It’s great to be here with so many friends today, and not just to get two hundred miles away from Westminster. I’ve always loved spending time in Wales. When I lived in Bristol I’d often visit with my dad. He ran a market stall flogging clothes that my mum put together on the kitchen table and he was always looking for sites with less competition.
I should explain that, for my dad, “competition” only meant other Pakistani stallholders! There could be a vast, crowded market with five hundred stalls selling everything under the sun. But as long as there were no other Pakistanis – “This is good, no competition”. I remember the first time I went with my dad as he took his his stall over the Severn Bridge to Newport. I’ll admit, I was sceptical. But after a while I saw that he was doing exceptionally well.
He was selling a lot of clothes, turning over a lot of stock. And he was also making friends. We were in a deeply Welsh, industrial town. And people he’d never met were laughing and joking with him like they’d known each other for years. I’d never seen that happen before. So as we packed up, I asked him what the secret of his success was, Why he was proving so popular in Newport. He replied: “It’s my accent son… They don’t think I’m Punjabi, they think I’m Welsh!”
Yesterday, we had disappointing Local Election results in England. As Local Government Secretary, I saw every day just how much better Conservative-run Councils are compared to others. The fact we’re still the largest party in Local Government is testament to that.
But too many people will now no longer benefit from good, hard-working Conservative councillors for the next few years. Let’s show our appreciation to all of them – all the candidates, and all the members that took time out to support them.
Of course we knew it would be a tough time in the cycle. We knew there was frustration about our national politics. I heard plenty of it myself knocking on doors across the country.
And there’s no denying the European elections in a few weeks will be even more challenging –
in every part of the UK. We told the public that we would be out of the EU by March 29th.
Brits don’t exactly cry out for extra elections at the best of times. Now we’re asking people to vote for elected roles we had promised would no longer exist. Representing an organisation we promised we would no longer be a part of. It ticks a legal box given that we haven’t agreed a deal yet. But we shouldn’t be surprised if people tick the protest box on the ballot paper.
Without anything else at stake, it will be a verdict on the delivery of Brexit. It’s like being asked to rate an Amazon delivery that hasn’t even turned up yet. We may not have taken the fastest route, but we must deliver the goods. Obviously, a lot has happened since the referendum, and I will spare you the recap. But the principle of that vote has not changed. We all agreed to honour the result.
So let’s get on with it. No second guessing. No best-of-three. One vote. One mandate. One nation, moving forwards together.
Of course, as the other nation in our precious union to deliver a majority for leave, In the Valleys, the West, the North, The people of Wales made their voices heard in the referendum, Loud and clear. They voted Leave.
We MUST honour that, or rightly pay a very heavy price. Our Party’s future in Wales is critical.
And not just for rebuilding our majority at the next General Election. Wales is crucial to our success because of the lessons its voters teach us about ourselves. The communities you represent are a health-check for our Party as a whole. While it’s important that we continue to unmask the threat that Corbyn’s Labour Party poses to the United Kingdom,
We mustn’t forget that there’s a part of the UK where Labour is already in power. And if our message doesn’t cut through to a country that’s suffered through decades of complacency,
incompetence, and neglect, then it simply isn’t good enough.
Like many others, I’m anxious to see friends reclaim their place on the green benches. Byron, James and Craig didn’t have the luxury of a comfortable majority. They fought for every square inch of their constituency, And were a credit both to their communities and the Commons. But whilst I’m greatly looking forward to welcoming them back through the Members Lobby … Our fight shouldn’t begin and end in Westminster.
As a party, we must make it a priority to set our sights on the Welsh Assembly, and to transform ourselves from the party of opposition, into a political force ready to take power, ready to make Paul Davies First Minister!
If Labour wins a sixth consecutive term, they’ll be close to thirty years of uninterrupted power. That’s almost at Castro levels. Sure, they’ll claim this as proof that their party has delivered for the people of Wales. But their record shows the opposite. Take housing and education. Both England and Wales face an unprecedented housing crisis, the scale demands urgent action. But whilst the problem we face is shared, our progress in tackling it is anything but.
By the time I left the Housing Ministry, the Conservatives had driven England’s net housing supply to its highest level in a decade.
Welsh Labour recorded their lowest house-building numbers in four years. Whilst the Conservatives are leading a crackdown on unfair practices in the leasehold system, Welsh Labour have kicked the issue into the long grass. And whilst the Conservatives have set about making renting fair, cracking down on rogue landlords, and investing billions into affordable housing, Welsh Labour have spent their energy ignoring expert advice, moving the goalposts on housing targets, and coming up with excuses to explain why they can’t even hit those.
Their record isn’t much better on education. International league tables rank Wales’ school system as the poorest performing in the UK. And last year’s A* - C GCSE grades were the lowest to be seen for 13 years. That’s in Wales. A country that pioneered access to education to achieve one of the highest European literacy rates in the 18th Century. Whose educational heritage can be traced through to some of the most inspirational teachers to be found today. We cannot allow this. These outcomes are nothing short of a catastrophe. And they didn’t happen overnight.
In 2001, Welsh Labour scrapped school league tables. In 2004, they ended national tests for 11 and 14 year-olds. Labour-run Wales has no free schools, and has opted out of academisation. When Andrew R.T. Davies talks about a ‘lost generation of students’, he’s right. Labour’s broken ideology has robbed Welsh children of opportunity. And we won’t let them get away with it.
I doubt you’re hearing all of this for the first time, and in that you’re not alone. I’ve spent the last few months hitting the doorstep, speaking to people of every background, circumstance and belief. They’ve heard the attack lines, and been shown the statistics. And to be honest, not all of them are convinced. We’ve been in office for nine years now, And I’ve noticed a growing perception that we view the country through a lens of spreadsheets and efficiency savings.
