David Cameron's speech to the Conservative conference: full text

"As Prime Minister it has fallen to me to say some hard things and to help our country face some hard truths."

In May 2010, this party stood on the threshold of power for the first time in more than a decade.

We knew then that it was not just the ordinary duties of office that we were assuming.

We were entering into Government at a grave moment in the modern history of Britain.

At a time when people felt uncertainty, even fear.

Here was the challenge:

To make an insolvent nation solvent again.

To set our country back on the path to prosperity that all can share in.

To bring home our troops from danger while keeping our citizens safe from terror.

To mend a broken society.

Two and a half years later of course I can't tell you that all is well, but I can say this:

Britain is on the right track.

As Prime Minister it has fallen to me to say some hard things and to help our country face some hard truths.

All of my adult life, whatever the difficulties, the British people have at least been confident about one thing.

We have thought we can pay our way.

That we can earn our living as a major industrial country...

…and we will always remain one.

It has fallen to us to say - we cannot assume that any longer.

Unless we act, unless we take difficult, painful decisions, unless we show determination and imagination, Britain may not be in the future what it has been in the past.

Because the truth is this.

We are in a global race today.

And that means an hour of reckoning for countries like ours.

Sink or swim. Do or decline.

To take office at such a moment is a duty and an honour…

…and we will rise to the challenge.

Today I’m going to set out a serious argument to this country about how we do that.

How we compete and thrive in this world…

…how we can make sure in this century, like the ones before, Britain is on the rise.

Nothing matters more.

Every battle we fight, every plan we make, every decision we take is to achieve that end…

…Britain on the rise.

BRITAIN CAN DELIVER

Though the challenge before us is daunting, I have confidence in our country.

Why?

Because Britain can deliver. We can do big things.

We saw it this summer.

The Jubilee, the Olympics, the Paralympics…

…the best country in the world…

…and let’s say it: with our Queen, the finest Head of State on earth.

I was trying to think of my favourite moment.

Was it telling President Hollande that no, we hadn’t cheated at the cycling, we didn’t have rounder wheels, it was just that we peddled faster than the French?

No… for me it was seeing that young woman who swam her heart out for years…

…nine training sessions a week, two hours a time.

My best moment was putting that gold medal around the neck of Ellie Simmonds. 

And I am so grateful for what all those Paralympians did.

When I used to push my son Ivan around in his wheelchair, I always thought that some people saw the wheelchair, not the boy.

Today more people would see the boy and not the wheelchair – and that’s because of what happened here this summer.

And the Olympics showed us something else.

Whether our athletes were English, Scottish, Welsh or from Northern Ireland…

….they draped themselves in one flag.

Now, there’s one person who didn’t like that…

…and he’s called Alex Salmond.

I’m going to see him on Monday to sort that referendum on independence by the end of 2014.

There are many things I want this coalition to achieve but what could matter more than saving our United Kingdom…

…let’s say it: we’re better together and we’ll rise together – so let’s fight that referendum with everything we’ve got.

There are so many people to thank for this summer.

Those that won the bid, those that built the stadia, that ran the Games…

…and of course: the man who put a smile on our faces…

…the zinger on the zip-wire…

…the Conservative Mayor of London: our Boris Johnson.

And those Games-Makers.

You know, I’ve spent three years trying to explain the Big Society…

…they did it beautifully in just three weeks.
.
There is another group of people who stepped into the breach this summer – and we in this party never forget them.

Our armed forces have been on the ground in Afghanistan for over ten years now.

433 men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Just last weekend there was a memorial service for one of the fallen, and the eulogy said this:

“All that they had they gave. All that they might have had. All that they had ever been. All that they might ever have become.”

For all those who serve, and their families, I repeat the commitment I made when this Government came to office.

By the end of 2014, all UK combat operations in Afghanistan will have come to an end.

Nearly all our troops will be home – their country proud, their duty done…

…and let everyone in this hall stand and show how profoundly grateful we are for everything they do.

CONSERVATIVES CAN DELIVER

To meet the challenges our country faces, we must have confidence in ourselves… confidence as a party.

We’ve been in office two and a half years now – and we’ve done some big, life-changing things.

Just ask Clive Stone, who you saw in a film earlier.

I met him years ago, when we were in Opposition.

He had cancer and he said to me: the drug I need – it’s out there but they won’t give it to me because it’s too expensive…

…please, if you get in, do something about it.

And we have. A new cancer drugs fund that has got the latest drugs to more than 21,000 people and counting.

There was a reason we could do that.

It’s because we made a big decision to protect the NHS from spending cuts.

No other party made that commitment.

Not Labour. Not the Liberal Democrats. Just us – the Conservatives.

To all those people who said we’d bring the NHS down…

...I say…

…well, yes, you’ve got a point.

I’ll tell you what is down.

Waiting lists – down. Mixed wards – down. The number of managers – down. Bureaucratic targets – down. Hospital infections – down.

And what’s up? The number of doctors, the number of dentists, the number of midwives, the number of operations carried out in our NHS.

So be in no doubt: this is the party of the NHS and that’s the way it’s going to stay.

We made a big decision to go on saving lives abroad too.

I know some are sceptical about our aid budget.

But picture the scene – you’re in a health centre in Kinshasa.

See the child with a needle in her arm, being injected with a Yellow Fever vaccine…

…the difference between living and dying…

…how can anyone tell me that’s a waste of money.

