"A fairer, greener and more united Britain": Watch or read Rory's speech in full
Watch or read Rory's full speech from the campaign launch.
For weeks now I’ve been travelling around this extraordinary country. Derry to Derby, from Edinburgh to Peterborough, Woking, Warrington, Wigan. And everywhere I’ve been I’ve been listening to you. And what I’ve heard again and again, is that what people feel they need in this country, what they need in this country is leadership.
And people are asking why at this moment I wish to take up this poisoned chalice. I keep hearing it again and again, “Why on earth would you want to be Prime Minister at this moment, what a terrible time to be Prime Minister?” But it is exactly now, it is exactly now that we have to make a choice, a choice of two different paths in our country.
We stand at a crossroads. On the one hand, is a choice of something that I don’t want to call populism; I don’t want to call it populism because I believe in people. The reason I’m here, the reason I listen to you, the reason I talk to you is that I believe in listening to people and talking to people. I believe in people. I hate the fact that this word populism has been taken by the other side.
I think the choice is instead a choice on the one hand of fairy story and on the other hand of the energy of prudence, of seriousness, of realism that is going to make this so much a better, so much a happier country. And although I’m going to speak today almost entirely about what I love about this country, almost entirely about the ways in which this country can be so, so much better than it currently is; I’m going to start with that great, prancing elephant in the room, in this big circus tent. I’m speaking not of the leading leadership contender here. The great prancing elephant in the tent is of course this vision that I don’t call populism, but I call negativism.
Summed up in that phrase “no deal.” But it’s not just no to a deal, it’s no to everything. It’s no to Europe. It’s no to trade. It’s no to Parliament. It’s no to reality. And we’re not a “no” country. This country’s greatness, your greatness, in your individual lives, in your families, in your businesses and the charities you work in is founded not on the word ‘no’ but on the word ‘yes’. And it’s a yes that’s founded in reality, because underlying all these stories that the other candidates are putting forward, that masquerade as optimism, is a failure. A failure to grasp reality.
What they are telling you is fairy stories. They’re giving you exactly what I read every evening to my two year old and my four year old in bed, if I’m ever released from parliament in time, and it’s always the same story. Sometimes the villain is the Gruffalo, at this particular moment the villain appears to be the elites and the establishment and Europe. But the story’s the same. The story is there as some benighted victim. There is some great scapegoat who is responsible for our ills and there is some secret, magical path that you’re going to be led on through this great prophet who’s going to lead you to the uplands. But this prophet is not a real prophet. It is the prophet of negativity. It is a prophet of the no. It is the great word of all the false prophets through the ages. Because in fact the way that you change the world is being honest to the way the world is.
The way that you change your family, the way you change your business, the way in which we change this country is to begin by loving this place. Loving it in its reality. Loving it in its sense, its deep sense, loving it in all its sense of mystery, of difficulty, of diversity, of difference; no one of us in this audience, of course, is remotely the same, locked in our brains is millions of different views. And that is the energy of this country.
And that energy, that energy of action begins with an energy of prudence. A very unfashionable word, but then I’m a Conservative, a very unfashionable thing at the moment. And I’m a Conservative because I believe in prudence. One of the fundamental things that distinguishes my campaign from the other campaigns is that I do not believe in promising what we cannot deliver. And I do not believe in pretending that you’re going to get some new deal out of Europe before the 31st October, I don’t believe in pretending that there is something called no deal that you’re going to be able to drive through parliament. I don’t believe in promising money that we don’t have. I don’t believe in the 84 billion pounds worth of tax cuts that other candidates have already offered in this race. I do not believe in pledging 42 billion pounds to a single department. I believe in living within our means. I believe in being honest about the fact if we are sensible, and thoughtful and serious as a country there will be some more money to spend. I believe in being honest about the fact that my priorities are education, our infrastructure, broadband, productivity, our rail lines in the north. But that we can only spend that money if we have that money because we live in reality, not in fairy tales. So first, the energy of prudence.
Secondly what is lacking in this debate and in our politics is the energy of shame. We need a sense of shame. We need to feel shame. Our politics must begin from a sense of shame. We must begin by looking at things and saying “this is not good enough.” The broken windows in our prisons are not good enough. The piles of garbage in our prisons are not good enough. The drugs flowing into our prisons aren’t good enough. When I see an 88 year old woman looking after a doubly incontinent 93 year old man it is not good enough.
