Mr President, Mr Chairman, Gillian, Ladies & Gentlemen, this is the first time I have been allowed out of North Norfolk to make a speech since my selection only 5 weeks ago. And how prescient it was of you to invite me all those months ago when you couldn’t have known about my recent elevation. I have to tell you that Gillian has been a great support to me over the last few months and if ever I needed a role model in my political career she has provided it. It’s a shame she can’t adopt me, as the surname Shephard is rather appropriate in my task for sheparding a Lamb out of North Norfolk.
I thought I’d start by telling you what it’s like to be a prospective candidate on the circuit trying to find a seat. I’ve started comparatively late in life. I decided to go for it when I turned 40 on the basis that it was now or never. 40 really was quite a life changing moment for me.
The first seat I applied for was Chipping Barnet. I shall never forget the moment when having made my second round speech, and thinking it had gone quite well, the chairman said: “And now Mr Dale would you speak for 4 minutes on the conflicts between Labour’s Macroeconomic strategy and their micro fiscal policy.” I think I managed 3 and a half minutes.
But you are asked some very odd questions. In Beverley I was asked “If you were reincarnated who or what would you come back as?” Quick as a flash I answered My Jack Russell Gio. I got through to the next round. Sadly the candidate who answered I would come back as Kylie Minogue’s bicycle saddle didn’t make it.
And again in Beverley someone asked “Do you think the relationship between a candidate and an Mp should be like that between a dog and a tree?” I said it depended on who was the dog, which rather lightened the atmosphere.
Indeed, Beverley turned out to be a very odd experience one way or another. On the way up to my first interview I felt rather drowsy at the wheel so I stopped on the M1 for a snooze. Having woken up I got out of the car to stretch my legs, took my jacket off and put it on the roof. And, you guessed it, drove off, only realising 50 miles later what I had done. So when I got to Beverley I tried to find a suit shop. No luck. Eventually I found one which had a very nice suit but the legs were four inches too long. No problem, said the owner, there’s a lady on the market who can take them up now.
When I went for the interview I was the last one on out of 15. I could tell the interview panel needed waking up so when it came to questions I was asked how I would make myself known in the constituency. I said that Beverley market place was heaving on a Saturday morning and I knew this because…. They fell about laughing and it became the running joke. Driving licence
Where did you get the suit? Cost a bob or two
And on such vagiaries do candidates triumph.
But N Norfolk was the seat I wanted. Gillian will tell you that when I went to see her in June last year I told her that if I got North Norfolk I would have died and gone to heaven. It really is the most beautiful constituency – even more beautiful, dare I say it, than SW Norfolk!
Perhaps my most memorable moment was when I was selected…
Fame Academy – getting the result.
And what a baptism of fire it has been. As a candidate in a marginal seat, the least you expect is a bit of help from Central Office. Instead, all I have had is four weeks of leadership speculation. Not exactly helpful to my cause.
But it is settled now. All over. And thank God for that. And I would like to remind everyone the reason for that. David Davis is one of my oldest friends in politics. I think he has the clarity of mind, media presence and leadership qualities which we sorely need at the moment and I wanted to support him if he decided to stand. But he decided not to, and in that one decision he has saved our party from two more months of internecine warfare.
It was a courageous think to do, a valiant act and one which I hope party members remember for a long time to come. The timing of that announcement forced Tim Yeo’s and Michael Ancram’s hands and it meant that we have been speared a contest. Some of you in this room will think it outrageous that the party membership have been sidelined in this. That it was you who voted IDS in yet had no say in the manner of his departure, And I sympathise with that view.
But what I don’t have any sympathy with is anyone who now believes that there has to be or even should have been a contested leadership. All parts of the party have been crying out for unity, certainly over the last few months, and one could argue over the last 13 years. WELL, WE’VE GOT IT NOW. More than 130 MPs have publically backed Michael Howard and it’s time the rest of the Party did the same. Let’s face it, if Ann Widdecombe can do it so can the rest of us.