Since we gathered here in Birmingham on Sunday, British aid money has vaccinated 130 thousand children around the world. One hundred and thirty thousand children.

You, the Conservative party helped do that, and you should be proud of what you’ve done. 

Here’s something else this party’s done in government.

Last December I was at a European Council in Brussels.

It was three in the morning, there was a treaty on the table that was not in Britain’s interests…

…and twenty five people around that table were telling me to sign it.

But I did something that no other British leader has ever done before…

…I said no – Britain comes first – and I vetoed that EU treaty.

We’re doing big, Conservative things.

For years people said you’ll never reform public sector pensions, the trade unions won’t stand for it.

Well, we’ve done it, and it’s going to cut the cost to the taxpayer almost in half.

For years people said benefits are out of control and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Well, because of our welfare cap, no family will be getting more in benefits than the average family earns.

For years people asked why we couldn’t get rid of those radical preachers who spout hatred about Britain while living off the taxpayer…

…well, Theresa May – a great Home Secretary - has done it – and she’s got Abu Hamza on that plane and out of our country to face justice.

Be proud of what we’ve done already.

Two million of the lowest-paid workers being taken out of income tax altogether.

Over eighteen million households helped with a freeze in their council tax – and we’re freezing it all over again next year too.

BRITAIN ON THE RISE

Big, Conservative things - delivered by this government; made possible by this party.

We can deliver. We can do big things.

The Olympics reminded us how great it feels to be successful.

But we mustn’t let that warm glow give us a false sense of security.

All around the world, countries are on the rise.

Yes, we’ve been hearing about China and India for years…

…but it’s hard to believe what’s happening in Brazil, in Indonesia, in Nigeria too.

Meanwhile, the old powers are on the slide.

What do the countries on the rise have in common?

They are lean, fit, obsessed with enterprise, spending money on the future – on education, incredible infrastructure and technology.

And what do the countries on the slide have in common?

They’re fat, sclerotic, over-regulated, spending money on unaffordable welfare systems, huge pension bills, unreformed public services.

I sit in those European Council meetings where we talk endlessly about Greece…

…while on the other side of the world, China is moving so fast it’s creating a new economy the size of Greece every three months. 

I am not going to stand here as Prime Minister and allow this country to join the slide.

My job – our job - is to make sure that in this twenty first century, as in the centuries that came before, our country, Britain, is on the rise.

And we here know how that is done.

It is the collective result of individual effort and aspiration…

… the ideas you have, the businesses you start, the hours you put in.

Aspiration is the engine of progress.

Countries rise when they allow their people to rise.

In this world where brains matter more, where technologies shape our lives, where no-one is owed a living…

…the most powerful natural resource we have is our people.

Not just the scientists, the entrepreneurs, the engineers…

...not just the teachers, the parents, the nurses…

…but all our people: including the poorest, those who’ve never had a job, never had a chance, never had hope.

That’s why the mission for this government is to build an aspiration nation…

…to unleash and unlock the promise in all our people.

And for us Conservatives, this is not just an economic mission – it’s also a moral one.

It’s not just about growth and GDP…

…it’s what’s always made our hearts beat faster – aspiration; people rising from the bottom to the top.

Line one, rule one of being a Conservative is that it’s not where you’ve come from that counts, it’s where you’re going.

We’ve been led by the daughter of a grocer, the son of a music hall performer…

…by a Jew when Jews were marginalised, by a woman when women were sidelined.

We don’t look at the label on the tin; we look at what’s in it.

Let me put that another way.

We don’t preach about one nation but practise class war…

…we just get behind people who want to get on in life.

The doers. The risk takers. The young people who dream of their first pay-cheque, their first car, their first home – and are ready and willing to work hard to get those things.

While the intellectuals of other parties sneer at people who want to get on in life, we here salute you.

They call us the party of the better-off…

…no: we are the party of the want to be better-off, those who strive to make a better life for themselves and their families – and we should never, ever be ashamed of saying so.

THE RIGHT IDEAS

This party has a heart but we don’t like wearing it on our sleeve.

Conservatives think: let’s just get on with the job and help people and not bang on about it. It’s not our style.

But there’s a problem with that.

It leaves a space for others to twist our ideas and distort who we are: the cartoon Conservatives who don’t care.

My mission from the day I became leader was to change that.

Yes, to show the Conservative party is for everyone: North or South, black or white, straight or gay.

But above all - to show that Conservative methods are not just the way we grow a strong economy, but the way we build a big society.

That Conservative methods are not just good for the strong and the successful but the best way to help the poor, and the weak, and the vulnerable.

Because it’s not enough to know our ideas are right – we’ve got to explain why they are compassionate too.

Because we know what we’re up against.

We say we’ve got to get the private sector bigger and the public sector smaller…our opponents call it ‘Tory cuts, slashing the state’.

No: it’s the best way to create the sustainable jobs people need.

We say help people become independent from welfare…our opponents call it: ‘cruel Tories, leaving people to fend for themselves.’

No: there is only one real route out of poverty and it is work.

We say we’ve got to insist on a disciplined, rigorous education for our children…our opponents call it: ‘elitist Tories, old-fashioned and out of touch.’

No: a decent education is the only way to give all our children a proper start in this world.

