Welsh Conservative Party Conference Speech

It’s great to be back here in Wales.

 

I grew up 20 minutes down the road from here, on the English side of the border.

 

I had Welsh friends at school, Welsh colleagues in my first job.

 

In fact, my first girlfriend was from Wales when I was a teenager.

 

So I know all about the importance of cross-border relations.

 

There’s something else about this part of the world that’s special to me.

 

It’s where I worked out I was a Conservative, and that’s something I want to talk about today.

 

We meet at a difficult time for our party.

 

The economy's growing but there are too many in our country who feel it’s not growing for them.

 

For the last three years we’ve gone round and round in circles over Brexit - and people want to leave and move on.

 

And we can all see the result. 

 

This week good councillors lost hard-fought seats through no fault of their own. 

 

It’s incredibly frustrating. 

 

There’s no shortage of advice on what to do next.

 

There are some who actually say that it’s time to throw in the towel.

 

Let Corbyn have his turn, they say. 

 

We’ve run out of steam.

 

They even say a spell in opposition might do us some good.

 

Do us some good? 

 

What about the country?

 

Abandoning the country to Jeremy Corbyn is completely wrong.

 

Jeremy Corbyn is not a normal opposition leader.

 

This is a man who, whenever there’s a choice between Britain or her enemies, always makes the wrong choice.  

 

Hamas, Hezbollah, the IRA, Assange or Assad - he always sides with our opponents.

 

He’s happy to meet with anyone for a dialogue …

 

…unless they’re the leader of the free world.

 

He’s the most dangerous party leader this country has seen in 100 years…

 

…a threat to our security…

 

…to our freedom…

 

 …to our prosperity.

 

It is our responsibility and our solemn duty to keep him out of Number 10.

 

***  

 

Then there are those who say the answer is to tack to the right and abandon the mainstream where most voters are. 

 

Wrong again.

 

That way lies irrelevance, defeat and Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street anyway.

 

And worse still. 

 

Those who flirt with hard-right policies are putting the integrity of our United Kingdom at risk.

 

I have always stood up for our union and I always will and it’s this party’s job to keep our country together.

 

***

 

So what next? 

 

We promised to deliver Brexit and we must deliver Brexit. 

 

But then we cannot become a single-issue party.

 

Brexit brings opportunities and we must seize them.

 

We must deliver Brexit as soon as possible, so we can get on and talk about all the other things that matter.

 

Delivering Brexit not defined by Brexit.

 

And then get on to all the other things that matter to voters.

 

These local election results came with a clear message: deliver Brexit and get back to focussing on what really matters to voters.

 

A good local school for your kids.  

 

Safer streets.

 

A stronger NHS.

 

More money in your account at the end of the month.

 

Those who say that the economy doesn’t matter anymore could not be more wrong.     

 

We must be the party of good jobs and rising pay…

 

…homes for the young…

 

...security in retirement for the old.

 

That’s what the economy is, it’s people meeting their aspirations. 

 

...And if we’re for not that we’re for nothing.   

 

***

 

We need to be the party that understands the profound economic and technological disruption we’re living through…

 

…and that uses the power of government to help people master it.

 

That harnesses technology, including in the NHS where technology saves lives. 

 

And we need to be the party that believes in this country as it is, as it will be, not just as it was…

 

… excited about the future…

 

…and the success we can make of the twenty first century.      

 

That’s how we end the frustration that people feel right now.

 

That’s how we convince people that we are the ones that can take this country forward.

 

And that is the party that can win again – and the party that deserves to win again - at the next General Election…

 

So what do we need to do now?

  

To renew our country, we’ve got to start by reviving our party.

 

Proud of our achievements yes, but we can’t stand still.

 

A successful party must keep renewing itself to stay relevant to people’s concerns.

 

I’m 40 years old.

 

If nothing changes, the evidence shows that most people like me are not going to vote Conservative at the next election.

 

Just four years ago we matched Labour amongst the under-50s, at the 2015 General Election when we last won a majority. 

 

Today we’re no longer the party of working-age people.  

 

Voting Conservative has become something you do when you get your Winter Fuel Allowance, not when you cash your first paycheque.

 

Think about that.

 

If you’re under 50, you are more likely to vote for Jeremy Corbyn than for the Conservatives.

 

We have an age problem. We can’t let it go on.

 

We need our party to become a force again for working-age people.

 

We need younger people to join our movement and power it forward into the 2020s.

 

Otherwise we’ll be handing the keys to Number 10 to Jeremy Corbyn with all the damaging consequences he would bring.

 

I look back at the journey that brought me here today, why I joined this party in my late teens.  

 

I grew up in the heart of my family’s small business.

 

Home was the office and the office was our home.

 

I watched my parents risk everything to provide for us …

 

….to pay the bills…

 

…and to create jobs for other people so they could provide for themselves and their families.

 

I saw that business nearly go under.

 

We were one cheque away from collapse because of a recession caused by bad policy.

 

But their hard work and enterprise paid off in the end.

 

I struggled with dyslexia at school but I got myself to university and then a job in public service.

 

Why?

 

Because people believed in me and supported me to succeed.

 

It is this belief, in enterprise, opportunity and the potential of every single one of us that drives me on.

 

That’s what makes me an optimist.

 

It’s what makes me believe that despite our current difficulties.

 

The world is getting better…

 

…And Britain is a great country with a bright future. 

 

So this is our mission as Conservatives: 

 

Supporting hard work, enterprise and opportunity.

 

Delivering economic security as the foundation for everything.

 

Backing people’s hopes because we all have value and we all have something to offer.   

