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Tuesday, 9 October, 2001, 17:06 GMT 18:06 UK
Tories bid for public service credentials
The Conservatives have sought to establish their public service credentials with a string of conference speeches praising teachers and health workers, and backing welfare reform that treats people "with dignity".
Earlier on Tuesday the shadow work and pensions, education and health secretaries delivered speeches designed to show that the Tories had something to say on the public services that was in tune with the electorate.
At the June general election the Conservatives paid a heavy electoral price for being seen as the party that would cut taxes at the expense of public services.
'Make people's lives better'
Noticeable improvements in public services formed the centrepiece of Mr Howard's keynote conference speech.
"That is how we will be judged. The task before us is to put in place practical policies that will show the people of our country that we can make their lives better."
The former cabinet minister said such polices were needed now more than ever, as the last few years had seen a serious decline in the public services.
Labour's institutional links with its affiliated trade unions left the government unable to properly overhaul them, he said, citing the deal struck at last week's Labour conference to avert a clash over plans to give the private sector a greater role in the public services.
"When push comes to shove, they do a deal with their trade union paymasters... When push comes to shove, their old, gut prejudice against the private sector gets in the way.
"We do not suffer from these disadvantages. We are able to harness every resource to this supreme task of improving the health and education of our country.
"We will show clearly, credibly and convincingly how we will make people's lives better."
'Welfare society, not state'
Earlier on Tuesday, David Willetts was the first of three shadow cabinet ministers speaking during a morning devoted to the theme of "Getting the balance right".
The shadow work and pensions secretary told representatives that the Tories would create a modern "welfare society rather than a welfare state".
The three guiding principles for welfare reform should be "treat people with dignity, strengthen families and encourage saving".
But under New Labour the welfare system had "lost its way", becoming increasingly over-complicated and stripping people of their dignity, said Mr Willetts.
'Intrusive and degrading'
"As Conservatives we believe in something far richer and more effective than the welfare state," he told the conference.
"We believe in a society where there is a network of voluntary groups and charities, yes and private organisations too, helping people far more sensitively than state bureaucracies ever can."
Under Tony Blair's government, "more and more people are being trapped on means tests that are intrusive, complicated and degrading".
Mr Willetts also acknowledged the scale of the task facing the Tories if they were to persuade voters of their benevolent intentions.
At the last election the party had proposed a host of "very good policies for helping families".
"But we all know from our canvassing that too few families felt we were on their side.
"And they don't believe we recognise that they come in all shapes and sizes."
'Celebrate our teachers'
Shadow education secretary Damian Green's speech echoed the theme of seeking to change popular perceptions of the Tory Party's attitude to services.
He admitted that "for too long we did not convince the British people that we cared as much about education as they did".
"We are passionate about education," he declared. "As passionate as we are about strong defence or a sound economy."
Mr Green set out his "three immediate priorities" on education: to "celebrate our teachers, instead of knocking them"; "to ensure we have many different types of school", including more faith-based schools; and for schools themselves to teach pupils "the values of our society, as well as the skills".
In a speech titled "Conservatives will defend our teachers", he rallied to the profession.
"We all know that there are huge problems in some schools. But it is an easy, lazy and dishonest approach to blame the teachers."
He went on: "Let me make it absolutely crystal clear that while I am doing this job you will not hear me making any general attacks on teachers or the teaching profession.
"That will not be the Conservative way."
Praise for doctors and nurses
Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox used his speech to say the Tories "must trust our instincts and trust the British people".
Dr Fox said the NHS had excellent doctors, dedicated nurses and "a whole army of health professionals doing their very best.
"So it hurts me to say that it does not matter how much harder these people work, it won't make any difference because the system they work in is fundamentally flawed."
Nobody had time to do the job they were trained to do because Labour thought Whitehall knew best.
Dr Fox said the original idea was for the NHS to be funded by the state rather than run by the state.
"As long as better health care is available to all, and free at point of use, then frankly people in Britain are not concerned how it is provided."
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