The reason we want to reform schools, to cut welfare dependency, to reduce government spending is not because we’re the same old Tories who want to help the rich...

...it’s because we’re the Tories whose ideas help everyone - the poorest the most.

A strong private sector. Welfare that works. Schools that teach.

These three things are essential to helping our people rise.

They are essential to our success in this world.

And you know what – Labour will fight them all the way.

So these things are not just the battle-ground for Britain’s future…

…they are also the battle-lines for the next election – and it is a fight we’ve got to win, for our party and our country.

ECONOMY

To help our people rise, then – number one – we need an economy that creates good jobs.

We need businesses, of every size, in every type of industry, in every part of the country – investing and taking people on.

There are some basic things they need to do that.

Low interest rates so they can afford to take out a loan.

And confidence that it’s worth investing - because the customers will be there, whether at home or abroad.

Getting the deficit down is essential for both.

That’s why our deficit reduction plan is not an alternative to a growth plan: it’s the very foundation of our growth plan.

It’s the only way we’ll get Britain on the rise.

Now I know you are asking whether the plan is working.

And here’s the truth: the damage was worse than we thought, and it’s taking longer than we hoped.

The world economy – especially in the Eurozone – has been much weaker than expected in the past two years.

When some of our big trading partners like Ireland, Spain and Italy are suffering, they buy less from us.

That hurts our growth and makes it harder to pay off our debts.

But here is the crucial thing you need to know.

Yes it’s worse than we thought, yes it’s taking longer, but we are making progress.

Thanks to the grit and resolve of George Osborne, we have cut a quarter off the deficit in the past two years.

25 per cent. 

That’s helped to keep interest rates at record low levels...

...keeping mortgages low.  Leaving more money in your pockets.  Giving businesses more confidence to invest.

Creating more jobs.

And if you don’t believe me, just look at the job creation figures.

Since this government took office, over one million new jobs have been created in the private sector.

That is more – net – in the last two years than Labour managed in ten years.

LABOUR

Now, the Labour politicians who got us into the mess say they have a different way out of it.

They call it Plan B and it goes like this:

We should stop worrying about deficit reduction, borrow more money and spend it to boost the economy.

It sounds so reasonable when you put it like that.

Let me tell you why it’s not.

Right now, while we’ve got a deficit, the people we’re borrowing money from believe that we’ll pay it back - because we’ve set out a tough plan to cut spending and live within our means.

That’s why our interest rates are among the lowest in the world, even though the deficit left to us by Labour was one of the highest in the world.

If we did what Labour want, and watered down our plans, the risk is that the people we borrow money from would start to question our ability and resolve to pay off our debts.

Some may actually refuse to lend us that money.

Others would only lend it to us at higher interest rates.

That would hurt the economy and hit people hard.

If you have a mortgage of £100,000, just a 1 per cent interest rate rise would mean an extra thousand pounds to pay each year.

Labour’s plan to borrow more is actually a massive gamble with our economy and our future.

And it would squander the sacrifices we’ve already made.

We’re here because they spent too much and borrowed too much.

How can the answer be more spending and more borrowing?

I honestly think Labour haven’t learned a single thing.

When they were in office, their answer was always:

Borrow more money.

Now they’re out of office it’s:

Borrow more money.

Whatever the day, whatever the question, whatever the weather it’s: borrow more money.

Borrow, borrow, borrow.

Labour: the party of one notion: more borrowing.

I sometimes wonder if they know anything about the real economy at all.

Did you hear what Ed Miliband said last week about taxes?

He described a tax cut as the government writing people a cheque.

Ed... Let me explain to you how it works.

When people earn money, it’s their money.  

Not the government’s money: their money.

Then, the government takes some of it away in tax.

So, if we cut taxes, we’re not giving them money - we’re taking less of it away.  OK?

And while we’re on that - who suffers when the wealthy businessman goes off to live in Geneva?

Not him – he’s paying about half the tax he would do here…

…it’s those who want to work who suffer because the jobs aren’t being created here.

We promised that those with the broadest shoulders would bear the biggest burden...

…and with us, the rich will pay a greater share of tax in every year of this Parliament than in any one of the thirteen years under Labour.

Under Labour.

We haven’t forgotten, you know.

We remember who spent our golden legacy, who sold our gold…

…who busted our banks, who smothered our businesses…

… who wracked up our debts, who wrecked our economy…

…who ruined our reputation, who risked our future…

…who did this? – Labour did this – and this country should never forget it.

ASPIRATION ECONOMY

To get Britain on the rise we need a whole new economy…

…more enterprising, more aspirational…

…and it’s taking shape already.

We’re getting our entrepreneurial streak back: last year the rate of new business creation was faster than any other year in our history.

Let me repeat that.

The rate at which new businesses started – faster than any year on record.

We’re making things again.

We had a trade surplus in cars last year for the first time in almost 40 years.

And it’s not just the old industries growing, it’s the new.

We’re number one in the world for offshore wind.

Number one in the world for tidal power.

The world’s first green investment bank.

Britain leading; Britain on the rise.  We’re showing we can do it.

Look at the new investment coming in.

In the last two years, Google, Intel, Cisco – the big tech firms – they’ve all set up new bases here.

And we are selling to the world again.

When I became Prime Minister I said to the Foreign Office: those embassies you’ve got…

…turn them into showrooms for our cars, department stores for our fashion, technology hubs for British start-ups.