 

I joined this party because I believe these values are Conservative values.

 

Yet too many people of working age do not see the party as I see it, as we in this room see it.

 

They do not believe that their values are our values.

 

And they do not feel that we are on their side.

 

We have our work cut out for us.

 

I am convinced that the way to change this is to build our movement.

 

To get younger people to vote for our party, we need more younger people in our party

 

So this is my challenge to everyone in this room:

 

When you’re out there talking to people, don’t just try and persuade them to vote Conservative, persuade them to join the Conservatives.

 

If they say, “why?”, this should be our response:

 

If you join our party, you can change our country.

 

If you believe in the values of hard work, enterprise and opportunity

 

If you want a good job, higher pay and a home of your own – join us.

 

If you're angry about social injustice or you want to save the planet – join us.

 

If you want to live in a country in which everyone matters and has a chance to contribute – join us.

 

And if you’re passionate about the future of our union – join the party of the union, the Conservative and Unionist Party.

 

We’ve got to renew our party. But to revive our country we’ve also got to have the ideas and the policies that matter to people.

 

Here's what we need to do.

  

First, we’ve got to actually leave the EU.

 

That means getting the Withdrawal Agreement over the line.

 

We cannot leave the EU without it.

 

Only then can we move on as a party and as a country.

 

But it’s not just the current Brexit turmoil we need to leave behind.

 

It’s the bitterness, the rancour, the suspicion of each other’s motives, the coarsening of public life.

 

We need to move on and unite the nation.

 

So when we get that Withdrawal Agreement through, and as an optimist I believe we can…

 

...We’ve got to pull together…

 

…draw a line under Brexit…

 

…and start talking about the bright future for Britain beyond.   

  

Next we’ve got to get back to that fundamental goal of Conservative politics – improving people’s lives and living standards.

 

Building a stronger economy…

 

…putting money in people’s pockets…

 

…helping families have a more financially secure future…

 

This is – and always has been – our party’s number one job.

 

That means talking about how we build a dynamic, modern, advanced economy where everyone can reach their full potential.

 

Instead of endlessly debating just one trading relationship with our nearest neighbour, we’ve got to set our sights on the whole world.  

 

Because the world is changing.

 

When I left university, China’s economy was smaller than France.

 

Today, by some measures, it’s already overtaken America.

 

Of the 1 billion people set to join the middle class over the next few years, 9 out of ten will live in Asia.

 

It’s why the next generation of Welsh jobs are going to come from Asia on top of our existing markets…

 

…focused on selling high-quality, high-value goods and services to the global middle class.

 

In some parts of our economy it’s already happening.

 

Wales alone employs 13 and a half thousand people in life sciences, 44,000 in the digital economy and 150,000 in manufacturing. 

 

Cardiff is a centre of excellence in precision medicine.

 

Look at Nu Instruments, a company just up the road in Wrexham.

 

They make instruments that have been used in everything from forensic teams solving murders to NASA exploring space.

 

But we can’t leave anyone behind. We’ve got to bring the whole country with us on this journey.  

 

We get there by investing and investing again…

 

…in incredible infrastructure…

 

…in tomorrow’s science and the world’s best education…

 

….and by raising living standards for all with a decent minimum wage.  

 

That’s how we’re going to succeed in the 2020s and beyond.   

  

Third, we need that modern, advanced economy not to just to create the jobs…

 

…but to pay for the brilliant public services people expect and need in their lives.

 

In every other part of life, from booking a holiday to checking your bank statement, people expect choice, convenience, immediacy. 

 

It should be the exactly same with our public services.

 

And it’s possible. I’ve seen for myself in the NHS how bold ambition, a belief in progress and the latest British tech is improving quality of care for patients.  

 

Look at Hammersmith Hospital, where they’ve built an algorithm that can diagnose ovarian cancer four times more accurately than a human.

 

Oxford University are using virtual reality to treat psychosis. 

 

Manchester is home to the UK’s first proton beam therapy.  

 

We are world leaders in health technology and I’m proud of what we’re doing to make our NHS the world’s most advanced healthcare system.

 

But I want every part of the UK to benefit from that progress, and that is why we need a Conservative government in Wales.

 

The quality of care you receive - your chance of a healthy life - should not depend on whether you live in Chester or Cardiff.

 

Yet there’s a hard border that runs through British healthcare.

 

On every conceivable measure, the Welsh NHS under Labour performs compared to the rest of the UK.

 

We must campaign relentlessly to make sure the public understand that when it comes to the NHS, Labour talk the talk, Tories walk the walk.

 

***

 

That’s my plan: leave the EU, rebuild our movement, turn our country to face the future.

  

I grew up 20 miles from here

 

My step-sister went to a Welsh primary school, I went to an English one.

 

When I was three I managed to put a wheelbarrow through my cheek and it was stitched up at the Maelor in Wrexham.

 

My parents ran that business that created jobs in England and in Wales.

 

Schools, hospitals, jobs.

 

These are the things that really matter to voters.

 

These are the issues on which elections are won and lost.

 

Stay divided and distracted, and the future looks bleak.

 

Come together, turn the page, focus on what matters, open up our party to a new generation and we can win.

 

We’ve got to be a party rooted in our incredible history, but show that we’re far more excited about what lies ahead for our country.

 

A government proud of its achievements, but even more energised today by the challenges of tomorrow.

 

A new Conservative generation - not pining for the past, or patronising the young…

 

...but leading our country forward with optimism, with hope, and with confidence.

 

A party of the future.

 

A programme for the future.

 

A country that is ready to win the future, in Wales, and across our wonderful nation.