Speech to the 2003 Conservative Party Conference
Michael Howard, 09/10/2003
I want to begin by thanking my team. Howard Flight, Stephen O'Brien and Mark Prisk in the Commons; Maurice Saatchi and Judith Wilcox in the Lords; Theresa Villiers in the European parliament; and Mark Hoban, our whip, have all worked hard to help me expose Gordon Brown's mismanagement of our economy. I am very grateful to them all. Of course if you listen to labour ministers, things have never been more rosy.
And let's give credit where credit's due. It's true that, where they have stopped taking the decisions, like setting interest rates, the decisions have generally been the right ones. But where they've taken the decisions, they've generally been wrong. And our job is to hold them to account.
Let's start with our public services. In Bournemouth, labour promised a new Jerusalem for our public services. Just give us more time, they said. Yet in the very same week, a 72 year old pensioner won a court case against the government because she had been forced by the length of waiting lists to have her operation abroad. That is the reality behind the rhetoric.
Six and a half years. And still no delivery.
“ 60 tax rises, but one in three children leaving primary school unable to read, write and count properly.
“ 60 tax rises, but crime up by almost 800,000 in the last five years.
“ 60 tax rises, but almost a million people on waiting lists, and 300,000 people without any health insurance having to pay for their treatment every year - three times as many as when labour took office.
Is it any wonder that trade secretary, Patricia Hewitt, said: `When we talked about delivery, that may have been something of a mistake'?
Yes - she did say it. You see sometimes they do tell the truth - by accident.
As we have seen from the Hutton inquiry, this is a government that only tells the truth by accident. Is it any wonder that they've lost the trust of the people?
Tony Blair told the British people he had `no plans to increase tax at all'. Now, every year they say higher taxes are needed for better public services. But every year we just get the higher taxes. “ 60 tax rises since 1997.
“ 50 per cent more tax than we paid in 1997.
“ What does it actually mean for the people of our country?
“ Higher taxes for families buying a home.
“ Higher taxes on petrol for people driving to work or to school.
“ Higher taxes on energy for industry trying to create wealth and jobs.
“ Higher taxes on those taking out insurance, including pensioners taking out medical insurance.
“ Higher taxes on IT entrepreneurs and on charities.
“ Higher taxes for getting married.
“ Higher taxes on jobs.
“ Higher council taxes
Tax rises this year alone cost a typical family £568 a year. Labour's council tax rises are driving those people on fixed incomes like pensioners into real hardship. Labour talk about relieving poverty - the sad truth is they are creating poverty.
Is it any wonder that they've lost the trust of the people? The fact is that people are fed up.
Fed up with endless tax rises. Fed up with endless promises. And fed up with failure to deliver.
Waste and lack of reform
And why is it that labour are taxing and spending and failing? The answer is simple. They promised reform. They've talked about reform. But they have failed to deliver reform. Without reform of our public services, the extra money labour have spent just hasn't made the difference. That is the central failure of this government. They have spent the money - taxpayers' money - but they've not carried out the reform. And here are some facts you won't find in labour speeches: More bureaucrats than beds in the NHS. A 22 per cent rise in health spending leading to a 2 per cent rise in treatments. And spending on running government departments up by £6.7 billion a year, nearly 50 per cent more than in 1997 - more than double the annual capital budget of every school in the country. The cost of running the treasury alone has doubled.
It can't all have been spent on Gordon Brown's campaign drinks parties. Last Monday he delivered his campaign speech. In one of his less coded sentences, he told the labour conference that 'TB' was `a curable disease' - and that he was the cure. By Wednesday he was looking much less hopeful. In two days flat he went from the Incredible Hulk to the Incredible Sulk. From Brown to green with Blair in between.
Further Tax Rises
Now. I want to be perfectly honest with you this afternoon. There are splits on tax. Peter Hain says labour should put up taxes. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair want him to shut up. They all want to put up taxes. They just cant agree on whether they should admit it. That's the real split on tax. And that's what the media should be concentrating on. Everybody knows that, under labour, taxes will rise again. Tax rises are at the heart of Labour. old labour. new labour. Any labour. They have put up taxes. They are putting up taxes. And because of the failure to reform the public services, they will put up taxes for as long as they're in power.
Liberal Democrats and tax
Of course it's not only labour that wants higher taxes. Anything labour can do, the liberal democrats can do worse. Let me tell you of the taxes they want to pile on. A regional income tax. New regional NI contributions. A new higher rate of income tax. VAT on new homes. A new development tax. New toll taxes. New parking taxes. An energy tax. A new capital gains tax on death. I haven't finished yet! A water tax. A higher landfill tax. More powers for the European Union to levy taxes. And last but not least they want a local income tax - meaning families with two people at work will see bills soar. Of course they don't spell all this out in their leaflets! One liberal democrat activist was seen distributing a leaflet which said: Your local liberal democrats have succeeded in having speed humps removed from your street'. An alert resident said to him: Hang on a minute. Weren't you distributing a leaflet six months ago which said "Your local liberal democrats have succeeded in having speed humps installed in your street"?` The liberal democrat looked round furtively to make sure no-one was listening and said: You know. You're the very first person who's noticed' It's an absolutely true story. The alert local resident is closely connected with our favourite newspaper - the Guardian. He's in the hall this afternoon.