Yes, you’re diplomats but you need to be our country’s salesforce too.

And look what’s happening.

In just two years, our exports to Brazil are up 25 per cent…

…to China – 40 per cent…

…to Russia – 80 per cent.

There are so many opportunities in this world.

I want to tell you about one business that’s seizing them.

It’s run by a guy called Alastair Lukies.

He and his business partner saw a world with almost 6 billion mobile phones and just 2 billion bank accounts.

They saw the huge gap in the market– and they started a mobile banking firm…

…helping people in the poorest parts of the world manage their money and start new companies.

He’s been with me on trade missions all over the world – and his business is booming.

Back in 2010, when we came to office, they employed about 100 people – now it’s more than 700.

Then they were nowhere in Africa, nowhere in Asia, now they are the global player, with one million new users every month.

So don’t let anyone tell you Britain can’t make it in this world – we’re the most enterprising, buccaneering, creative, dynamic nation on earth.

And to those who question whether it’s right to load up a plane with businesspeople – whether we’re flying to Africa, Indonesia, to the Gulf or China…

…whether we’re taking people from energy, finance, technology or yes – defence …

…I say – there is a global battle out there to win jobs, orders, contracts…

…and in that battle I believe in leading from the front.

To get our economy on the rise there’s a lot more to do – and frankly a lot more fights to be had.

Because there are too many of what I’d call the “yes-but-no” people.

The ones who say “yes, our businesses need to expand…

…but no we can’t reform planning.”

It’s simple.

For a business to expand, it needs places to build.

If it takes too long, they’ll just build elsewhere.

I visited a business the other day that wanted to open a big factory just outside Liverpool.

But the council was going to take so long to approve the decision that they’re now building that factory on the continent – and taking hundreds of jobs with them.

If we’re going to be a winner in this global race we’ve got to beat off this suffocating bureaucracy once and for all.

And then there are those who say “yes of course we need more housing”…

…but “no” to every development – and not in my backyard.

Look - it's OK for my generation. Many of us have got on the ladder.

But you know the average age that someone buys their first home today, without any help for their parents?

33 years old.

We are the party of home ownership – we cannot let this carry on.

So yes – we’re doubling the discount for buying your council house…

…we’re helping first-time buyers get a 95 per cent mortgage…

…but there’s something else we need to do – and that’s accept we need to build more houses in Britain.

There are young people who work hard year after year but are still living at home.

They sit in their childhood bedroom, looking out of the window dreaming of a place of their own.

I want us to say to them – you are our people, we are on your side, we will help you reach your dreams.

WELFARE

If we want our people to rise so Britain can rise, we must tackle welfare.

Here’s two facts for you.

Fact one.  We spend £90 billion a year on welfare for working-age people.

Not pensions. Just welfare for working age people – and that’s one pound in every eight the government spends.

Fact two.  More of our children live in households where nobody works than almost any other nation in Europe.

Let me put it simply.  Welfare isn’t working. And this is a tragedy.

Our reforms are just as profound as those of Beveridge 60 years ago.

He had his great evils to slay. Squalor. Ignorance. Want. Idleness.  And Disease.

Here are mine.

First, unfairness. 

What are hard-working people who travel long distances to get into work and pay their taxes meant to think when they see families – individual families – getting 40, 50, 60 thousand pounds of housing benefit to live in homes that these hard working people could never afford themselves?

It is an outrage. And we are ending it by capping housing benefit.

The second evil: injustice.

Here’s the choice we give our young people today.

Choice one: Work hard. Go to college. Get a job. Live at home. Save up for a flat. And as I’ve just said, that can feel like forever.

Or: Don’t get a job. Sign on. Don’t even need to produce a CV when you do sign on. Get housing benefit. Get a flat. And then don’t ever get a job or you’ll lose a load of housing benefit.

We must be crazy.

So this is what we’ve done.

Now you have to have to sign a contract that says: you do your bit and we’ll do ours.

It requires you to have a real CV and it makes clear: you have to seek work and take work – or you will lose your benefit.

And we’re going to look at ending automatic access to housing benefit for people under 25 too.

If hard-working young people have to live at home while they work and save, why should it be any different for those who don’t?

The next evil: bureaucracy.

Sign on. Sign here. Come back in a fortnight. Repeat as required.

What does this do for the guy who’s been out of work for years, playing computer games all day, living out a fantasy because he hates real life?

For people like him we’re doing something new.

The Work Programme takes the money we’re going to save from getting people off the dole…

…and uses it today to get them into work, with proper training.

We’re spending up to £14,000 on one individual to get them into work – and already almost 700,000 people have got onto the Work Programme.

So let’s be clear: in British politics today it is this party saying no-one is a write-off, no-one is hopeless…

…and with Iain Duncan Smith leading this revolution let this be the party that shows there is ability and promise in everyone.

And just one more thing on welfare.

You know our work experience programme, where we give young people the chance to work in a supermarket, a shop, an office?

Here’s what one union official said about it.

I quote: “The scheme belongs back in the nineteenth century, along with Oliver Twist and the workhouse. It is nothing short of state sponsored slavery…”

Honestly. What an appalling, snobbish attitude to the idea of work.

We’re not sending children up chimneys, we’re giving them a chance.

What’s cruel isn’t asking something of people – it’s when we ask nothing of them.

