NORTH NORFOLK AGM SPEECH 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen, I always view AGM speeches as a kind of State of the Union address. Where we look back on the year that’s gone by and look forward to the battles to come.
I’d like to start by thanking you all for making me so welcome in the Association and the constituency.
In particular I’d like to thank all of those of you who have been delivering my newspaper on these cold, wet evenings, and all those who have been working so hard organising fundraising events.
Tonight you have elected a new set of officers to carry forward the leadership of the Association for the next twelve months.
I would like to pay tribute to those who are standing down, in particular John Blyth the outgoing Treasurer, Mary Norwak, our trenchant Fundraising Officer, and the branch liaison officers Derek Hogg and John Church.
Many of you never see the hard work that the officers do. We all, as volunteers, put in the hours, but they have a particular responsibility and it is right that at an AGM we acknowledge that.
I would like to welcome Angela Morris, Alex Otiasinsky, Nick Deterding and Fred Lunt to the officers team. They know what a challenging year they have ahead of them. But they should approach it in good heart.
I would also like to thank all those who volunteer to come into the office and man the phones, the photocopier, the printer and the computers. In particular I’d like to thank Alex Guyver for all her efforts over the last 12 months. I know I speak for Helen when I say we shall both miss her when she leaves next month. And, talking of Helen, I would like to record my thanks to her for her work over the last year.
Let’s not pretend that the last year has been an easy one. But under the firm hand of Peter Talbot’s leadership the Association has weathered the storm and emerged as a stronger force.
I want to pay a heartfelt tribute to Peter. He’s been a huge support to me personally and I could think of no one I would rather have as constituency chairman.
I also want to pay tribute to a group of people who work hard on our behalf and yet never receive any thanks – our councillors. I don’t think many people realise what a time consuming job it is nowadays, with scant little reward – unless you are a Breckland councillor.
You know, when you are a new candidate starting out on a campaign for the first time it’s good to know you are among friends.
And I feel that I have been among friends right from the start.
Cliff Rose made me this lovely little lectern, Malcolm Ashby came and painted my office in Louden Road but I am especially grateful to my friends Bert Rose and Sylvia Rayna for allowing me to share their home for three months while I embarked on a search for one of my own.
Sylvia is probably the woman I most fear getting on the wrong side of in North Norfolk as she could tell you all about my very unhealthy diet and general untidiness.
But I’m sure she wouldn’t. Those two had a lot to put up with over those three months.
I remember the morning I sat on my bed to put my socks on and the bed collapsed under me.
Imagine it. You’re staying in someone else’s house and you break their bed. Anyway, on 14 January, only 100 days after I was selected I moved into my own house in Swanton Abbott. But I do miss Bert’s fried egg on toast every morning.
But as of March 1st there won’t be fried anything. Or chocolate anything. Or indeed anything! Because March 1st is when I start my Pound for a £ challenge.
So desperate am I to raise money for my campaign that I’m wiling to see myself gradually disappear. In four months I intend to lose two stone, so
I’m inviting you all to sponsor me a £ coin for every pound in weight I lose. My intention was to raise £2,000, but in only a week of collecting sponsors I’ve already got to £700. So there are forms on your chairs. If everyone here sponsored me £1 for a Pound, we’d get to the £2,000 by the end of tonight!
But seriously, I am doing this for a reason, and the reason is that campaigning costs money.
During 2004 the Association will spend virtually double what it did in 2003. And we have to raise the money to fund it all.
We’ve set realistic targets for the branches, where we are asking them to equal their best year out of the last five years.
There will be many more Association events, and yes, they will be more costly to attend and I make no apologies for that. But if we expect you to pay more we have to provide something in return.
And we’re doing that by getting the best speakers and biggest names in the Party to come to North Norfolk. I know you’ll all want to come and meet Boris Johnson on June 18th, and David Davis on July 3rd. But we’re also having…are you ready?
Peter & Virginia Bottomley
And wait for it, Michael Howard will be coming…
Michael Howard, the man who has given us renewed hope.
The man who has lifted the Party from the pit of despair to the prospect of power.
The man who in three very short months has made us believe. Believe in ourselves and believe in our Party.
For the first time in years we feel good about ourselves.
Michael Howard is doing what a leader of the opposition should do. Leading from the front. Shooting from the hip. Attacking the enemy with all guns blazing.
He’s shown that Tony Blair is not invincible. He’s showing us the way, the way to victory. But if I don’t win here – if we don’t win here, Michael Howard will find the way to Number Ten barred.
And to win here we have to show we are fit to win. That we, that I have learned what went wrong in the past.
When I was selected I made clear that I was willing to take on our LibDem opponents in a bitter fight, with all guns blazing.
I told you they would know they had a fight on their hands. I think I have demonstrated that so far without descending into personal abuse and criticism.
And that is the way I intend to carry on.
I would love nothing better than to engage in a bit of verbal combat with Mr Lamb but I think that would be counterproductive.
I need to beat him by proving to people that I am better than him - a better campaigner, a better constituency representative and a better Parliamentarian.