And embedded in that sense of shame is a very simple, very powerful question which if I am lucky enough to be Prime Minister, lucky enough to be your Prime Minister - because I would be your Prime Minister not just the Conservative Party’s Prime Minister. Not just the Members of Parliaments’ Prime Minister but your Prime Minister, I would have one simple question put above every desk of every civil servant in this country which is, “would you be proud to put your mother or your brother or yourself in this hospital, in this school, in this prison?” Would you be proud to bring someone from another country and say this is Britain? This is the way we that we do things in this country, do you feel a sense of pride or do you feel a sense of shame?
Which brings me to the next energy which is the energy of seriousness. We are a serious country. We should be a serious country but being serious means being serious about our national security. Being serious about our intelligence services. Being serious about our National Security Council. Being serious about what it means to change the world and being dignified, being dignified in our government, being dignified in our parliament, by reaching out to the world and saying, “Come, see our chamber, see our debates.” Sit with me in the National Security Council and challenge every country on earth to match our level of intelligence, our level of integrity, our level of seriousness.
The next energy which we need to find is the energy of action. Leadership is about listening. Leadership is about vision. But, above all, leadership is about getting things done. leadership is about doing things, it’s about action. It's not good enough – and I felt this when I was Prisons Minister - it’s not good enough to sit around the table and debate great abstract questions of prison policy when your prison is filthy. Which is why my philosophy of action, what I loved about working with prison officers, what I loved about working with prison governors is it isn't about the talk, it's about sorting it out. It's not just about my standing up and saying that violence in prisons is unacceptable. It’s 32,000 people a year are being assaulted in our prisons. 10,000 prison officers a year are being assaulted in prisons, but that I am going to sort it out. And sorting it out means exactly that. I'm going to resign if I do not reduce the violence in these prisons. I'm going to set up an opps room. I'm going to put the ten most challenged prisons up on the wall. I'm going to bring in a brigadier, bring it here and we're going to sit down once a week and go through them. Number by number, line by line until these prisons are sorted out. I'm going to invite, and this is what I did, the prison governors up to my house in Scotland so we could spend two days talking, walking, going through those prisons. I spent a day at Wormwood Scrubs shadowing a prison officer to see, from morning through to night, exactly what happens when the cell inspection takes place. Exactly whether you have checked the call bell, the nightlight, the daylight, the screw, the bolt, the skin, and in the end what we achieved, it was not about me. The fact that I didn’t need to resign, the fact that we reduced person violence by 16% over 3 months was not about me, it was the prison officers. It was about the governors there in Leeds, in Wormwood Scrubs, in Wealdstone, in Humber, in Hull. Dedicated public servants, dedicated public servants that have to be teachers, mentors, psychiatrists. Who have to cut people down who have tried to hang themselves, who have to put up with abuse every day, and were still working to change people's lives and protect the public. Because in the end this country is about action.
Now that then comes to my final point about energy. The energy to change this country is also about conviction. Conviction. In the end the problem with a lot of these candidates I feel as though their policies will be generated either from a think tank or from some kind of focus group. When I say to you I want a country to be fairer and be more united it is because I feel these things. But why do I want it to be fairer? I want it to be fairer because I had to sit there with an 80-year-old woman who watched her daughter murdered and raped in front of her and would then be raped herself by somebody that had been released from one of our prisons. That's why I want this country to be fairer, I want this country to be fairer because of that 88 year old woman looking up at the 93 year old doubly incontinent man, I want this country to be fairer because the face I see of a mentally ill, agoraphobic person opening the door to me. When I knock on that door a sense of despair for the sense of a country that has no place for something. I want this country to be greener because I love this landscape. I began to love this country through its soil. The reason I want to plant 100 million more trees is that I myself have planted 5000 trees. Stuck my hand in the earth, teased out the roots, squeezed into the soil, tubed it, protected it, staked it. And if I say to farmers who work with me to get 100 million more trees in the ground over four months, that's because I know how to plant a tree.