Work isn’t slavery, it’s poverty that is slavery…

…and again it’s us, the modern compassionate Conservative party, who are the real champions of fighting poverty in Britain today.

EDUCATION

To help people to rise, to help Britain rise, there’s a third – crucial – thing we must do.

Educate all our children.

And I mean really educate them, not just pump up the grades each year.

In maths, in science, in reading, we’ve fallen behind…

…not just behind Germany and Canada but Estonia and Australia too.

This is Britain’s real school report and the verdict is clear: must try harder.

You’ve heard of pushy parents, sharp-elbowing their way to a better education for
their kids?

Well – this is a pushy government.

My approach is very simple.

I’ve got two children in primary school, and I want for your children what I want for mine.

To go to schools where discipline is strict, expectations are high and no excuses are accepted for failure.

I don’t want great schools to just be the preserve of those that can pay the fees, or buy the nice house in the right catchment area…

…I want those schools to be open to every child – in every neighbourhood.

And the reason I know that every child can go to a school like that is because with this Government, more and more new ones are opening.

We’ve heard from some of them this week…

…not just the 79 new free schools – with over a hundred more to come…

…but from some of the more than 2000 academies we’ve helped create – state schools given all the freedoms, and carrying all the high expectations, of private schools.

Yes – that’s my plan – millions of children sent to independent schools…

…independent schools, in the state sector.

That’s the genuine revolution that’s now underway.

The Harris Academy in Peckham has increased the number of students getting five good GCSEs – from 12 percent when it was under local authority control to almost 90 percent now.

The transformation has been astonishing – and the methods have been Conservative.

Smart uniforms, teachers in suits.

Children taught physics, chemistry and biology not soft options.

Children set by ability – with excellence applauded, extra resources for those most in need but no excuses for slacking.

When you see a school like that succeed it prompts the question:

Why can’t every school be that way? Why can’t every child have those chances?

It’s not because parents aren’t ambitious enough – most of these schools are massively over-subscribed.

It’s because the old educational establishment – the left-wing local authorities, the leaders of the teachers unions, the Labour party theorists – stood in the way.

When we saw a badly failing school in Haringey and wanted to turn it into an Academy, the Labour authority, the Labour MP and the teaching unions said no.

When inspirational teachers and parents – in Hammersmith, in Norwich, in Bristol and in Wigan – wanted to open free schools, the left-wing establishment said no.

When we proposed: More pay for good teachers... Getting rid of bad teachers…

…Longer school days to help children learn… Flexible school hours to help parents work…

…More stretching exams for those who’re really able… Less nonsense about health and safety…

…the left-wing establishment have said just one thing: No.

When you ask them: why is a school failing? Why aren’t the children succeeding?

You hear the same thing over and over again.

‘What can you expect with children like these?’ they say.  ‘These children are disadvantaged.’

Of course we want to tackle every disadvantage.

But isn’t the greatest disadvantage of all being written off by those so in hock to a culture of low expectations that they have forgotten what it’s like to be ambitious, to want to transcend your background, to overcome circumstance and succeed on your own terms?

It’s that toxic culture of low expectations – that lack of ambition for every child – which has held this country back.

Well, Michael Gove and I are not waiting for an outbreak of sanity in the headquarters of the NUT or an embrace of aspiration in the higher reaches of Labour before we act.

Because our children can’t wait.

So when people say we should slow down our education reforms – so adults can adjust to them, I say:

I want more free schools, more Academies, more rigorous exams in every school, more expected of every child.

And to all those people who say: he wants children to have the kind of education he had at his posh school…

…I say: yes – you’re absolutely right.

I went to a great school and I want every child to have a great education.

I’m not here to defend privilege, I’m here to spread it.

CONCLUSION

I don’t have a hard luck story.

My dad was a stockbroker from Berkshire.

It’s only when your dad’s gone that you realise – not just how much you really miss them – but how much you really owe them. 

My dad influenced me much more than I ever thought.

He was born with no heels on his feet and legs about a foot shorter than they’re meant to be.  But he never complained - even when he lost both those legs later in life.

Because disability in the 1930s was such a stigma, he was an only child.  Probably a lonely child.  

But Dad was the eternal optimist.  To him the glass was always half full.  Usually with something alcoholic in it.

When I was a boy I remember once going on a long walk with him in the village where we lived, passing the church he supported and the village hall where he took part in interminable parish council meetings. 

He told me what he was most proud of. 

It was simple – working hard from the moment he left school and providing a good start in life for his family. 

Not just all of us, but helping his mum too, when his father ran off.

Not a hard luck story, but a hard work story. 

Work hard.  Family comes first.  But put back in to the community too.

There is nothing complicated about me.

I believe in working hard, caring for my family and serving my country.

And there is nothing complicated about what we need today.

This is still the greatest country on earth.  We showed that again this summer.  22nd in world population.  3rd in the medals table. 

But it’s tough.  These are difficult times.  We’re being tested. 

How will we come through it?  Again, it’s not complicated.

Hard work.  Strong families.  Taking responsibility.  Serving others.

As I said on the steps of No10 Downing Street before walking through that door:  Those who can should, those who can’t we will always help.

The job of this party … of this government … is to help to bring out the best in this country.  Because at our best we’re unbeatable.

We know Britain can deliver because we’ve seen it time and again.

This is the country that … invented the computer, defeated the Nazis, started the web, saw off the slave trade, unravelled DNA and fought off every invader for a thousand years.

