Tory Conference: The freshest and most exciting occasion for years, says leader

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In a speech which concentrated more on attacking Labour and rousing the troops than on analysing the future direction of Conservative policy, William Hague said the week had been a success. Fran Abrams watched as the party faithful gave rousing cheers and a standing ovation to their leader.

The Conservative Party was not dead, William Hague told a packed hall. Last week's Blackpool conference was the freshest, the most constructive and the most exciting for years. A process of reform had begun which would transform the world's oldest political party into a fighting force equipped for the 21st century, he said.

"Six months from now, we will have our, the foundation of a new, united, inclusive, democratic, decentralised and open party. Never again will we have a divided organisation. Never again will the voice of our members go unheard, and never again will we allow the good name of our party to be blackened by the greed and selfishness of a few," he said. "This week this party has got up off its knees. This week we've shown that we're back in business."

Attacking Labour local authorities, Mr Hague said the Tories' first job would be to win back council seats in elections next May. "At best, Labour in local government is about failing schools, poor services, littered streets and high taxes. At worst it is about cronyism, corruption and abuse of power. It stinks, and it is time for the Conservative Party to clean it up," he said.

Mr Hague outlined his own brand of conservatism, describing it as democratic, compassionate, tolerant and forward-looking, while respecting traditional values.

Labour might espouse such values but it was insincere, he said. "Just because they use our language, and have swapped the donkey jacket for the Armani suit, doesn't mean they actually believe in the principles that give that language its purpose ... They don't believe in anything except their own political success. As Labour admitted last week, for them the prime goal of government is to secure their own re-election."

Labour had introduced a cynicism into British politics, he said. The Conservatives were going to remain the party of principle.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats were "jigging along to the Pied Piper of Downing Street", he said. "Paddy's proved a real push-over. He's been completely seduced."

Setting out his political principles, he said he believed in freedom, enterprise, education, self-reliance, compassion and the United Kingdom.

The state should encourage people to help themselves: "Self-reliance brings dignity and satisfaction. We all want to provide for ourselves and our families. That's not greed. It's not selfishness. It's the most ancient human instinct of all." But Tories must continue to work to help others, as they already did quietly through voluntary groups and charities all over the country. "Don't tell me the Conservative Party is not a caring party. I want everyone to understand this: compassion is not a bolt-on extra to conservatism. It's at its very core ...

"When Labour talk about society, they mean the state. When they talk about the community, they mean politicians. And when they talk about compassion, they mean a cheque drawn on someone else's account. But for Conservatives, compassion doesn't end when you've sent off your tax cheque."

The Tories believed in patriotism and they believed in the United Kingdom. Devolution would destroy that. "We have every right to be proud. Ours is a nation which has shaped the civilised world ... To lead the people into the casual destruction of our constitution and leave them with disillusionment and instability in the years to come is an abdication of leadership."

Conservatives believed in a strong Europe, but in a Europe of nation states. "I have to tell you, there is a limit to European integration. And I must say, in my opinion, we are near that limit now. The great danger is not that Britain will be left behind in Europe, but that Europe will be left behind in the world," he said.

Acknowledging the difference which still existed in the party over the abolition of the pound, he underlined his promise to give MPs a free vote on the issue.

Britain still needed the Tory Party, he concluded. "The family that works hard, saves hard, tries to be independent of the state and believes in their country needs the Conservative Party. We shall speak for them. We will always be on their side.

"We leave here this week with our hopes restored, our beliefs reaffirmed, our faith renewed. We leave as a party ready to earn once more the trust of the nation we love."