As you know, I’m under doctors’ orders not to make speeches but I don’t take too much notice of doctors [LAUGHTER] - the same way some Conservative MPs don’t take too much notice of a three line whip. [LAUGHTER]
I am only going to say a few words to you today and they definitely fall into the category of matters of conscience. I began my political career at OUCA [CHEERS] and many of my most talented colleagues in government started theirs in CUCA [CHEERS]. Both are fine training grounds for a parliamentary career. But there is nothing like the real thing, and in our system the real thing is and always must be the House of Commons. It is a great sadness to me that the chamber is a less exciting place than it was in the past - that has made government less accountable; they have too big a majority and whatever we do they can always win, so we don’t get the excitement of having a sudden vote - but that will come back, particularly after the next election. In fact, our whole political system requires the clash of opinions and the cut and thrust of debates: that’s what makes the House of Commons chamber so wonderful. It’s the only way in which unsound policies and ill-thought-out schemes are exposed. Moreover, it is only by offering a clear choice between alternative views that we empower the electorate to have its say.
So, based on my own experience, I have two messages for you today, and I have written them down so my speech is short. [LAUGHTER]
No matter what the spin doctors may suggest, you should never discount the House of Commons; it is the heart of our democracy. By mastering the arts of debate you can ensure even in opposition, even on the backbenches, you can make you views heard and remember: there is no philosophy that ever triumphed which didn’t start out as a minority opinion. Now, my second message is linked to this. Never despise the party system and within that system never underrate the value of the Conservative Party. Conservatism has different shades but just one colour: blue. Conservative principles have to be adapted but they should not be forgotten. Faith in our vision and our mission is, in the end, more important than any number of schemes and dreams when we seek to tread the path back to power. And back we will be when the nation as a whole sees though New Labour’s hokum and when it thinks we are truly ready.
Many years ago, speaking at a similar occasion such as this, Winston Churchill was asked, "what are the desirable qualifications for any young man who wishes to become a politician?" - they didn’t think of young women becoming Prime Minister. Winston thought for a moment and then replied, "it’s the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year and to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t." [LAUGHTER]
My days of active politics are ending (that’s what the scriptwriters said - I didn’t agree with that). [LAUGHTER] I have fought my battles and have enjoyed them and long for more. Your chances are just coming and they are exciting, and the most exciting thing of all is to keep our law-governed liberty and democracy going into the future. Liberty is our right, it will not be liberty unless governed by a rule of law - of which we Conservatives are expert - and it will not be sufficient unless in a democracy. It is a tripod, we believe in it, we have in fact kept it all these years and we have to keep it going in the future.
My friends, my days of active politics are ending - that’s what my husband thinks - I have fought my battles and enjoyed them: your chances are just coming. Carry on the fight but remain true to your beliefs and be sure to enjoy your politics too. End of speech! [LOUD CHEERS AND APPLAUSE]