It is good to have our conference back in the north of England. All through the last parliament we were told we would never make progress in the north, but we went into the election with 19 MPs in the north and we came out of the election with 43.
Let us pay tribute to everyone in Campaign North who made that possible, playing our full part in giving our party its biggest gains in eighty years.
And now we are embarked on the most difficult, challenging and urgent task of our lives: to give the strong leadership this country used to lack through the tough times we cannot avoid, to restore Britain's influence in the world when it was declining, to create sound finances when we have been left the burden of paying more than £120million of interest every single day, in short to take a country that Gordon Brown and all the Eds who run the Labour Party had had their hands on for 13 years and make it strong and confident again, and that is what we are determined to do.
Imagine for a moment what it would have been like if we hadn't won the election, if we had made no coalition, and if Gordon Brown had somehow managed to cling on at the head of a cabinet which, judging by Alistair Darling's memoirs, were as desperate to turf him out as we were.
I know it's difficult; it is the stuff of nightmares; it makes it hard to close your eyes. I know it 's hard to think of a government so deeply divided, whose senior members were at each other's throats, that had lost all sense of direction, that brought this country to the brink of bankruptcy and that, without John Prescott, was no longer even funny.
But do it. It could have happened. I remember as we negotiated the coalition Gordon Brown squatting in Downing Street, insisting that losing the election didn't really mean he had to leave. If he had held his seats here in the north he could have stayed.
And then one of two things would have happened. Either a re-elected Labour Government, despite all the insistence that all was well, that something could always be had for nothing, that deficits could go on growing without end, would have nevertheless embarked on major reductions in government spending - but without having had the honesty to say in the election that that was what would happen. Such an event, compounding incompetence with dishonesty, would have been the final straw for any faith this country could have in the probity, trustworthiness, and character of political leadership.
It is difficult enough to persuade some people of the need to make savings even having told them the truth. Imagine how impossible it would have been for a re-elected Labour Government, which would have had to do so on the basis of a giant deception.
Or, they would not have set out to make these savings. They would have carried on as before, piling the debt ever higher, letting the deficits run out of control, telling the country that it could live for ever on money it had not earned. Everyone can now see, as they look around Europe, exactly where that leads. There is no doubt that a continuation of the last government's policies would have led to a sharp loss of confidence in this country's creditworthiness. Yes, Britain, the home of finance and trade, the country that is pre-eminent in financial services, that exports more than a quarter of its national product, that relies so much on confidence that money is sound and debts will be paid - Britain would have lost the confidence of international markets with all that would have meant for interest rates, jobs and any plan for recovery.
It might have been an appropriate end to Gordon Brown's monumental mismanagement of our national finances, but it would have been the ruin of this country.
Now you can stop imagining; you can open your eyes from the nightmare, and be sure that when we worked so hard on election day to change the government of Britain we did one of the best day's work in our lives.
The solution to excessive borrowing and debt cannot be more borrowing and debt, and now we have a Government that knows it. We have a Prime Minister who provides strong leadership and a Chancellor who provides the honest truth. We have a coalition that came together in the national interest rather than ministers who clung on in their party interest.
And I say to those who are protesting outside here today: the money you were promised by the last Labour Government never existed, it was never there, and we have been left with the task of telling you the truth. A government betrays instead of serving its people if it allows them to live on a delusion and that we will not do. And it is wrong, unfair and irresponsible to leave a massive debt for the next generation to deal with instead of facing up to it now.
Our resolve to deal with this is and will remain unwavering.
Labour's approach, as we saw last week in Liverpool, will remain weak and wandering. Their shadow Chancellor was Gordon Brown's right hand man. And their leader was right hand man to the right hand man. These are the men who thought that running up a deficit bigger in relation to our national income than that of Greece was actually a good idea.
I thought we might try this afternoon to identify the most absurd moment of the Labour Party Conference. There are quite a few to choose from, so make yourselves comfortable: this may take some time.
Was it when Harriet Harman said 'we all want David, er, er, Ed elected as Prime Minister at the next election? Thank you, Harriet, yes, we all want David as Prime Minister after the next election.
Or was it when Ed Miliband, having said Labour's fightback would begin in Scotland didn't even know who was running for the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party?
Or was it when he announced he could distinguish between good businesses and bad businesses and was going to tax them all accordingly, which would be quite an achievement in a party where they can't even remember their own names?
Or was it when they announced a cap on tuition fees, but were then forced to admit this policy would expire before the next election so was not really a policy at all?
No, the most absurd moment was so absurd, it beats all of these things. It was when Ed Miliband pretended he was against the 'something for nothing' culture, when the truth is that after running up the biggest debts in history, making election promises that could not be kept, and even now opposing our cap on immigration, opposing our cap on welfare benefits and opposing our reforms of housing benefit, and opposing practically every measure we have taken to control public spending, the Labour Party are the something for nothing culture.
I know what it is like to lead a party fresh to opposition. And I know I made some mistakes. But whatever you do you have to tell your party when it needs to change, as we have done. Labour's leaders won't do that - they are still insisting that what they did to our economy was right all along, even though they are the only people left in the country still under that delusion.