We even persuaded the Queen to jump out of a helicopter to make the rest of the world smile …. there is absolutely nothing we cannot do.

Can we make Britain the best place in the world to start a business, grow a business and help that business take on the world and win?  Yes.

Can we – the people who invented the welfare state in the first place – turn it into something that rewards effort, helps keep families together and really helps the poorest with a new start in life.  Yes. 

Can we take our schools and turn out students that will take on the brightest in the world?  Yes. Of course we can.

Let us here in this hall, here in this government, together in this country make this pledge – let’s build an aspiration nation…

…let’s get Britain on the rise.

Deficit, paid down.  Tough decisions, taJken.  Growth, fired up.  Aspiration, backed all the way. 

We know what it takes to win … to win in the tough world of today …. to win for all our people … to win for Britain.  So let’s get out there and do it.

 

David Cameron delivering his conference speech. Photograph: Getty Images
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How Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election

The revolt against the leader transformed him from an incumbent back into an insurgent. 

On the evening of 12 July, after six hours of talks, Jeremy Corbyn emerged triumphantly from Labour’s headquarters. “I’m on the ballot paper!” he told supporters gathered outside. “We will be campaigning on all the things that matter.”

The contest that Corbyn’s opponents had sought desperately to avoid had begun. Neither a vote of no confidence by 81 per cent of Labour MPs, nor 65 frontbench resignations had persuaded him to stand down. Days of negotiations led by Tom Watson had failed (“For years I’ve been told that I’m a fixer. Well, I tried to fix this and I couldn’t,” Labour’s deputy leader sorrowfully told the parliamentary party). The rebels’ last hope was that the National Executive Committee would force Corbyn to reseek nominations. After being backed by just 40 colleagues in the confidence vote, both sides knew that the leader would struggle to achieve 51 signatures.

But by 18-14, the NEC ruled that Corbyn would be automatically on the ballot (“Watson, Watson, what’s the score?” chanted jubilant aides in the leader’s office). After withstanding a 16-day revolt, Corbyn appeared liberated by the prospect of a summer of campaigning. His confidence prefigured the outcome two months later.

Corbyn did not merely retain the leadership - he won by a greater margin than last time (with 61.8 per cent of the vote to last year's 59.5 per cent) and triumphed among all three sections: party members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters. The rebels had hoped to narrow his mandate and win among at least one group: they did neither. Far from being a curse for Corbyn, the contest proved to be a blessing. 

***

The day before the pivotal NEC meeting, Angela Eagle, who had been preparing to stand for months, launched her leadership bid. The former shadow business secretary was admired by MPs for her experience, tenacity, and economic acumen. Her trade union links and soft left background were further cited in favour of her candidacy.

But after an underwhelming launch, which clashed with Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Conservative contest (leaving Eagle calling questions from absent journalists), MPs gravitated towards Owen Smith.

Like Eagle, Smith hailed from the party’s soft left and had initially served under Corbyn (two prerequisites in the rebels’ eyes). But unlike her, the former shadow and work pensions secretary did not vote for the Iraq war (having entered parliament in 2010) or the 2015 Syria intervention. “It looks like the war party,” a senior Corbynite said of Eagle’s campaign launch with Hilary Benn. Many Labour MPs feared the same. With the left-leaning Lisa Nandy having ruled herself out, only the ambitious Smith met the criteria.

“I’d been in hospital for two days with my brother, who was unwell, in south Wales,” he recalled when I interviewed him.  “I came out having literally been in A&E at Cardiff Heath hospital for 29 hours, looking after him, to have my phone light up with 30, 40, 50 colleagues, MPs and members, ringing up saying ‘there’s going to be a contest, Angela Eagle has thrown her hat into the ring, you should do likewise.’ And at that point, on the Wednesday night, I started ringing people to test opinion and found that there was a huge amount of support for me.”

On 19 July, after Smith won 90 MP/MEP nominations to Eagle’s 72, the latter withdrew in favour of the Welshman. A week after the Conservatives achieved their second female prime minister, Labour’s 116-year record of all-male leaders endured. Though Smith vowed that Eagle would be “at my right hand throughout this contest”, she went on to appear at just one campaign event.

Corbyn’s challenger was embraced by MPs as a “clean skin”, untainted by service during the New Labour years. But Smith’s non-parliamentary past was swiftly - and ruthlessly - exploited by his opponents. His time at the US drugs firm Pfizer was cited as evidence of his closeness to big business. Corbyn’s supporters also seized on interviews given by Smith as a by-election candidate in 2006.

The man pitching to the left was found to have defended Tony Blair (suggesting that they differed only over the Iraq war), supported private sector involvement in the NHS and praised city academies. “I'm not someone, frankly, who gets terribly wound up about some of the ideological nuances,” he told Wales Online. Such lines were rapidly disseminated by Corbyn supporters through social media.

“Getting out early and framing Owen was crucial,” a Corbyn source told me. A Smith aide echoed this assessment: “It helped secure their base, it took a load of people out of contention.”

Throughout the campaign, Smith would struggle to reconcile his past stances with his increasingly left-wing programme: opposing private provision in the NHS, returning academy schools to local authority control, banning zero-hours contracts and imposing a wealth tax of 1 per cent. “It was easy for us to go for the jugular over his background when he portrayed himself as a left candidate,” a Corbyn source said.

