Graham (Brady), many thanks for convening this meeting. And I have to tell you I am glad that this vote is finally taking place, because tonight we have a chance to end the media-driven focus on the leadership of the Conservative party. And if you will give me your support tonight, we have the chance to stop talking about ourselves and start talking exclusively about what we are doing for the people of this country. And, instead of getting into some hellish groundhog day debate about the merit of belonging to the single market relitigating questions that we settled two-and-a half years ago, we can get on. We can deliver. And we can unite. And you all know what an incredible force we can be when we are united. The people in this room won the biggest electoral victory for the Conservatives for 40 years under my leadership. And if you don’t believe that we can come back from our current position, and win again, then you haven’t looked at my own record or the record of this party. Because I tell you what builds trust in a government; it’s delivery. It’s doing the difficult things you promise to do.
And when you ask yourself what kind of government this is – and what it has to offer in the coming years – look at the energy and drive we brought to ending the Brexit crisis. And whatever else they may say about me, do you really think that anyone else would have done it?
And look at the vaccine roll-out, the doors we kicked in to get that done at the speed we needed. And look at the decision to be the first European country to arm the Ukrainians – not something our system initially found easy to accept.
And I am proud of the leadership the UK has shown, and when I talked to Volodymyr Zelenskyy this morning, it was absolutely clear that a strong UK position is needed more than ever, because, of course, the pressures are growing on Ukraine to accept a bad peace deal. And of course I understand the anxieties of people who have triggered this vote. But I humbly submit to you that this is not the moment for a leisurely and entirely unforced domestic political drama. And months and months of vacillation from the UK
This is the moment for us to lift our gaze from our navel and remember that the impact of Putin’s aggression is being felt not just in Ukraine but by our voters. And again I believe we can be proud of the help the government is giving £1200 for the 8 million most vulnerable homes in the country. And remember that the only reason we can afford this help is because we took the tough decisions during the Covid crisis to move forward.
That’s why we had the fastest growth in the G7 last year. And that’s why unemployment is now at the lowest level since 1974. But we all know that you can’t spend your way out of inflation, and you can’t tax your way to growth. Under the programmes that we have already begun we are laying the foundations for long term increases in productivity with infrastructure, skills and technology, we are levelling up across the country. And so now is precisely the moment to recognise that sometimes government can’t do everything. And that it is time to end the learned helplessness of Covid and to drive a Conservative programme of reform and change and cutting costs.
We need to cut the costs of government. We need to cut the costs of business. And we need to cut the costs of families up and down the country. Look at central government: it is crazy that we have 91,000 more in Whitehall – a 23 per cent increase – than there were in 2015. We have the best civil service in the world, but we can do things better and more cheaply.
Let’s take family budgets. Why should the cost of transport be inflated by outdated practices that have nothing to do with safety? Why should the cost of childcare be pushed up by unnecessary rules on child-minding?
Why should the cost of energy be pushed by everything from the life cycles of the crustacea that may form on the legs of offshore windmills to the system that enables all electricity producers to charge the top marginal rate?
And then look at housing where price inflation has pushed the dream of ownership beyond so many young people. Later this week – if I am here later this week, and I very much hope that I will be – Michael Gove and I will be setting out plans to kindle that dream of home ownership in the hearts of millions who currently believe it is beyond their means.
And then there is one chunk of household income that is the biggest of all, and that is tax. Everyone understands the fiscal impact of covid, the cost of clearing the backlogs. But the way out now is to drive supply side reform on Conservative principles and to cut taxes and to drive investment in the UK, taking advantage of Brexit freedoms, to cut everything from Solvency 2 to MIFID 2. Because that is the way to drive growth and jobs.
And my friends there is simply no way Labour can match this programme. They are still in the pocket of the union barons. They want to keep us locked into EU regulations. And though they may live in great stuccoed townhouses in north London they deplore the dream of home ownership for everyone but themselves. They would never have taken the decisions this government took to help the Ukrainians. They would never have stood up to Putin, not when eight of their front bench voted to scrap our independent deterrent. They would be an utter disaster in office, forced to erode our precious union by an alliance with the SNP. And the only way we will let that happen is if we were so foolish as to descend into some pointless fratricidal debate about the future of our party, when frankly there is no alternative vision that I am hearing. We have the right ideas for the time. We can get this country through a difficult time. And by supply side reform and bearing down on taxation, we can unleash the potential of this country.
Let us refuse to dance to the tune of the media. Let us refuse to gratify our opponents by turning in on ourselves. Let’s show this country that we understand that this is a moment to unite and to serve. And if we can do that then believe you me: whatever they may say about me I will lead you to victory again, and the winners will be the people of this country.