country on the never-never.
It is between an economy built on real growth, or one always reliant on perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
Whatever we get wrong, the way forwards cannot be the reckless desperation of the gambler playing with other people’s money.
That’s why we’re in this mess.
The way we choose instead is the steady path of nurturing, helping, supporting the long neglected, hard pressed, too long ignored entrepreneurs, innovators, technologists and business men and women of this country.
Is this way easy? No.
You have to actually make hard choices, not just talk about them.
We reduce the deficit, so we do not burden businesses with higher interest rates in years to come.
We cut pointless regulations, not because we blame workers but because workers need job creators.
We protect spending on science, on research because these will create the products we need to sell to the world.
We spend on infrastructure, we start the green investment bank the last government only talked about because these are the keys to the future.
We cut taxes on businesses, so they can prosper and create prosperity for others. We help investors in innovation. We take every chance we can to bring new business to Britain.
And I tell you in all candour: We even put up with Brussels so we can keep the Single Market.
And where we can, where it’s responsible, and careful, we cut taxes on the lowest paid, so people have a little more money in their pocket.
We make mistakes, I freely admit.
Only a con-man tells you he’s perfect.
We sometimes do things in the wrong order, or not enough. I know that. I feel it when people wish we could do more.
Some people say “You cut tax too much”.
To which I say, but should Britain really tax more heavily than Socialist France?
Some say “You don’t cut enough”: but we need to spend on innovation, on infrastructure.
Have we got everything right? No.
Some cuts were too harsh, and we have reversed them.
But in government you don’t get to avoid painful decisions with a catchphrase. You have to stand up.
Yet for all the difficulties, because of all the choices we made, we can now see the first foundations of a rebuilt Britain emerging.
A million more private sector jobs. Tens of thousands of new businesses. Unemployment falling. Inflation falling. Interest rates low, our credit rating secured. New Academies and Technical Schools opening. Apprenticeships increasing. Investment slowly recovering.
Is this task easy? Of course not. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
We have had to disappoint people. Public sector pay has been frozen. Public sector pensions reformed.
We have had to end forever an era of reckless generosity, and so people are feeling the pinch.
I understand why people are angry about that. There are times when I share that anger.
I said once that the roof should have been repaired while the sun was shining. It wasn’t.
We’re having to repair our national roof in the middle of a storm.
But those who led us to these hard times are long gone.
The only useful thing to do is to help the country get on with building something sturdier.
Because the truth is that politicians can’t rebuild Britain.
Not me, not Nick Clegg, not even Ed Miliband.
Instead, it is the talents of the British people that must be put to work.
How do we do this? Step by slow step.
Every pound we save of public money is a pound that goes to reducing the debt our children will have to repay with interest. That’s a burden off their backs.
Every pound you don’t pay in tax is a pound you can use to invest, or to help your family. That’s a burden off your back.
Every regulation we can remove, every business you can start creates jobs not from endless easy money, but from hard-won talent.
This government is slowly but surely offering a helping hand to people’s hopes, not getting in their way and weighing them down.
Hard work. New Businesses. Low debt. Real growth.
Will this change happen overnight?
The mistakes of the past weigh too heavily for that.
We waste too much.
We have a State that often creaks and strains, trying desperately to keep power it cannot even use well. We have well paid interest groups who see the danger in handing power to doctors, to teachers, to patients.
We even have a government machine that has rusted with long neglect. We saw that last week.
They used to say the British Civil Service was a Rolls Royce.
I’m afraid after a decade and a half of Labour, they’ve turned it into an Austin Allegro.
Slow, fuel hungry and breaks down too often.
It’s painful, but that too must be rebuilt.
I’m angry about the west coast main line fiasco. Hugely angry.
But does anyone really think that a department that can’t even grasp interest rates should run our railways?
So there will be disappointments. Challenges. Struggles.
We will face setbacks.
All the while, the old gang will be at the door, promising miracle returns if you will just trust them with your money just one more time.
Never mind the detail, just feel the good intentions!
But I say no more to that.
This government won’t sell out a better tomorrow for an easier today.
We’ll work and strain and strive with you to cut debt, to cut burdens, to stop waste, to pull the barriers to growth out of your way.
We will change what we can.
Keep what is most needed.
Do what we must to create growth that lasts not for a quarter, but for years to come.
That is our task as a government, our defining mission.
It may not lead to popularity, or good headlines.
But with every business that is founded, every innovation brought to market, every apprentice given skills. Every child that leaves a free school, every pound of deficit removed, helps the British people build to last.
That is our mission, our purpose.
To do all we can to let the British people rebuild Britain.
We have begun that work in the hardest of circumstances, but we will not be deflected.
We are Britain’s Conservatives.
We build to last.