You have to bring your party up to date with clear ideas that you push through. Ed Miliband set out to get rid of union block votes, and was stopped - by, guess what, block votes. He wanted a general secretary of his own choice, but the unions went for their choice, just as they chose, well, him. Now he is too frightened to tell the unions who pay for his party that it is not in the national interest for them to strike.
Labour in opposition has become a by-word for wavering capitulation. No one who is too weak to control his own party or change his party, or to tell unions it will be damaging to our economy to launch politically motivated strikes, has a chance of being strong enough, above all in these tough times, to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
It doesn't matter if they make a mess of the Labour Party. We are not going to let them back to make another mess of our country.
And as an opposition leader you have to take a stand on some of the big issues. Whatever I've been wrong about, when some of us spoke thirteen years ago of the deep flaws in the euro we were right with every single word. In keeping public opinion against the idea of Britain joining it despite much derision, we, even in opposition, performed an important service for Britain.
If we were to waver now in our determination to restore Britain's finances, in the face of protests or unprincipled opposition, we would slide down the same slope of falling market confidence and rising debt payments now all too familiar in other nations.
I told you in 1998 of what would happen with the euro, and now I will tell you what I regard as just as powerful a truth about the western economies. Faced as we are with a new situation, in which growth is not automatic, in which people will all the more need skills, and businesses outstanding products, and economies to be open and free, some western nations will make the transition, will reinvent themselves successfully, and some will not.
Those who do make it will be those who make the most of their human capital, and bring out the best in inventive and hard-working people. And to do that this country can no longer afford a tax system that drives businesses away, an education system that leaves millions underperforming and a welfare system that traps millions more in dependency and despair.
This is the immense importance of George Osborne's goal of giving us the most competitive tax system in the G20, of Michael Gove's transformation of state schools, and of Iain Duncan-Smith's determination to make sure that it will always pay to be at work.
This is why it was so vital to form a government in the national interest, even with our longstanding opponents like the Liberal Democrats. One and a half years in, our forming of a coalition has been more than vindicated.
Yes, it is different from governing on our own, and yes it means we all have some policies we cannot implement. Our distinct identities and beliefs remain.
But faced with a necessary but difficult decision over tuition fees, Nick Clegg stuck with it. In May, the British people affirmed by an overwhelming majority and with their usual good sense that first past the post is the best way of running our democracy and put to rest schemes of playing with the rules for a generation. He stuck with our agreement all the same. We should always have the generosity of spirit to recognise the contribution he makes to turning this country around.
It is early days, but never forget to remind people of what we have achieved already. Despite all the constraints we have inherited, we've lifted a million low earners out of tax, frozen council tax, cut corporation tax, restored the earnings link for pensions, created a fund for cancer drugs, extended free child care to all disadvantaged two year-olds, given patients more control over their care, and doubled the operational allowance for our brave Armed Forces.
We've published transparent government accounts, passed the Academies Act to give schools freedom and drive up standards, and passed the European Union Act so that any future treaty that transfers power away from the British people requires their permission in a national referendum.
And we have done all this while moving Britain away from the financial danger zone.
And now we intend to go on, to be the most pro-growth government in living memory: creating the most competitive tax system, making Britain the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business, cutting red tape that costs businesses £350 million a year, establishing 21 enterprise zones, creating the largest number of apprenticeships this country has ever seen, boosting vocational training and radically reforming welfare to get people off benefits and into work.
This week we are announcing radical plans to boost the construction of new and affordable homes, to change employment laws that discourage the taking on of new staff, and other measures to encourage growth and enterprise.
We will do all this, to make sure this country is one of those that does reinvent successfully its ability to grow and prosper in the twenty-first century, while we also play our full part in tackling the immense challenges of world affairs.
I will speak about foreign policy on Wednesday, but whether we are addressing deep poverty in Africa with sound development aid, or resisting the spread of nuclear weapons or combating terrorism, or seeking international agreement on climate change, we have already shown that this government will always be at the forefront.
We will spare no effort in the coming years to bring stability to Afghanistan and peace to the Middle East. We spoke in opposition of liberal conservatism in foreign affairs, of combining our resolute support for human freedom with a respect for the culture of other nations, and those beliefs are exactly what we have acted on in the Arab Spring, most decisively of course in Libya.
That would not have been possible, nor would anything of which I have spoken have been possible without the strength, determination and decisiveness of our Prime Minister, David Cameron. He is always open to discussion, but equally always ensures a decision is made. Never neglectful of the views of others, he is equally never afraid to make a stand. He has a strong sense of what is right, and brings a driving energy and ambition to achieving it. We are fortunate at such a difficult time, that truly we have leadership for a better future.
And so let us show this week in Manchester that with that strong leadership at the head of a united team, we are tackling the long term issues which will determine the future of this country. Throughout our history as a party it has always fallen to us to restore sound finances at home and confidence abroad. With faith in the common sense of the British people, confidence in our belief in enterprise and opportunity, and an unwavering resolution to see the country through tough times, we should have no doubt that we can do so again.