Bureaucratic victories mean very little if you live a community that feels forgotten.
And when we succumb to that temptation, we miss the bigger picture.
That’s why we mustn’t lose sight of why Public Services like education matter. Or of the ways in which good government can profoundly change the course of a person’s life. The way it altered my life.
Health, Education, Work and Pensions. For many in Westminster, these are the names of Departments to be managed. But for my family growing up, they were our lifelines, and ultimately the ladder to my success. Whether that was studying in the local library,
visiting my local GP with mum, getting the bus to a school where the teachers went out of their way to help me, or being the first member of my family to go to university.
They’re one reason that my parents, themselves raised by dollar-a-day farmers in rural Pakistan, could go on to raise a Chief Superintendent, An Entrepreneur, A Finance Professional and a Cabinet Minister. They underpinned my parent’s belief that Britain is a country where your future isn’t defined by your past, race or class. That everybody is given a fair shot at making a success of themselves. And that’s a belief they passed onto me. That’s why I’m a Conservative.
I certainly wasn’t born into a Conservative-voting family. And few of my neighbours thought twice before checking the box of the local Labour candidate. Rather, it was a realisation that the Conservative Party understood how people could get on in life, And discovering that as a Party, they cared about the same values as me. That realisation made its impression on my time in Government, And set a determination in me to ensure that whatever my role, I would do everything in my power to knock down barriers to social mobility.
That’s why at the Treasury, I chose to crack down on exploitative pay day loans, and why at the Business Department, I oversaw the introduction of the National Living Wage. It’s why in Communities I put rough sleeping at the top of the agenda, and why as Home Secretary, I’ve made it my mission to protect young people’s futures by tackling violent crime. On an almost weekly basis, the country wakes to the news that another person has been stabbed, that serious violent crime is on the up, and robbery is on the rise. That doesn’t make for easy reading.
As Home Secretary my job is to protect the public. But it also affects me in my job as a father.
Take knife crime. Like everyone else, I see the reports on young people feeling the need to carry weapons. And that makes me worry about my own teenage children. Will they be hurt if they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time on a night out? What happens if they get into an argument that escalates? That’s why the Serious Violence Strategy has been a major focus of mine. Grappling with how we got to the situation at present and focussing on the immediate steps required to bring it under control.
The Police told me that more powers, tools and resources were needed. Which is why we’ve delivered over a billion pounds more funding this year. We’ve made it more difficult for young people to buy bladed weapons and corrosive substances, And rolled out reforms that give police discretion to increase the use of stop and search. I know it’s not a universally popular policy. It should be proportionate and intelligence-led. But only this week, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police credited it with helping drive down the murder rate in London by a quarter.
Put simply: stop and search saves lives. But the real solution isn’t short-term. I’m acutely aware that gangs recruit the most vulnerable, And the sad fact is that many young people feel that they can’t lose the opportunities they never had in the first place. That’s why I launched the £200 million Youth Endowment Fund, a chance for the Government to invest in the future of our most vulnerable young people, steer them away from violence, and give them a shot at a better future.
I’m optimistic about the years ahead. The best days of our United Kingdom are still to come. And life will, miraculously, continue after we leave the EU. But for three years our agenda has been dominated by Europe, And whilst next the phase of negotiations must still be our priority. We cannot let the task of negotiating with the EU become all consuming.
Allowing Europe to dominate our agenda and failing to address many of the issues that the referendum highlighted in the first place. That would mean those communities that feel they’ve been forgotten by Westminster will feel more isolated than ever. And they may feel more open to resorting to radical political options - whether that’s Corbyn-style socialism, or far-right populism.
That’s why it’s so important to remind ourselves who we are.
The only antidote to that is One Nation conservatism. A conservatism that speaks to everyone…
That leaves no one behind and is governed at its heart with compassion. The Party of aspiration that caught my eye when I got into university. A Party that recognises the needs of the vulnerable. Extends the social ladder of opportunity. And restores a stake in society to those who feel left behind.
That starts with being the party of public services. Ninety percent of the British public rely on them every day. They gave me the tools that I needed to set a course for my own life, And now we must ensure they’re ready to do the same for the next generation. Tackling the attainment gap,
Driving up standards in troubled schools, and giving young people a route out of crime. These should be the explicit mission statements of Ministers and Civil Servants alike. But we can’t do it alone. We need to earn back the trust of our police officers, nurses and teachers. They’re not payroll voters, union hacks or irksome stakeholders. They’re professionals that we admire, who want the same outcomes that we do, and we need to win back their faith.
Over the past nine years, our Party has achieved a lot. Under both Theresa May and David Cameron’s leadership we have led from the front in tackling a huge range of difficult challenges. And yet we know there’s so much more to do. There’s nothing that Corbyn wants more than a General Election, and there’s no point sugar-coating it: When it does come, and it could come well before 2022, it’s going to be tough. But there has never been anything natural or God-given about Conservative victories.
They've always been the result of core values we have shared. Between ourselves. Between the British people. Those values have always had to be fought for. They’ve had to be renewed, in each generation. And now is one of those moments.
If we want win back Gower, Cardiff North and the Vale of Clwyd, and finally wrest Wales from the grip of the Labour Party, then we have to give voters a real alternative. Because its socialism that’s stripped them of decent public services, a world class education and the chance to own their own home.
In Westminster, and Cardiff Bay, it’s only the Conservative and Unionist Party that can win them back.