The first time I felt like an outsider was when I was six years old. My cousin told me we needed to change our walking route to her school because of the ‘bad kids’ who supported the National Front. That was the first time. But not the last.
When I was at secondary school, the other kids told me all about their summer holidays. I’d only ever go to Rochdale but pretended I’d been abroad like them, because they couldn’t tell if I had a tan. When I wanted to do the O-levels and A-levels I needed although I had a couple of inspiring teachers who I’ll be forever grateful to I was told that kids like me should know their limits and stay in their lane. When I was the first in my family to go to university, I knew hardly any fellow students who came from state schools. When I was a new graduate seeking a first job in the City, I met old-school bankers in old-school ties. Men who told me that my face didn’t fit and that where I came from was more important than where I could take them. When I wanted to marry the love of my life, who happened to be a white Christian people in my wider family and community told me that I shouldn’t. That I couldn’t. That I must stick to my own. Not have kids who would be, in their words, “half-caste”.
And when, after twenty years in business where I was the go-to guy for managing the trickiest multibillion-dollar international deals when I wanted to give something back to my country and looked for a place in the only party I had ever supported there were those who told me it just wasn’t for me - or even that I should join Labour - because that’s what immigrants and their children are meant to do. But you know what? I refused to be labelled, to be put in a box, to be the person other people said I should be. So when I got racially abused by the toughest guy in school, rightly or wrongly, I punched him. When I was told I couldn’t go to a better school because the council wouldn’t cover the bus fare, I got on my bike and went anyway. And when Labour tried to kibosh the leadership campaign they fear the most.... but here we are!
After university, I did marry Laura, and we now have four amazing children – and one dog, Bailey, who you might have seen earlier this week. My kids aren’t half-caste, or half anything. They don’t know the meaning of it. They’re full British, playing a full role in modern Britain. That’s just one of the many ways Britain has got better and better in my lifetime. And these are just some of the barriers I’ve broken through in my life. So I’m used to people trying to tell me what I can’t do. I’ve always been more interested in what I can do. I know what I can do. And I’m optimistic and determined about what we can do, together, as a party to break through the barriers that people say can’t be broken to heal the divisions that people say can’t be healed and to make post-Brexit Britain the success that so many naysayers insist it can never be. That is why I have put myself forward for the leadership of the Conservative and Unionist Party – and to be the Prime Minister of our United Kingdom. That I can stand here today and say those words is testament to the enduring strengths of our party and our country. And it is thanks to those strengths that I believe I am now uniquely placed to lead our party and our country through the challenges that lie ahead.
I’ve got a credible and honest plan for delivering Brexit by the end of October. And I’ve got the background, ideas, and positive vision for the future that will bring party and country back together – and to make sure that Jeremy Corbyn remains far away from Downing Street. Because we have to recognise that making a success of Brexit is only the first step we need to take. In some ways that’s the easier bit. British voters are rightly very demanding of those who govern them. Just delivering Brexit – doing what we promised to do – will not be enough to secure a majority at the next election.
It might surprise some people here in Westminster, but most people in this country don’t just talk about Brexit all the time – and we know that we have to show them that we understand normal life. That we are tackling all the issues that matter. And that the Conservatives have changed, and are changing. I know we can do this because, in one part of the UK, we are already doing it. For years we were behind in Scotland - we all heard Labour’s joke about the number of pandas north of the border. Then the Scottish Conservatives threw out central casting and they elected someone totally different. Someone who made them look at our party again. Ruth Davidson brought that change and brought with her huge gains. Thanks to Ruth and her team we are winning again.
In fact, without them, this would be a contest for the Leader of the Opposition, not Prime Minister. I’m so proud to have Ruth on Team Saj. Because the change she brought to Holyrood is the change I will bring to Westminster. We’ve now heard the pitch from the rest of the candidates. I’ve listened to them all. I respect them all. I would be happy to work with them all. And I really want to see Mark Harper referee that fight between a lion and a bear.
But I believe now more than ever that this moment, as we face challenges unlike any we have faced before, calls for a new kind of leadership with a new kind of leader. A leader is not just for Christmas, or just for Brexit. We can’t risk going with someone who feels like the short-term, comfort-zone choice. We have been in power now for almost a decade. At some point in the next three years we will go into our fourth successive general election as the party of government. And that will be after only winning one general election majority in the last quarter of a century. And that was only just. A win that was achieved not by galvanising a narrow base a base that, let’s be honest, is getting narrower over time but by building broad support right across the country. We can rebuild that appeal. We must.
We just need to show the public we have changed, that we deserve a second look. We need tomorrow’s leader, today. Not the same old insiders with the same old school ties, but a new generation with a new agenda. And that means understanding that we cannot call ourselves a One Nation party if whole swathes of that nation don’t think we share their values or understand their needs whether that’s millennials, especially young women. People who care about climate change. People from minority backgrounds or the disaffected working class who look at us and don’t see anyone who knows what their lives are really like.