And what a good start Michael has made. I don’t for one minute think he will ditch the excellent policies IDS did so much to craft. Isn’t it ironic that at the very moment we were all united behind his policies we were split on personalities. I very much hope that Michael Howard will be able to form a shadow cabinet of all the talents in the Party. I find it incredible that the big beasts such as Ken Clarke and William Hague have made it clear they will not serve. We are 18 months away from an election and I don’t think we in the constituencies can understand grandstanding like this. For the first time in many years we now have the opportunity to not only forge ahead in the polls but conceivably win the next election. I know now, if I ever had any doubts, that my prospects of winning North Norfolk are far greater now than they were when I was selected. I’m truly excited about the next 18 months and I hope you are too.
And I’m looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into the Liberals. Their policies are as usual trying to be all things to all men. Peter Hain had it about right – there’s a first time for everything. In an allusion to Mr Kennedy’s supposed drinking problem, he said: “In the shires the Liberals are to the right of us. In urban areas they are to the left of us. No one wonder they find it difficult to walk in a straight line”. And my opponent, Norman Lamb, exemplifies this. He’s apparently in favour of hunting, yet his party’s policy is to ban it. He’s apparently against the euro, yet if the LibDems were in power their first move would be to abandon our currency. Typical LibDem – trying to be all things to all men.
The only way to fight Liberals is to play them at their own game. By that I don’t mean indulge in dirty tricks, but I do mean that we have play hard and learn new ways of local aggressive campaigning. When it comes to playing political hardball with Liberals I am no shrinking violet. I play to win. Bit like Mrs S!
As representatives of our local party we need to appear - I need - to appear omnipresent. I gather Norman Lamb not only enjoys opening garden fetes, he will appear at the opening of an envelope. Well, I’ve got to be one step ahead of him and make sure it’s me that seals not only the envelope but seals his fate.
A Conservative party worker who has worked his socks off for our party said to me recently: “I am fed up with being the political equivalent of an estate agent.”
It is people like him that we need to inspire and make them feel proud to be Conservatives again. Nationally it’s up to our leaders to show us the way to victory - but locally it is up to us to provide the leadership and vision which our party members both need and deserve.
We need to campaign every week on the streets of Norfolk, in the local community, in the local media and on the internet.
Local people want to know that the Conservative Party understands the issues which are important to them.
But I also intend to listen. Listening is what we Conservatives are always accused of not doing enough of.
I’ll listen to all those people who are concerned about the escalating cost of housing and how their kids are going to afford to stay in Norfolk – to those who are worried about the performance of local hospitals and the funding of local schools.
I’ll listen to local farmers whose livelihoods have been decimated by this government. I know. My father’s one of them.
But nationally, our Party needs to send out a clear message - an unambiguous message and above all a united message - a message that can appeal to everyone in society, not just natural conservatives. The young, the old, the strong, the weak.
The message is that we are on their side. There must be no no-go areas for the Conservatives. Not nationally, not in Norfolk.
But above all, we need national policies which show a clear difference to Labour.
I want a zero tolerance approach to violent crime.
I want to see us preach the virtues of low taxes.
I want to see choice in education and health.
I want a parliament that is not a lapdog of the government.
I want to see politics cleansed of the parasites who have infected Downing Street in recent years.
I want to see a Britain which has the self respect and pride to say, yes, we’re the fourth largest economy in the world and under no circumstances will be give up our currency, our sovereignty and our history to become some fourth rate province in the Greater Belgian Empire.
But above all I want those thousands of people who deserted us in 1997 and 2001 to Come Home to the Conservatives. That ought to be a major campaign theme of ours nationally.
And when they do come home, we need to make people feel welcome and inspired by the crusade which we are about to launch. Our work in our local associations can only continue if we constantly revitalise our membership, as today’s new members are tomorrow’s councillors and association officers.