Let’s expose the myths that Norman Lamb peddles.
But it’s just as much down to you as down to me.
He doesn’t live in the constituency, I do. He’s just moved into a half million pound house in Unthank Road, Norwich. Make sure your friends know that.
Every business I have visited tells me he hasn’t been near them. Make sure your friends know that.
Time after time people tell me of letters they have written to him which have gone unanswered. Time after time people tell me they are fed up with him taking credit for things he has not done. Make sure your friends know that.
In three years he has hardly made a mark on the House of Commons.
This man is beatable.
So remind people of his weaknesses.
Remind people that he is only 483 votes ahead of us.
Remind people that he supports a Party which would abolish the Pound and join the Euro.
Remind people his Party would ban hunting.
Remind them that a local income tax would hit pensioners and young couples.
Remind them that the LibDems would give rapists the vote.
Remind them that they would refuse to put serial burglars in jail.
Remind them that the LibDems would make sex education for 7 year olds compulsory
Remind people they want to legalise drugs.
Remind them that the LibDems are not only fit to govern Britain they’re not fit to run a bath. And let’s face it, some them could do with one.
So we have to remind people what the LibDems are like, but we also have to reassure them of our own values and our own aspirations.
So let’s remind people that as Conservatives we believe in freedom, democracy, equality of opportunity, a strong Britain, proud and free.
We have an inate belief in the freedom of individuals to decide how to live their own lives.
We respect people of all races, colours, creeds, religion, we respect people of different lifestyles to our own.
We want people to aspire to live their lives to the full, to give our children a better education than we had, to provide for pensioners and reward them for the sacrifices they made for us.
These are the things which make us a great party and will make us a great government.
Our task over the next six months is to build a credible manifesto which will excite not only us but the great mass of the British people.
It must encompass some simple ideas which people understand:-
More choice in education and health
Restoring the earnings link for pensions
40,000 more policemen and a zero tolerance policy on crime
Slashing waste and bureaucracy and rooting out unnecessary public spending
A desire to cut taxes
Protecting our rural heritage
Keeping the Pound
Saying no to more immigration
Making Council Tax fairer, not by gimmicks but by sound reform
And if we do all that I think we can gain the respect of the British people.
And respect is what counts. Respect leads to belief. Belief leads to commitment. Commitment leads to enthusiasm and that is our aim… To make people feel enthusiastic about voting Conservative.
And in my 145 days as your candidate - It does seem like a lot longer than that! – that’s what I’ve tried to do, enthuse you all into working harder, going that extra mile.
In a few months time we will celebrate the twenty fifth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s first election victory in 1979. I was only 16, but I remember it well.
What made Margaret Thatcher the most successful PM the Conservative Party has ever had? Why did she win 3 elections? It was because she connected with the British people.
People may not have always agreed with her, but they knew where they stood with her. She had an appeal across the classes, across the political spectrum, an appeal which Tony Blair has emulated. By dint of her words and policies she demonstrated that her aim was to - as Tony Blair might put it – benefit the many not the few.
Labour would like you to believe that the 1980s was a selfish decade, which only paid homage to the individual at the expense of the wider society.
It is our failing as Conservatives that we have let this myth stand. Yes we did incentivise individuals because we believe that individuals who are successful provide the wealth which pays for our public services.
For the first time council house tenants were able to benefit from home ownership. For the first time the share market was opened up to ordinary people. By the end of the 1980s more than a quarter of the adult population owned shares therefore boosting the economy.
These weren’t elitist measures – they were designed to help people escape from the concept of The State Knows Best.
Empowering the individual is a good thing. We are all responsible for our own actions. We can't blame society if we disobey the law.
Political and spiritual leaders should strive to bring out the good in people and to fight down the bad: but they can't create the one or abolish the other.
They can only see that the laws encourage the best instincts and convictions of the people - instincts and convictions which I'm convinced are far more deeply rooted than is often supposed.
The State must never become so great that it effectively removes personal responsibility.
What matters most in a free society cannot always be counted or measured. Society’s institutions and values are difficult to measure and are therefore often taken for granted.
There IS such a thing as society and the Conservative view is that we should nurture, protect and champion it. Our belief in the good of society is constant and unwavering, and Michael Howard’s 15 beliefs reinforce that.
The can-do society of the 1980s has been replaced by the can’t, won’t, shan’t society of today. We have to reverse that trend by displaying the kind of vision with which President Kennedy inspired the 1960s generation of Americans when he famously declared “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Traditionally it has been in Labour’s interests to keep people poor. Trap them in the industrial working class. Deny them any chance to control their own lives. Tell them where to live and where to send their children to school. Deny them choice over pensions or healthcare. Force them to belong to a trade union. Force them to work for the Council because there are no other jobs available. And while you’re at it make sure that people’s whole lives are enmeshed in a dependency culture: dependent on the union for their job, dependent on the council for their home, dependent on the state for what income they were left with.
Make sure there are always dependent, never independent, never free. Freedom needed a Conservative Party then. For never let us forget that it was a Conservative Governments who gave people the freedom to take their own decisions, to run their own lives, to keep more of what they earned, and which gave them the right to own their own home and own shares. That is the Conservative achievement and we should never stop being proud of it.
