These are extracts from Sir George's speech at the Guild Hall, Andover at the AGM of the North West Hampshire Conservative Assocation.
"I am looking forward to the campaign; to identifying fresh support for our party and potential new members; to campaigning for our high quality County Council candidates whose fortunes are inexorably entwined with mine; and to explaining to people why our party is the best one to take the country forward. Crucially, I want to try and restore the bond, and the trust between elector and elected that this Government has done so much to erode. That means that we must fight an energetic, clean and honest campaign."
Let me divide that campaign into two. The local and the general, with the second reinforcing the first.
What will I do for local people?
I want a square deal for Hampshire. The key to providing the quality public services that my constituents are entitled to and have paid for through their taxes is a fair distribution of the money from Whitehall. Without that, teachers, doctors, nurses, police, social workers are fighting with one hand tied behind their back. This Government has changed the formula for distributing the taxpayers pound to the disadvantage of Hampshire. Money has been switched to the north and the cities, leaving the hospitals and the Primary Care Trusts here with large deficits and “financial recovery” plans; and our local authorities are having to look to local council taxpayers to make good the gap.
Andover hospital is starved of the funds needed by a growing town; Basingstoke hospital couldn’t become a Foundation Hospital because of its precarious financial position. Those moving to Andover and Tadley cannot find a NHS dentist in the town.
The first job of the MP for North West Hampshire is to get a fair share of the cake for his constituents and that I pledge myself to do.
The second thing I want to do for local people is to ensure that more decisions that affect Hampshire are taken in Hampshire. Crucially, decisions on housing and planning. But also decisions on how we run our schools and hospitals, and how we run our councils.
Third, and related to that, I want to empower individuals in Hampshire as well as institutions. I want to give our professionals the space and time to use their skills. Every teacher, doctor, nurse, policeman, employee of a local authority in NW Hants ought to vote Conservative because we are the Party that will set him or her free from the red tape, the second guessing, the monitoring, the initiative-sapping controls from the centre. And for those on lower incomes, getting fiendishly complex tax credits on the one hand and paying tax on the other –I want to liberate them from engagement with the instruments of the state. For the wealth creators, I want to join with John Redwood in a bonfire of controls to set them free as well.
Fairness, decentralisation, empowerment, liberation– all good Conservative themes.
So how does this all link in with our Party’s national message ? What will our party do for the country.
As I knock on doors in the constituency, these are some of the words people use to describe how they feel about Tony Blair and the Labour Government. People feel let down. Misled. Disillusioned. They find the Government arrogant, condescending, patronising. They are fed up to here with Milburn, Reid and Brown on the airwaves. Their mood is summed up in a letter in today’s Times “For many of us the prospect of another five weeks of pre-election campaigning has all the appeal of root-canal surgery.”
I think this ennui stems from the style of government we have seen since 1997; and I think this election should be about the style of government, as well as the policies of government.
Tony Blair has built the most centralised, autocratic top-down system of government seen in peacetime Britain since we had absolute monarchs who believed in the divine right to rule.
Parliament has been marginalised and sidelined, devaluing not just me but those I represent. Local initiative has been swamped in regulations, directives and targets. The balance of power between government and governed has shifted - from the people to the Government. I want to shift it back.
I want to reverse this culture of centralised command and control; give people back control of their lives; and ensure that a Conservative Prime Minister and a Conservative Government are accountable to the public through a re-empowered House of Commons.
Far too many decisions are now taken by bureaucrats, units and quangos who are not accountable to anyone. So we will scrap a total of 162 quangos and six government units, many of whom churn out unnecessary rules, regulations and red tape.
I started my career as a local councillor. Local councils which are elected - not unelected regional assemblies – best serve the public, and best reflect our priorities. Elections make local government accountable in a way that appointed bodies never will be. That’s why we will abolish Mr. Prescott’s unelected and unloved SEEDA imposing an unsustainable number of new homes on our countryside. And we will give power – real power – back to local government. Local government must be what people want it to be: genuinely local in character and composition. Sprawling tiers of regional bureaucracy, based in Guildford, distant and remote from towns and villages in NW Hants, undermine accountability.
At the same time, we will prevent the imposition by central government of a ‘one size fits all’ system of unitary local government which would increase costs and undermine local identities. And we will defend and protect England’s historic shire counties and districts. Such as Hampshire County Council. So we will do away with John Prescott’s Communities Plan, scrap regional planning and return powers to local councils.
We will axe the number of special advisers who have mushroomed in Whitehall under Tony Blair and stop special advisers like Alistair Campbell having the power to order civil servants what to do. We want a non-politicised professional neutral civil service that has served this country so well. We will pass a new law to protect its impartiality.
We will also reduce the number of politicians. There are too many politicians, and too many Government Ministers, telling people what to do. We have one of the largest Parliaments in the world for a country our size.
So we will reduce the number of Government Ministers by around a fifth. And we will reduce the number of MPs by around a fifth.
Fair play really matters in Britain.
But I don’t think Parliament operates fairly at the moment. The Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly make many decisions about how their countries are governed. On those issues, I have no say. That’s what devolution is all about and I support it. Fine.
But when it comes to laws which apply solely to England, they are voted upon, not just by MPs from England but by MPs from Scotland. Now that is indefensible.
And there is a better way to do it: “English votes for English laws” – a policy I introduced with William Hague some six years ago when I had responsibility in the Party for the Constitution. A Conservative Government will ensure that, when laws are passed which only affect England, only MPs representing seats in England will vote on them.
Mr. Blair was only able to drive up university top-up fees through the House of Commons because of the votes of MPs from Scotland. Those top-up fees applied to England, not Scotland, so England has less control over its affairs than Scotland, which doesn’t have these fees. I don’t want England to be a second class country in the United Kingdom.
When Margaret Thatcher and John Major were Prime Minister, people believed what they said – even if they disagreed with their policies. Now even those who agree with the Prime Minister’s policies aren’t sure whether they should believe what he says. That is what I want to change.
When people vote in this election, it should be an opportunity for them to tell the world what sort of country they want. And then politicians have a duty to respond to people's aspirations and help make them a reality.
Michael Howard said in a speech earlier this month “It's not a crime to want a better school for your child, better healthcare for your mother, and a better life for your family. But it is criminal when politicians hold out these promises without a detailed, deliverable plan.”
People are fed up with talk, with spin, with playing around with statistics, with the small change of party political argument.
They want an honest Government delivering common-sense policies at an affordable price. That is what, with your help, I will be campaigning for."