Margaret Thatcher inspired me to get involved in politics. In her day we used to win general elections almost at will. I remember that feeling. I remember being so proud to stand on people’s doorsteps knowing that what I was doing was helping her stay in Downing Street.
I want everyone in our Party to feel that same way about our Party now and its leaders. I want you to feel that the hard work you are putting in is all worth it. That the people you are campaigning for are not only worth electing but will do good for the constituency and the country.
Now we all know Norfolk is a rural gem. It appreciates tradition. It values its history and it cherishes its way of life. But all three are under threat from those who have no understanding of the ways of the countryside and rural communities. These people not only have no understanding they don’t even want to understand. They are obsessed by their politically correct prejudices against farmers and country sports enthusiasts. I don’t hunt – but I do shoot – very badly – and make no mistake, if they get away with banning hunting. A ban on shooting will surely follow. This is not about animal welfare – it’s about class war. Their class war. They seem to think only upper class toffs go hunting. Wrong.
Talking of hunting, I nearly came a cropper at the first round of interviews in North Norfolk on this issue. I had Ann Widdecombe as one of my referees so up came the first question: Mr Dale, I see you have an endorsement from Miss Widdecombe, do you share her views on hunting. Well I don’t, but I do often share a stage with her. Believe it or not I host a theatre show called A Night with Ann Widdecombe. Basically I interview Ann for an hour about her life in politics and her career and then the audience ask questions. It’s hugely popular and people pay £15 a time to come and see her. But why is she so popular? It’s because she belongs to that small group of politicians of whom people say “I may not agree with her but at least she believes what she says”. We get lots of young people coming and lots of non Tories. Political theatre is replacing the political hustings.
I’ve known Ann for a few years now. I first met her at Politico’s when we had made some badges saying Doris Karloff for Tory Leader. She found this hilarious and bought several dozen of them. Another Ann Widdecombe line in merchandise was a set of political knickers. A nice black lacy pair with Something of the Night emblazoned across the front. The next time she came into the shop I presented her with a pair and to her credit roared with laughter. But she was juts leaving the shop when I noticed she had left them on the counter. So I yelled after her “Annn, you’ve forgotten your knickers!” And there can’t be many men that have said that to Ann Widdecombe.
We've done about 30 of our theatre shows all around the country. Sometimes I drive, which it has to be said is not something Ann looks forward to. She's a very good backseat driver, if you get my drift. I remember one time, we had been to Porthcawl in South Wales and we'd had nothing to eat all day. After the show we stopped to get some petrol and stocked up on a bit of junk food - right in the middle of her diet. I got onto the M4 and started opening the sandwich and packet of crisps and can of lilt. Ann nearly had a fit - OK I was driving with my knees but it was perfectly safe! "Do you not think you ought to have at least one hand on the steering wheel!" she screamed. So I got my own back. I made her listen to the Pet Shop Boys for the rest of the three hour journey back. She's never forgiven me.
I asked her one day if people reacted differently to her now she's gobe blond. She said "people speak to me now, much m o r e s l o w w w w l l l y y y".
Ladies and Gentlemen We live in a country where...
The trains run more slowly than they did 100 years ago...
Where farmers are paid to grow nothing while children starve...
Where the more taxpayers money is spent on the health service the longer waiting lists get - yet the Government won't reform it...
Where it's almost impossible to fail an exam, yet kids leave school without basic literary skills...
Where the national lottery believes it is Ok to give £750,000 to fund court cases against the Government by illegal asylum seekers...
Where transport planners think that you solve traffic congestion by making traffic lights stay on red for longer...
It’s for those reasons and many more that we Conservatives now have to go on the attack, and who better to lead the charge than Michael Howard. We mustn’t leave any stone unturned in our campaigning and we can’t be satisfied until we win.
And you know what? I’m going to win in North Norfolk! And any of you who feel a burning urge to come out and campaign with me – Gillian can look after herself – will be made most welcome. It’s been a pleasure to be with you tonight and I hope I haven’t droned on too long.