After three years as Chairman of North West Hampshire Conservatives, Margaret Wicks handed over to Col Christopher van der Noot, who lives in Kingsclere.
Extracts of Sir George's address to the AGM follow.
1. "Firstly, many thanks for what you have all done for the local Party in what has been a good year – winning back Test Valley in May, a fine result in the Euro election in June, two excellent local council by elections in December, and paying our quota to Conservative Central Office. All this funded by a large number of high quality, well supported and very enjoyable political and social events
2. Many thanks to Margaret Wicks, who was Chairman of our Association for probably the most difficult 3 years for our Party. Following the 1997 General Election result, she has, with the officers and our excellent agent, helped to rebuild the Association’s finances and restore its morale.
3. Margaret hands over to Christopher van der Noot and I look forward to working with him not least when the General Election comes.
4. Can I pick up two local issues. Planning. I have said on many occasions that this constituency could not be more different from my first one – two miles by two miles of high density inner London development. That was before I saw John Prescott’s plans for building more houses in Hampshire. Some 50% of his target for the South East is simply emigration from London.
5. His plans will both undermine the vitality of our cities at the same time as ruining the landscape of our countryside. We are holding a public meeting on this to-morrow in Oakley – an area under siege – and I plan to focus on this issue in the run-up to the next election. Prescott says he has abandoned predict and provide; but he hasn’t. A good example of Government saying one thing and doing another.
6. Second, health. I told the Secretary of State for Health two months ago that his boast of more resources for the NHS rang hollow locally, where the Health Authority is winding up a successful and popular Trust in Andover and finding savings of £10m, which will hit services.
7. I have still not had an answer, but people will not accept that just because more money is being allocated, services will improve. They were told that two years ago, and it wasn’t true.
8. A word on the national scene. I went to a talk given by Professor Anthony King on Wednesday. He predicted that the turnout at the next General Election would be the lowest since 1918. At the last election, it was the lowest since 1935; and the turnout has consistently fallen over the last twenty years.
9. I think he is right; I think the LibDem vote will fall dramatically, as much of it at the last election was a one-off tactical vote to get rid of us. The Labour core vote is also very soft, as traditional Labour voters take the view that this Government is not really a Labour Government and has ungratefully abandoned its traditional supporters. And many other Labour voters may take the view that the result is a foregone conclusion; and since they don’t want Blair to have a huge majority, they will stay at home.
10. If the turnout falls, the general election may have many of the characteristics of a by-election. Worth reminding people about Ayr, a week ago.
11. If that result was repeated nationally, there would be a Conservative majority in the House of Commons of 115. There would not be a single LibDem, but there would be rather a lot of Scottish Nationalists.
12. Over the last six months, in local elections, we have polled more votes than Labour.
13. Against that general background, a word about the Budget, which marked the beginning of the Election campaign. It was a traditional Labour Tax and Spend budget.
14. Looking at the older Labour MP’s during the Budget, there was amazement on their faces. For the whole of their political lives, at about this point in a Labour government, the wheels have come off the coach – they have either devalued or the IMF takes over and they are out on their ears.
15. But there they still were, unbelievably, on the road. But they have paid a price.
16. The Press think they don’t tell the truth, and people no longer believe what they are told. The absurd double counting of health and education spending has been abandoned because they were rumbled. The BBC ad said it all – “The BBC Budget coverage. In depth, detailed analysis of everything he won’t be saying.”
17. The big loser was Prescott. No money for housing or local government, or social services; money straight to schools. No VAT on new building, or VAT reduction on improvements, which he had asked for. Peanuts for roads. If Prescott gets disillusioned, the architecture of the Labour coalition becomes unstable.
18. My view is that Brown reckons the next election is already in the bag. Brown is thinking about the one after that, when he hopes to be Leader. That is why he is paying off so much debt, to create more headroom in the next Parliament. In Brown’s view, Blair may make history by winning twice, but he Brown will do what Labour have never ever done – win three in a row.
19. No-one should underestimate the difficulties that face the government. Problems with pensioners, manufacturing industry and farmers; problems in Scotland, Wales, London, the West Midlands (Longbridge), North West (Synchroton)
20. Finally, how should we present ourselves at the next Election? It is not enough just to hope people fall out of love with Labour – as they are doing. They have to fall in love with us.
21. We have to say clearly and consistently who we are and what we stand for. Smaller government; bigger citizens; the independence of our country. We want to support people who do the right thing – look after their children and families, work hard, make provision for their retirement, set up their own businesses, choose their own schools, pay their taxes and mortgages.
22. Too often, those people feel penalised, while groups such as asylum seekers live at their expense. They feel overtaxed, over-regulated, run by a remote, politically correct and rather arrogant government, that flies three Ministers to the Lisbon summit in three jets, while telling the rest of us to stop using our cars and go by public transport.
23. We are a plain-speaking and honest party, that wants to help people raise their sights and stretch themselves.
24. We are developing policies that give more power to communities and families, build a more secure society, release the potential of the country, protect the integrity and independence of the nation and restore faith in politics.
25. We have offered guarantees to parents, to patients, on tax and sterling.
26. We want to create a country where people are taxed less and their money is better spent on improving schools and hospitals, rather than wasted on bloated, ill-targeted and defrauded benefit budgets.
27. To deliver those targets, we have already promised a partnership scheme to protect the assets of those who insure themselves against long-term care; a commitment to recognise marriage in the tax and benefits system; to halve the starting rate of tax on savings; to exempt small businesses from some types of regulation entirely; and reduce tax as a proportion of national income.
28. We must regain the support of our traditional voters; but we must also raise our own sights and project ourselves more effectively to younger voters, the internet generation, the teachers and nurses who used to vote for us when I joined the party.
29. I think we have the capacity to surprise ourselves and the country in a year’s time."