Speaking at the St Mary Bourne Village Centre at the AGM of his local Conservative Association, Sir George gave a review of the current political scene.
"When we met a year ago, it was just before the General Election, where we had a local success, that was not replicated nationally. This time, we meet before the local elections, where the prospects are much brighter.
I have been knocking on doors – in some cases the same doors that I knocked on a year go. It is astonishing the number of people I have canvassed who have forgotten that they voted Labour last year, or are in a state of denial about it. Likewise, it is amazing how many people I have met recently who swear they are life-long Conservatives, but who I know withheld their support a year ago. So the mood is changing – the Labour voter is less confident, less satisfied with his Party than a year ago; whereas there is a new spring in our step.
What about the Liberals? We should never let them get a toe in the door and I was delighted that they came third a year ago – paying the price for not having a local candidate. They are always a threat locally, but nationally I believe they are strategically wrongly placed, to the left of the Government rather than to the right. Our job is to make sure that the disaffected Labour vote on May 2nd comes to us and not to them by explaining they are a more expensive and opportunist option than Labour.
So between now and May 2nd, I will be joining our high-quality local candidates to add momentum to their campaign and help them win back Basingstoke and Deane.
A word about the bigger picture. My view has always been that there are two stages in a Conservative recovery. First, disengagement from, disillusionment with Labour.
Second, re-engagement, renewed interest in the Conservative Party.
At the last election, that process of disengagement had just begun, but it had not been completed. I think it is now well under way. This is not actually a very successful Government.
I used to be Housing Minister, and was regularly castigated by Labour for the number of families in B&B. The number of vulnerable people in temporary B&B has trebled since 1997. I used to have responsibilities for transport. Railway delays have gone up 40% since the Government took over Railtrack. Mobile phone thefts have gone up 377% in last three years. Truancy in secondary schools is up by 11%. Teacher vacancies are up 25% in secondary schools in the past year. Nearly 40% of teachers with three years experience are leaving the profession. 50,000 care home beds have been lost since 1997, helping to cause the bed-blocking crisis.
There are 500 fewer police than in 1997. On March 13th, for the first time in my life as an MP, the Police marched on Westminster in protest - insulted by the Home Secretary, overwhelmed by paper, demoralised at not being able to deliver the service they wanted. Violent crime is up 21% in last three years. You are more likely to wait longer in casualty before you see a doctor than in 1997.
Once you put on some sunglasses to protect yourself from the dazzle of this Government, the scene is rather bleak. And it has all been done with higher taxes. The difference between this Budget and the previous ones is this. With the previous ones, it was two days later that you discovered you had been clobbered. With this one, we were told two days in advance.
So stage one – disengagement, disillusion is setting in. They have taken five years of Government to get to where we were after 15 years – fraying at the edges, and the beginnings of mutterings about the Prime Minister.
Stage two is to re-engage people in us. Let me give one example of how this is happening. On Monday we published this – Alternative Prescriptions, A Survey of International Healthcare Systems. It was covered in nearly all the broadsheets, and on the radio. In the last Parliament, publications like that hardly got covered at all. Now the view is that the Conservatives have something interesting to say about a key public service.
We have a good team. Michael Howard is more than a match for the Chancellor. Oliver Letwin has the measure of the Home Secretary. Iain Duncan Smith is doing better and better. The Tory Party in the House is cheerful and cohesive.
And we are going to do battle on the NHS. The Government have taken a gamble; but so have we. They have put their money on red, and we have put it on black. But in this case, the evidence is that black is more likely to win.
It was absurd of Gordon Brown to polarise the choice as he has done between the USA, where he says you have to pay premiums of £100 a week for a quality service; or France, where the cost to the employer is £60 per employee per week; or the UK, with an extra penny on National Insurance for an excellent NHS. Why not built a more effective partnership between NHS and the independent sector – as we have with already done with pensions? Instead of criticising people who take out Private Health Insurance as queue-jumpers, why not encourage all employers to cover not just senior employees, but all employees and their families with private health insurance?
Would that not be a more effective solution than putting more money into a monolithic, bureaucratic, slow moving State monopoly? Yes, they say they will reform it, but this reform turns out to be yet more people looking over the shoulder of professionals.
I think we can win the argument on health, but in so doing we should broaden the debate. We must show that we can develop solutions that are clearly deliverable and affordable, and which will make a difference.
We must stress independence rather than more reliance. Our policies should help people, whether as individuals or groups, to be more independent of the state, rather than more reliant on it.
I have suggested how we might do it on health, increasing the amount of money going in to health, but in a way that is popular and effective.
The savings ratio is plummetting under this government; why not bring back the highly popular and effective PEPS, abolished by this Government?
We can reform Annuities. Last Friday, I was summoned back to Parliament to vote on David Curry’s Bill which would change the rules to give more flexibility, and an opportunity to pass money down to ones heirs. It was blocked by the Government.
On security, Oliver Letwin has proposed the biggest change to policing since the foundation of the service by Sir Robert Peel based on the successful campaign in New York to give the streets given back to the public. And we should remove the obstacles to enterprise. Why are the Nursing Homes and Residential Homes closing? Partly because of more regulation.
We have become an over-regulated, centralised, stifled society. There is an appetite for decent public services provided by professionals free to deploy their skills; and for better protection against crime We can meet it. This is a complacent and shallow administration, and we are getting ready to replace it"