Smith insisted that the charge of opportunism was unmerited. “To be honest, my opponents have extrapolated rather a lot in an attempt to brand me as a ‘Blairite wolf in sheep’s clothing,’” he told me in August. “Well, I’m nothing of the sort, I’ve always been a democratic socialist and I always will be.” He added: “I’m someone who’s been surrounded by people who’ve been on the left of the Labour movement all their lives. It should come as no surprise that I’ve come out of that background and I’m pretty red. Because I am.”

But a former shadow cabinet colleague said that Smith did not stand out as “a radical” in meetings. “The only time that I remember him becoming really animated was over further tax-raising powers for Scotland and the implications for Wales.”

As well as Smith’s ambiguous past, Corbyn’s allies believe the breadth of his political coalition hindered him from the start. “He was trying to bring together Blairites, Brownites and every other -ite in between,” a campaign source said. “That was never going to hold, we knew that and from the moment there were splits it was easy to point out.”

Jon Trickett, the shadow business secretary and one of Corbyn’s early supporters, told me: “They tried to pretend that there was no distinction between them and Jeremy on policy grounds, they tried to narrow down the areas of difference to electability. But, frankly, it didn’t seem credible since some of the people behind it were absolutely ideologically opposed to Jeremy. Peter Mandelson and people like that.”

A frequently expressed charge was that Smith’s left-wing pledges would be overturned by Blairite figures if he won. John McGeechan, a 22-year-old postgraduate student who joined Labour after “self-indulgent, self-serving MPs initiated their corridor coup”, told me of Smith: “He’s just another mealy-mouthed careerist who says whatever he thinks is going to get him elected. I don’t believe at all that he means what he says about creating a radical socialist government given that he’s got the backing of Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair, people who’ve disagreed with Corbyn on pretty much all his socialist policies. I don’t believe that he’s going to stand up to these people.”

Whether believable or not, Smith’s programme showed how Corbyn had shifted Labour’s centre of gravity radically leftwards - his original aim in June 2015.

***

On the night Corbyn made the leadership ballot, the rebels still found cause for hope. Unlike in 2015, the NEC imposed a freeze date of six months on voting (excluding 130,000 new members) and increased the registered supporter fee from £3 to £25 (while reducing the sign-up period to two days). “It’s game on!” a senior figure told me. By narrowing the selectorate, Corbyn’s opponents hoped to achieve a path to victory. With fewer registered supporters (84 per cent of whom voted for Corbyn last year), they believed full party members and affiliated trade unionists could carry Smith over the line.

But when 183,000 paid £25 to vote, their expectations were confounded. Far from being “game on”, it looked to many rebels like game over. Once again, Corbyn’s opponents had underestimated the left’s recruiting capacity. Smith’s lack of name recognition and undistinctive pitch meant he could not compete.

Alongside the main contest were increasingly fractious legal battles over voting rights. On 28 July, the high court rejected Labour donor Michael Foster’s challenge to Corbyn’s automatic inclusion on the ballot. Then on 8 August, a judge ruled that the party had wrongly excluded new members from voting, only for the decision to be overturned on appeal.

In the view of Corbyn’s allies, such legal manevoures unwittingly aided him. “They turned Jeremy, who was an incumbent, back into an insurgent,” Trickett told me. “The proponents of the challenge made it seem like he was the underdog being attacked by the establishment.”

Smith, who repeatedly framed himself as the “unity candidate”, struggled to escape the shadow of the “corridor coup”. That many of his supporters had never accepted Corbyn’s leadership rendered him guilty by association.

“The coup had an enormous galvanising effect and an enormous politicising effect,” a Corbyn source told me. “For a great number of people who supported Jeremy last year, there was a feeling, ‘well, we’ve done the work, that’s happened, now over to him.’ What the coup meant for a lot of people was that this isn’t about Jeremy Corbyn, this is a people’s movement, which we all need to lead.” The Corbyn campaign signed up 40,000 volunteers and raised £300,000 in small donations from 19,000 people (with an average donation of £16). Against this activist army, their rivals’ fledgling effort stood no chance.

“At the launch rally, we had 12 simultaneous events going on round the country, livestreamed to each other,” a Corbyn source said. “We had a lot of communication with people who were big in the Sanders campaign. In the UK context, it’s trailblazing.”

On 12 August, after previously equivocating, Smith ruled out returning to the shadow cabinet under Corbyn. “I've lost confidence in you. I will serve Labour on the backbenches,” he declared at a hustings in Gateshead. In the view of Corbyn’s team, it was a fatal error. “He shot apart his whole unity message,” a source said.

Smith, who initially offered Corbyn the post of party president, was rarely booed more than when he lamented Labour’s divisions. As one of the 172 MPs who voted against the leader, he was regarded as part of the problem, rather than the solution. By the end, Smith was reduced to insisting “I wasn’t in favour of there being a challenge” - a statement that appeared absurd to most.

As well as his leftist credentials and unifying abilities, Smith’s other main boast was his competence and articulacy. “HIs USP was that he was this media-savvy guy,” a Corbyn source said. “As a result, he threw himself up for any and every media opportunity and made tons of gaffes. We just made sure people were aware of them.”