Taxpayers are not the only people counting the cost of labour's broken promises. Gordon Brown's pension tax has cost 12 million savers on average around £400 a year. A typical pension saver now retires on just half of what he or she would have received five years ago. Yes. Half!
In opposition, Gordon Brown told the labour party conference `I want the next labour government to achieve ... the end of the means test for our elderly people'. But almost 6 in 10 pensioners are subject to the means test as a direct result of the changes he has introduced. In all up to 25 million people could soon be in households on means-tested benefits. And that rise in means-testing sends out loud and clear this signal: the more you save, the less you'll get.
In opposition, labour said 'Britain needs a `savings culture'. But the amount people save has halved since labour came to power. Is it any wonder that labour have lost the trust of the people?
Labour's Broken Promises: the Economy
And what an example Gordon Brown is setting! At the last election he said it was partly by cutting interest payments on government debt that he was able to fund health and education. But just look at him now!
Two years ago he forecast borrowing at £30 billion. Last year his forecast went up to £72 billion. This year it went up to £118 billion - a fourfold increase in two years!
High taxes and falling real incomes mean that families are borrowing more too. Taken together, families and government are now borrowing more than 15 per cent of the nation's income - the highest amount since records began.
Yet this is the chancellor who said `you cannot build the New Jerusalem on a mountain of debt'.
This is the chancellor who said productivity growth was a 'fundamental yardstick of economic performance'.
But, Britain's productivity growth has almost halved under labour. This is the chancellor who described investment as the `key to future economic success'.
But business investment has suffered its biggest fall for almost a decade. Is it any wonder that they've lost the trust of the people?
Now everyone knows that, since Sweden said no to the euro, British membership this side of an election is a dead duck.
But do you remember the roadshows Tony Blair promised, to sell the euro? We haven't seen much of those so we've been asking a few questions. Tony Blair told Parliament there had been 60 events.
But number ten said none involved him. And none was planned. The treasury said they were too many events to list. But they had all been low-key. There was no specific start date. And they couldn't actually identify any of them. The foreign office said they hadn't even started. Then finally the minister for europe said it was never meant to be a literal roadshow. That, he said, was just a figure of speech.
Just like all this government's promises. Never meant to be taken literally. Just figures of speech.
Lessons for Conservatives
But there are lessons for us in what has happened to labour. Lessons on how we should approach government. Lessons for us in opposition too. Lessons we've learned under Iain's leadership. He and I know we must only make promises we can keep. Only pledge what we can deliver. Let me make one thing clear. We believe in low taxes. We are the party of low taxes. All our instincts are for low taxes. We know that under labour, people and businesses have been hammered by higher taxes, and too much of their money is being wasted. We know that people have worked hard for their money, and that governments must spend it wisely. We can and we will reform public services. We will always be a lower tax government than labour. And we do plan to cut taxes. But unlike labour's, our plans will be carefully costed. And unlike labour's, they will be clear for all to see. Their overhyped rhetoric and overblown promises, their `figures of speech', are not for us. That is not our way.
Under the Conservatives, as Iain has always insisted, a fair deal on tax and improving the public services will go hand in hand. Because reforming and improving the public services is the only way to break labour's vicious circle of ever higher taxes and ever failing services. It is the key to everything we want to achieve. It has got to be done and we'll do it. People want to know there's a real alternative to Labour's policy of tax, and spend and fail - not just the liberal democrat alternative of tax more, spend more and fail more. And that's what the work we've done under Iain's leadership has been about. A new asylum policy. That would pay for 5,000 more police officers every year. Increasing pensions in line with earnings. And showing how we would pay for it. Saving children from being trapped in failing schools. And giving NHS patients a passport to choose their hospital inside or outside the NHS so that waiting times can be cut for all. That's our alternative to tax and spend and fail. We will give power to the people.
We're here to make people's lives better. We're here to help people fulfil their potential and remove the obstacles holding them back. We're here to put principles back into politics. We won't do it through flashy smiles or empty promises. We'll do it by telling the people the truth. What we're going to do. How much it will cost. And by the commitment, the drive and the determination to put these ideals into practice.
Under Iain's leadership that exactly what we are doing. We are focusing on the things that matter to people. We are winning the arguments over policy. This next election will be the most exciting for a generation. For the first time in fifty years the people of our country will have a real choice about how our public services are to be delivered.
They can opt for the old failing system or they can choose a newer way which will respond to their needs, which will achieve their aspirations, which will truly improve their lives. It's a heavy responsibility. We must show our country that there is an alternative to this deceitful, dishonest, and discredited government. There is a better way.
We must show that we can save our country from this deceitful, dishonest and discredited government.
We must not be found wanting. Because my friends, for Britain, for this country we love, nothing but the best will ever do."