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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 September 2005, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Full text of Rifkind speech
Here is the full text of Sir Malcolm Rifkind's speech in London on 15 September, entitled Building One Nation:

I, along with many others, joined the Conservative Party because its One Nation tradition reflected our own beliefs, values and aspirations.

That remains truer than ever today. The Conservative Party does not need to look to Blairism or any other similar creed in order to attract and move the British people. We can draw on a vital, strong element of our own Tory tradition.

We live, of course, in new and difficult times. It is, therefore, a modern, fresh and highly relevant One Nation Toryism that will meet the needs and priorities of 2005.

The roots of One Nation go back to Disraeli's Sybil, The Two Nations, in which he drew attention to how the country was deeply divided between the rich and the poor.

It was after the shattering electoral defeat of 1945 that modern-minded Tories like Iain Macleod and Rab Butler used the One Nation concept to remind their colleagues and the country as a whole that Conservatives, also, had a deep sense of the need for social justice and an end to poverty and inequality.

Unlike, however, the Labour Party, which had been created, explicitly, as the voice of the working class and which was increasingly attracted to socialism as a creed; Conservative aspirations were classless and free of ideological straitjackets. Instead, they had timeless principles of personal liberty, social responsibility and national cohesion.

This One Nation theme was not only historically justified; it was also politically triumphant. Within six years, under the splendid banner of "Set the people free", Labour was out and the Conservatives in for thirteen years.

Now is the time to reassert that set of beliefs, to bring them up to date and to demonstrate that the Tory Party is not preoccupied with narrow nor sectional interests but that it has a broad, generous and truly national vision. But what does that mean in practice?

First, the original priorities of One Nation have not yet been fully realised. While the country is more prosperous than ever before and while the old class divisions have been significantly eroded, serious social problems persist and poverty can be seen in many communities.

The Labour Government has tried hard to tackle these problems. No-one doubts the strength of their commitment. But the results have been, at best, patchy. Tax credits are an embarrassing scandal, means testing is rampant and the New Deal has not delivered.

The Conservative Party must make the eradication of residual poverty in this country one of its highest priorities. One Nation principles will require radical simplification and reform of the tax system to take the poorest out of tax. It will mean harnessing the dynamic of free enterprise to create real jobs.

It will also require an increasing use of voluntary organisations rather than the state's Job Centres to match people to available employment. There is increasing evidence that voluntary organisations have been much more sensitive and successful in placing people in the right jobs and have done so at significantly less cost than the highly bureaucratic state apparatus.

Secondly, the principles of One Nation are highly relevant to challenges facing the country that hardly existed in the past.

For example, in the last few weeks we have become more conscious than ever that, despite the real progress of the last twenty years, many Asian Britons and, perhaps, those in other ethnic minority communities, feel alienated from, and hostile to, the culture and beliefs of their fellow citizens. In other words, they do not feel part of one nation.

This is of serious concern to the whole country but it poses a particular challenge to Conservatives. Our electoral support from Asian and black Britons is far smaller than that of our political opponents. Progress in building support in these communities has been painfully slow.

Adopting the badge of One Nation and reflecting it in our policies, rhetoric and priorities would not only reap political dividends. Only when Asian and black Britons are as likely to vote Conservative as the country as a whole will Britain be able to assume that we have achieved true racial harmony and successful integration.

Another new challenge to the unity of the country has been the growth, over several decades, of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, and the clear evidence of a renascent English identity.

These trends can be seen as a healthy corrective to the excessive uniformity and centralisation of the past century but they can also lead to a harmful fragmentation in what is a small, highly populated island. One Nation Tories have always found it easier to accept the devolved Britain that now exists and to work for a healthy balance between the component parts of the United Kingdom.

The challenge now is to achieve radical decentralisation of real power to local communities and to a renascent local government in our counties and in our cities. It is in the cities, and in the North, that the Tory Party is weakest. The national interest and the party interest, therefore, converge but only One Nation Toryism has any serious prospect of winning real support in the North of England, in Scotland and in Wales.

Likewise, at the social level the last thirty years have seen an unprecedented pressure on the NHS, on our schools and on the country's transport services. In part the solution to the country's expectations lies in adequate resources. But it also needs radical and non-doctrinaire partnership between the public and private sectors.

The electorate are not hostile to such reforms but they will always be suspicious of a Conservative programme for involving the private sector which appears to give precedence to ideology over results. One Nation Tories have no guilt complexes about pragmatism and are much more likely to be trusted by the public.

There is, finally, the international dimension. What is needed is One Nation in One World. In recent years the Conservative Party has often seemed afraid of Europe, uncertain in relation to the United States and indifferent to the Commonwealth.

This is a fundamental issue that that I will develop elsewhere but the Conservative Party must use the next few years to develop an international policy that preserves our national independence and is also robust, confident, and unreservedly open to the wider world. The principles of One Nation apply with equal strength to One World and we have an obligation as well as an opportunity that we must not ignore.

One Nation is an optimistic creed and this could not be more relevant. In the last eight years we have spent too much time trying to reflect the nation's fears and not enough on advancing their hopes and aspirations. People must know, and like, what we are for and not just be aware of what we are against.

One Nation is a distinct tradition of the Tory Party. It gives a greater prominence to the pursuit of social justice and the elimination of poverty and discrimination. It is less influenced by ideology and more persuaded by practical consequences. It is more influenced by global injustice and the need to see the rule of law in international relations as well as in national affairs.

As Conservatives we have never been impressed by narrow ideologies nor creeds. We do, however, declare our beliefs, our identity and our ideas. One Nation in One World is an idea whose time has come.




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