A little over forty years ago in a small village in Oxfordshire, I signed up to be a member of the Conservative Party. I did it because it was the party that had the ideas to build a better Britain. It understood the hard work and discipline necessary to see them through.
And it had at its heart a simple promise that spoke to me, my values and my aspirations: that each new generation in our country should be able to build a better future. That each generation should live the British Dream. And that dream is what I believe in.
But what the General Election earlier this year showed is that, forty years later, for too many people in our country that dream feels distant, our party’s ability to deliver it is in question, and the British Dream that has inspired generations of Britons feels increasingly out of reach.
Now I called that election. And I know that all of you in this hall – your friends and your families – worked day and night to secure the right result. Because of your hard work we got 2.3 million more votes and achieved our highest vote share in 34 years. That simply would not have been possible without the long days and late nights, the phone calls, the leaflet drops. The weekends and evenings spent knocking on doors. So for everything that you do, let me say – thank you.
But we did not get the victory we wanted because our national campaign fell short. It was too scripted. Too presidential. And it allowed the Labour Party to paint us as the voice of continuity, when the public wanted to hear a message of change. I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility. I led the campaign. And I am sorry.
But the choice before us now is clear: Do we give up, spend our time looking back? Or do we do our duty, look to the future and give the country the government it needs? This country will judge us harshly if we get this decision wrong.