This New Year provides us all with an opportunity to assess where we are and what we want the Conservative Party to achieve in the coming year.
Despite the courageous and principled leadership of William Hague, and the hard work of people throughout the Party, we suffered our second successive Election defeat.
The result was a terrible blow to all those who worked so hard only to see Labour return to power with a new mandate. Yet I believe that more than ever it instilled a determination throughout the Conservative Party never to go through such an experience again. Now is the time to put the Election firmly behind us and to start looking to the future.
In September, in our first ever democratic ballot, Party members gave me the greatest honour of my life when you elected me Leader of the Conservative Party. You have placed in me a great trust.
There is only one way in which I intend to repay it. That is by rebuilding our fortunes so that in four years time we are seen not only as an effective Opposition to Labour, but also as the alternative Government to Labour. Winning the next General Election is the objective that must unite the entire Party. Our task is a huge challenge and should not be underestimated.
Since September, of course, much of our focus has been on the international war against terrorism following the terrible attacks on New York and Washington. We were right to give our full backing for the American response to those appalling atrocities.
In the coming year there must be no let up in that war against terrorism until our objectives have been achieved. That applies in Afghanistan, as it should anywhere that terrorism rears its evil head or finds sanctuary.
Yet the war against terrorism must not deflect us from domestic politics, and especially finding solutions to the most pressing problem facing our country - improving our public services. Every year the Labour Government promises that things will be better, yet every year the Labour Government breaks that promise.
Under Labour, we have a Health Service that makes people in Britain fearful of falling sick. Our schools are depriving millions of children of the opportunities that a first-class education offers. Britain’s transport system makes travelling even the shortest distances in or between our cities an ordeal.
The reality is that Labour will never deliver real improvements to the public services. To them, the defence of dogma and vested interests is always more important than the needs of real people.
By contrast Conservatives must be champions of first class public services. It must be our Party that brings forward the practical solutions that offer greater diversity and choice and, above all, drive up standards. At the same time we will continue to stand for the dynamic, enterprise economy that underpins our aspirations. We will continue to stand up for our country against a Labour Government that wants to push us further and further into a European superstate.
These are the issues that will be addressed in the most radical Conservative policy review for a generation.
The Conservative Party enters 2002 more united and disciplined than for many years concentrating on the issues that shape people’s lives at home and abroad. We know the momentous task that lies ahead, beginning with the local government elections in May. With your continued hard work we can succeed.
Thank you for your support. I am delighted to send you and your family every good wish for 2002.