Freedom was our battle cry then. Freedom needed a Conservative Party then and it needs us now. In Thomas Jefferson’s famous words, ‘the price of liberty is eternal vigilance’.
This year sees the 60th anniversary of the D Day landings. Some of you fought in that war against tyranny so that we might live the lives we lead today. As a nation we lost hundreds of thousands of our finest young lives so that others might live in freedom. We bankrupted ourselves in the process but we were right to do so. We fought alongside our ally, the United States, a country which has sacrificed its own men for the defence of freedom and liberty in Europe.
We should never forget that. Our alliance with the USA and our membership of NATO has been the cornerstone of our defence and diplomacy over the last 50 years. Because of this alliance the West was able to resist the Communist threat of the Cold War and eventually bring freedom to the peoples of Eastern Europe. I still remember to this day the tears which stained my face as I watched the Berlin Wall come down in 1989. None of this, the velvet revolution in Prague, the overthrow of Ceausescu in Romania, the battles in the Polish shipyards, none of this would have been possible without the resolute leadership of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
But the world has moved on. There is no longer a Cold War, but this threat has been replaced by the terrorist threat. And a very real one it is too. I firmly believe that this country’s place in the war against terror is exactly the same as it was in the Cold War – alongside the USA in an unbreakable alliance. I just wish our European allies saw things that way.
Which brings me to the subject of Europe, where the Conservative Party has a key role to play in deciding our nation’s future. Tony Blair has done a very effective job of painting our Party as a party of little Englanders who are xenophobic, racist and God knows what besides. All because we wish to retain our independence, sovereignty and our currency.
I have never understood why a British Prime Minister would willingly give up our national independence by abandoning our currency.
Because if you give up your currency you are giving up the right to set interests rates and set taxes. And that’s after all what government is – saying what you’re going to do and how you’re going to pay for it. And if people don’t like it they vote you out
I accept that if you want to see a Federal Europe then a single currency is an inevitable consequence, and I have no problem with people who genuinely believe in that. But if they do, then they should be open about it and say so. We Conservatives do not fear an open debate about Europe and the euro. Far from it.
We also, unlike the Prime Minister, do not fear a proper debate about the European constitution. The British people don’t want to sign up to this and never will. They’ve been telling us this when wherever we take our petition – In Cromer, Sheringham, Stalham, Holt and tomorrow, Wells.
The PM is quite happy to have referenda on whether to have a mayor in Hartlepool but is afraid of one on such an important issue as this. Why? Because he knows he’ll lose it and therefore lose face with his European counterparts.
We want to play a positive part in a Europe of freely trading nations which respect each other’s national sovereignty. We’re not anti Europe – many of us have lived and worked in Europe and have made lifelong friends in France and Germany. But we are against a Brussels dominated bureaucracy which is undemocratic and takes power away from the people.
So we must appeal to all those people who may not have voted Conservative before, but who believe in an independent Britain. At the coming election, we must say ‘Vote for us this time, so that your vote will mean something next time, and the time after, and the time after that.’
Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe there has been a sea change in attitude in this Association.
It’s not that we want to win – that’s never been in question. It’s that we now know we CAN win.
Our membership has risen to a level not seen for ages. Since November we have recruited one hundred new members. We now have more than 1200 members. 20% upon June last year. We are firmly on target to have 1500 members by the autumn – a fantastic achievement.
We’re starting 6 new branches.
At last you have a PPC.
We’re in the press, on the radio, on TV.
Suddenly there is optimism in the air.
Attendance at social events is going up. Donations are coming in.
We’ve published a newspaper, delivered, by you, to 35,000 homes.
People are ringing the office asking: what can we do?
We’re out in the constituency, on people’s doorsteps, in their highstreets every week.
We’re seen, we’re visible and we’re being welcomed with open arms.
Times, they are a changin’.
You have a candidate who has campaigned for the citizens of Happisburgh whose homes are being threatened by coastal erosion.
A candidate who has taken up the cause of Alzheimers sufferers at Rebecca House in North Walsham, while Norman Lamb ignored their plight.
A candidate who has not only visited most of the High Schools in the constituency but also become a governor of one of them.
A candidate who has written to each of the 121 Parish Councils and embarked on a programme of visits to their monthly meetings.
A candidate who has organised a pensions forum and who is organising a Farmers Summit in April.
A Candidate who has delivered on his promise to spend at least 3 days a week in the constituency and to live here.
And you have a candidate whose only goal in life is to win this seat back for a Party which deserves it.
My pledge to you is that over the next fifteen months, or however long it is, I will work tirelessly in my quest to achieve what we all know is possible.
But I can only do it with your help and your total, unqualified, enthusiastic support.
There have been times over the last 145 days when I have needed not only your support but your friendship and you have given it freely. I thank you for that and I thank you for the work I know you are going to be doing to help me win this seat and Michael Howard become Prime Minister. Because that, my friends, is what we are going to do.