The most enduring gaffe came early in the campaign, on 27 July, when he spoke of wanting mto “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”. Though Smith initially defended his “robust rhetoric” (“you’ll be getting that from me”), by the afternoon his campaign had apologised. What was explained as a “rugby reference” dogged them for weeks. “It played into the hands of how Corbyn wanted to depict us,” a Smith source told me. “It was really hard to shake off.”

More unforced errors followed. Smith suggested getting Isis “round the table”, in anticipation, many believed, of Corbyn agreeing. But the Labour leader baulked at the proposal: “No, they are not going to be round the table”. Corbyn’s communications team, more organised and agile than in 2015, denounced Smith’s remarks as “hasty and ill-considered”. As with “smashed”, the Labour challenger had achieved rare cut-through - but for the wrong reasons.

Smith’s rhetorical looseness became a recurring problem. At a rally on 23 August, he appeared to refer to Corbyn as a “lunatic”. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, he said of meeting his wife: “1,200 boys, three girls and I pulled Liz. So I must have something going on. That must be leadership.”

Earlier in the campaign, Smith’s team denied that the candidate referred to the size of his penis when he quipped of his height: "5ft 6. 29 inches - inside leg!” The guffaws from his supporters suggested otherwise.

We used to have a gaffe counter,” a Corbyn source told me. “I think it got up to 30 by the end.”

Smith’s team, meanwhile, despaired at how the Labour leader’s own missteps failed to dent him. The discovery that Corbyn had in fact secured a seat on a Virgin train, contrary to initial impressions, did little lasting damage. “It’s priced in, the bar is much lower for him,” a Smith source complained.

Incorrect claims, such as Labour being level in the polls before the coup attempt and Corbyn giving 122 speeches during the EU referendum campaign, were believed by many of his supporters. “How do you rebut bullshit?” a Smith aide asked. “If you respond, it becomes a story.”

So frequently had Labour MPs condemned their leader that extraordinary charges were soon forgotten. On 22 August, shadow business minister Chi Onwurah wrote in the New Statesman that Corbyn’s treatment of her and Thangam Debbonaire could constitute “racial discrimination”.

If this had been any of my previous employers in the public and private sectors Jeremy might well have found himself before an industrial tribunal for constructive dismissal, probably with racial discrimination thrown in,” she argued. But within a day, the story had moved on.  

For Smith, fleeting momentum was achieved through significant endorsements. On 10 August, the GMB backed his campaign after becoming the only trade union to ballot its members. The following week, Labour’s most senior elected politician, Sadiq Khan, endorsed Smith. Unlike Andy Burnham, the London mayor believed he could not remain neutral during this profound schism. Smith was subsequently also backed by the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale. Neil Kinnock and Ed Miliband trumpeted his cause. Yet such declarations counted for little. “It’s like the Remain campaign and the Archbishop of Canterbury,” one Smith ally told me, suggesting that Labour members, like Leave voters, ”weren’t listening” to such grandees.

But in the view of Corbyn’s team, the rebels profoundly “underestimated” their opponent. “He’s a nice guy but he also has an inner steel and won't flinch from a challenge. The Obi-Wan Kenobi comparison is very accurate when you work up close with him. He’s also extremely intelligent and has a great grasp and retention of detail. It showed in the debates.”

“I have to say, I felt pretty sorry for Owen at several points,” another Corbyn source reflected. “Whatever it was, his ambition or being pushed into it, it didn’t seem like it was the right time for him. He hadn’t worked out what he was about and why that fitted with the times.”

***

Those Labour MPs who long warned that an early challenge to Corbyn would prove futile have been vindicated. “Party members are always loyal to the incumbent,” a senior source astutely noted. In the case of Corbyn, a lifelong campaigner, who many contended was “never given a chance”, this traditional fealty was intensified.

“Most of the people backing and funding him didn’t think Owen was going to win,” a Corbyn source said. “Their aim was, one, to reduce Jeremy’s mandate and, secondly, to map the selectorate.”

Having won a second leadership contest - an unprecedented achievement for the Labour left - the leader’s supporters insist their ambitions do not end here. “We’ve got to think incredibly seriously about how we win a general election in a totally changed landscape,” a Corbyn source told me. “This campaign has been showing how to do it.” But a Smith aide warned that it was a “massive strategic error” to make electability, rather than principle, the defining test of Corbyn. The leader, he suggested, could withstand a general election defeat provided he simply affirmed his values.

Beyond regarding a split as worthless, Labour MPs are divided on how to proceed. Some want another leadership challenge as early as next year. Rather than seeking to narrow the selectorate, they speak of recruiting hundreds of thousands of new members to overpower the left. “There are lots of people out there who want a credible, electable, centre-left proposition and we have not given them enough of a reason to sign up,” a former shadow cabinet minister told me. “Who has an offer and the charisma to be able to bring in new people? That has to be the question the next time round.”

Others believe that backbenchers should follow Thumper’s law: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  A senior MP argued that MPs should “just shut up” and “let Jeremy crack on with it.” The imperative, he said, was to avoid MPs “taking the blame for us getting thumped in a snap election”. Some are prepared to move beyond neutrality to outright support by serving under Corbyn.

The Labour left and their most recalcitrant opponents both confront challenges of electability. The former must demonstrate a path to victory despite Corbyn’s subterranean poll ratings. The latter, who boast so often of their superior appeal, must face a remorseless truth. Until they are electable in the party, they will never be electable in the country.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.