A lot of that is about having the right language, the right motivations making people feel included and welcomed, not excluded or ignored. I know what that feels like. And from the tragedy of Grenfell, to the crisis of rough sleeping, to the scandal of Windrush my experience in government has humbled me greatly. I’ve also watched, with real concern, as increasingly profound divisions emerge in our politics and our society. Not just between Remain and Leave, but between regions and communities, rich and poor, rural and urban, young and old, black and white. The temptation for some – as we’ve seen around the world – will be to double-down on those divisions. I reject that path.We are at a crossroads – and we must stop our country going in the wrong direction.
To do that, we need to understand that we won’t deliver on the referendum result simply by leaving the EU. That the vote to leave wasn’t just a critique of the Brussels establishment, but a howl against the UK establishment. Against a system that feels increasingly rigged. And against a world where people feel our best days are behind us. And it means understanding what we have done wrong as a party and as a government. Because we have been too timid too often. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost our competence, and our confidence. I don’t say this lightly, but as someone anxious for us to achieve so much more. I passionately want to bring new energy and ambition to our party and our government.
I first took an interest in politics when I realised the power government had to give people the opportunities they deserve. And that will be the acid test for my policy agenda as Prime Minister. Are we keeping people in their place, telling them what they should do? Or are we taking on the elites and the cartels – whether in the public or private sector – and helping people do what they can do? Because the problem with much of the Westminster elite, in all parties, is that they have always been insiders, never had to fight like the rest of us just to get their foot in the door. Life dealt them a good hand, and they played it – and I can’t blame them for that. But it wasn’t being born to rule, or having connections, that got me where I am today – it was hard work, public services, and my family. And it’s those three ideas that lie at the heart of my bold policy agenda.
A manifesto for change that will make our country fairer, stronger and more united. That will allow us to face the future with confidence and pride. I want everyone in this country to know that if they have a go they will have every opportunity to succeed.
That means world-class public services. And bringing people together as a stronger, more cohesive society. Delivering on both of those things needs a strong economy to pay for it. That means low taxes – backing business and rewarding everyone who works hard. It means fiscal responsibility – keeping debt falling. And it means we need to invest in growth. That is why I have outlined plans for an ambitious new £100 billion National Infrastructure Fund. Taking advantage of some of the lowest interest rates in centuries to invest in projects which will create jobs and ensure the British economy is fit for the future. This fund would be based outside London, with a core aim of rebalancing our economy. Investing in all parts of the UK. Because a more balanced economy is key to a more prosperous, and united country.
Now I know that economists talking about growth can feel removed from ordinary life. One of Jeremy Corbyn’s top advisers even wrote a book complaining that people were “obsessed” with it. Well I’m not ashamed to say I’m obsessive about growth – not because it gives us impressive numbers to use at PMQs. But because it gives families the security of a regular income. And the knowledge that our world-class public services will always be there for them. For me, public services have never just been names of government departments to manage. They were my lifelines. The teachers who made my career possible. The police officers who kept us safe when the street I grew up on became a centre for drug dealers. The NHS that cared for my dad in his final days. These aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet – they are the beating heart of our country and they deserve a Prime Minister who truly believes in them.
The biggest engine of social progress is a strong education system. Which is why I have laid out a long-term investment plan for education. Ensuring every child has the chance to get on in life starting from well-funded schools and colleges and continuing with life-long learning. So that as our economy changes people don’t feel left behind. Of course, none of that would mean anything without law and order on our streets, and a health service you know will be there for you. And I’ve been clear we need to significantly increase resourcing for our police, providing enough to get an additional 20,000 officers on our streets. And we will continue to invest in our precious NHS - so that it can continue to deliver world-class care, free at the point of delivery, now and in the future. Our public services are the foundations on which our society is built.
But as Conservatives we also recognise the vital role played by families and communities. I was lucky - I am lucky - to have a strong, supportive family around me. Where we can rely on each other for support, no matter what. So we must ensure that Government is supporting families in everything it does. We need to build a stronger national family too – overcoming the sense of haves and have-nots and delivering that more balanced economy, where no one is left behind. And we need to strengthen the family of nations that is our Union – something I would never do anything to undermine.
It’s almost two centuries since the idea of One Nation Conservatism was coined by Disraeli. It’s not a coincidence that it took a bit of an ‘outsider’ to understand our strengths and weaknesses as a country and party. Now we have a chance to choose another outsider as Prime Minister. And we have many opportunities to seize as a country, if we have the confidence to do so. Our party and our country have a great past, a past of which we can all be proud. But I am less interested in the history books than in the stories that are yet to be written. I believe, in my heart, that if we can unite both our party and our country, then our best days do lie ahead.
I speak with feeling about our party because, for me, it was a choice. And I speak with feeling about this country because, for my family, Britain was a choice. They came here for freedom, for security, for opportunity and for prosperity. It is because of these strengths that I have always been an optimist about Britain’s future. I feel a responsibility as their son, and a child of this country, to help secure for this generation and for future generations all of the things that make this country a beacon for the world. Through Brexit, and beyond.