And if I say this country should be more united it is of course in part because I sat there in Iraq, as indeed did other people in this room because I'm very, very lucky here today, that I have people in this room who served with the military when I was in Iraq and served with civilians in Iraq and like me lived through division, lived through conflict between tribes like Sunni and Shia. There are people here who served with me in the Balkans who saw the conflicts between Serbs and Bosnians. But for me I believe in unity because I’m a Scot, I represent an English border constituency. Were the United Kingdom to break apart I would, quite literally, have no country. I would have no idea who I was representing. I would have no idea what my identity was. So when I said I wanted this country to be green, to be fair, to be united, this isn’t something that’s come from a focus group or from a policy paper, it come from conviction.
I have been thinking recently about my father. Because it’s been the D-Day celebrations and I went with my father to the Normandy beaches. And my father was an extraordinary man. He was a comical exaggerated Scottish figure, swathed himself in tartan, even in Vietnam he wore tartan trousers. This is a man who organised sword dances in Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. And this is a man whose passionate love for the United Kingdom seemed to be largely based on the fact that he liked teasing the English. He would’ve been heartbroken if there had been no English to tease. He was also a man deeply, deeply Conservative, deeply romantic about his family and his regiment. I remember him flying halfway around the world to see me during my very, very brief period as a young officer in the Black Watch to watch me marching on a Remembrance Day in the rain in Market Drayton in Shropshire. I remember him flying again halfway round the world later in my life when I was based with a military unit in the Balkans, trying to offer his help, slightly unsuccessfully, to help us catch a war criminal. He was then 80 years old. That’s the kind of man he was. But what I remember most standing on the Normandy beaches with him was his anger with his commanding office. And that surprised me because he loved the army, he loved his regiment and yet he was absolutely furious and I'm going to finish with this because it sums up what I'm trying to talk about: the choice that we face.
The choice that we face between one way of seeing the world and another, between one view of Britain and another and one vision of reality and another. My father had been in battle school structure. For those of you who will not remember that, it meant he spent a lot of time inspired by General Montgomery going round throwing whiz bangs at people, making them learn how to fire and manoeuvre. So fire and manoeuvre means to hide in the hedgerows. You crawl all along the ground to provide covering fire and we’d move with smaller units. And they arrived on the Normandy beaches and his commanding officer on their first advance against the Germans announced that they were going to have none of that and said that they were going march. Line abreast across the field as though they were at Waterloo, straight into the German machine guns. The entire company was killed or wounded before they were a quarter of the way across that field.
And I realised from that why it is my father always said that courage was not the opposite of cowardice but that courage was the golden mean between cowardice and foolhardiness. That courage drew, like all the best politics of Britain, like all the best politics of the Conservative Party, out of an unflinching ability to face reality. Courage is about using the hedgerows. And in the end if I have one message to you on the choice that we are all going to face as Members of Parliament, as members of the Conservative Party, and ultimately If I’m lucky enough, lucky enough to stand in a General Election and get the vote of people in this room who are not members of the Conservative Party the choice is quite simple. It's a choice between fantasy and reality, between a fairy story and a concrete idea of what it means to embody the dignity of this country.
It's a choice of who you want to have as your leader. Our country is embodied in its leaders. Your reputation, your pride, your courage is embodied in your leaders. There was a time when the country was known for King Cnut’s attitude towards the reality of a rising flood. There was a time when this country was known for King John's attitude to parliament. There was a time this country was known for Henry the Eighth’s attitude to family values. But there was a time also when the country was known for the dignity and seriousness of Gladstone, when this country has known the height of the Second World War for the astonishing, exuberant genius of Winston Churchill. And for the quiet dignity with which Attlee conducted himself in the years after the war. And in your choice you will be making a choice between one vision of Britain and another.
And the vision that I want to bring you with me to achieve, is a vision of a leader who listens, of a leader who will walk. I promise you through every county in the United Kingdom, listening and walking, listening and walking, day by day and sharing with you the energy that comes, the energy that comes from prudence, the energy that comes from shame, the energy that comes from seriousness, the energy that comes from action, the energy that comes from conviction. The wisdom of practical judgment which provides the only path towards making this a much better and much happier nation.