Speech to the 2010 Conservative Party Conference

David Cameron

Birmingham, United Kingdom

It is an honour and a privilege to stand here, before the party I lead, before the country I love, as the Conservative prime minister of the United Kingdom.

I want to tell you today, in the clearest terms I can, what we must do together, and what we can achieve together.

But first, let's remember where we've come from. Three defeats. Thirteen party conferences - 4,757 days in the wilderness.

Remember what they said about us? They called us a dead parrot. They said we had ceased to be. That we were an ex-party.

Turns out we really were only resting - and here we are. Back serving our country. Together in the national interest. Giving Britain the good, strong government it deserves.

There are so many we need to thank for that. The British people. You have given us a chance and we will work flat out to prove worthy of that chance.

I want to say a big thank you to those who led this party before me. William Hague got us back on our feet. Iain Duncan Smith helped us get back our heart. Michael Howard gave us back our confidence.

I know that I am standing here as prime minister because they stood up for this party in good times and bad, and I will always remember that.

And it is impossible to pay tribute to previous leaders of this party, without mentioning the greatest peacetime prime minister of the 20th century.

Next week, Margaret Thatcher celebrates her 85th birthday. She'll be doing it in Downing Street, and I know everyone in this hall will want to wish her well.

But there are some very special people I'd like to thank - you, the people of this party. I can't thank all of you individually - but I am going to single one of you out.

His name is Harry Beckough. Harry joined our party in 1929 to fight Stafford Cripps. Since then, across 81 years and 21 elections, Harry has been with us.

When Churchill warned of an iron curtain, Harry was with us. When this country had never had it so good, Harry was with us. When a lady refused to turn, Harry was with us.

This year, when we fought the general election, Harry - aged 96 - was there, manning the loudhailer on the battle bus in Marlborough. And I'm delighted to say Harry is with us here today.

I tell you something - this is a party for all generations. Harry, without people like you we wouldn't be here - and our party wouldn't be in government. So thank you for everything you've done, and all you represent.

I'll never forget the night of 6 May. Watching the results coming in. The Tories back in the north. Winning in Wales. Sweeping across West Yorkshire. Taking seats we hadn't won in decades: Carlisle. Cannock. Thurrock. The end of a Labour government that had done so much damage.

But, also, as I drove to London, there was that growing sense that we just weren't going to make it across the winning line.

I went to bed at about 7am in a hotel, wishing like anything I was at home with Sam and the little ones, not knowing where it was all heading.

I woke up two hours later and felt sure of the answer. The country wants leadership, not partisanship.

Try the big thing. Do the right thing. Succeed and you can really achieve something. Fail and, well, at least you tried.

I know there are a few who say that we should have sat tight, waited for our opponents to fall out and brought in a minority government. But a minority government would have limped through parliament, unable to do anything useful for our country.

The voters left us with a hung parliament and they wanted us to respond responsibly, to do the right thing, not play political games.

So I set out to form a strong, stable, coalition government. And I want to thank Nick Clegg for what he did.

There were loads of phone calls and meetings in those five hectic days in May. My daughter Nancy asked at breakfast one morning: "Daddy, why are you spending so much time with this man Nick Leg?"

Nick and I didn't agree about everything. He wanted clearer pledges on PR. I wanted them on the family.

When I told him what I really thought of the European parliament, he said: "My God, it's worse than I thought."

But we recognised we could work together. Not just lots of shared values, like wanting a country that is more free, more fair, more green, more decentralised, but a shared way of trying to do business.

Reasonable debate, not tribal dividing lines. Give and take. Respect when you disagree. Trust. A sense that politics shouldn't be so different from the rest of life, where rational people do somehow find a way of overcoming their disagreements.

Nick Clegg is not just sitting in government trying to win a few concessions here and there. The Liberal Democrats are proper partners, getting stuck in, making big decisions, shaping what we do and taking responsibility.

That's why we can form a proper government and you can be proud of what we've done together.

Now, I know there will be compromise, and I know we'll have to do things we might not like.

Next May, there'll be a referendum on electoral reform. I don't want to change our voting system any more than you do. But let's not waste time trying to wreck the bill - let's just get out there and win the vote.

Because you know what? At its best, this party always puts country first. We'll leave the vested interests to others.

And no, we're not about self-interest either. This is the party of the national interest and, with this coalition, that's what we're showing today.

People wondered what a coalition could achieve. But just look at what we are achieving already - together, in the national interest.

Conservative policies, policies you campaigned on, policies we are delivering. Two hundred new academies. Ten thousand university places. Fifty thousand apprenticeships.

Corporation tax - cut. The jobs tax - axed. Police targets - smashed. Immigration - capped. The third runway - stopped. Home Information Packs - dropped. Fat cat salaries - revealed. ID Cards - abolished. The NHS - protected. Our aid promise - kept.

Quangos - closing down. Ministers' pay - coming down. A bank levy - coming up. A cancer drugs fund - up and running. £6bn of spending saved this year. An emergency budget to balance the books in five years. An EU referendum lock to protect our sovereign powers every year.

For our pensioners - the earnings link restored. For our new entrepreneurs - employees' tax reduced. And for our brave armed forces - the operational allowance doubled.

Look what we've done in five months. Just imagine what we can do in five years.

In five years time, our combat troops will have left Afghanistan. This party has steadfastly supported our mission there, and so will this government.

But that does not mean simply accepting what went before. In our first few weeks in office, we set a clear new direction. Focused. Hard-headed. Time-limited.

We are not in Afghanistan to build a perfect democracy. No dreamy ideas. Just hard-headed national security - pure and simple.

Almost every terrorist who took part in 9/11 was trained by al-Qaida in Afghanistan. If we left tomorrow, those training camps could easily come back, because Afghans are not yet capable of securing their own country.

But we will not stay a day longer than we need to. British combat forces will not remain in Afghanistan after 2015.

By then, they will have been there for 14 years and in Helmand province for nine - three years longer than world war two.

For those who have served; for those who bear the scars; and for those who will never come home, this country has gratitude beyond words.

This government has set a new direction right across our foreign policy.

Our principles are simple. Don't neglect important relationships. Already we are restoring ties with India, with allies in the Gulf, with our friends in the Commonwealth.

Don't make commitments without the right resources. Today, we're geared up to fight old wars. We have armoured brigades ready to repel Soviet tanks across the German plain.

But we struggled to provide enough helicopters for our soldiers in Afghanistan, for the real war we are really fighting.

Since becoming prime minister, nothing has shocked me more than the complete mess of the defence budget we inherited.

So our defence review will match our commitments with the resources we've got. This will mean some big changes. But I promise you this: I will take no risks with Britain's security.

That's why, when more and more countries have or want nuclear weapons, we will always keep our ultimate insurance policy, we will renew our nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile system.

But Britain's reputation is not just about might. It's about doing what is right. When this country has got it wrong, we'll admit it, as I did when I apologised for Bloody Sunday.

When there's a cloud hanging over our reputation, we'll address it, as we have done by setting up an inquiry into whether this country was complicit in the mistreatment of detainees.

We will always pursue British interests, but there are some red lines we must never cross.

 

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David Cameron is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

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