Iain Duncan Smith today condemned the failings of Britain's health and education services as "shaming" and pledged that a future Conservative government's "greatest mission" would be to drive up standards.
In his keynote speech to the Tories' annual conference in Blackpool, Mr Duncan Smith announced that he would despatch his shadow cabinet members to countries around the world to see how they provided higher quality public services.
In his first speech to conference as leader, he accused the Labour Government of being unable to pursue radical reform of the public services because of a dogmatic suspicion of the private sector. The Tories suffered from no such inhibition, he promised.
Mr Duncan Smith told delegates: "Whether it is the air we breathe, the public transport we take to work, or the countryside we live in, there is a growing sense of unease that our quality of life is diminishing.
"In our country, the sick cannot get the treatment they need. In many of our inner cities the young do not receive the education they deserve.
"I call that shaming.
"We are the fourth richest country on earth. We should be providing public services that match those of our European neighbours, not those of the Third World."
Despite his well documented euroscepticism, the Tory leader continued: "The sad fact is this: a generation ago Britain was the sick man of Europe. Today Britain is the last place in Europe any man or woman would want to fall sick.
"Our European neighbours simply enjoy better hospitals and schools, because they put the needs of their people before the demands of dogma. If we are to live up to the demands of a new century we must do the same.
"This is our greatest mission at home over the coming years: to assemble the coalition of charities and churches, the public and private sectors that will deliver results."
Although Mr Duncan Smith used his speech to underline the Tory leadership team's eagerness to be seen as preoccupied with upgrading the public services, he also underlined his party's support for the international coalition against terrorism.
He launched a withering attack on terror chief Osama bin Laden, telling delegates: "Bin Laden claims to speak for Islam, but he cannot. His is a cynical and suicidal cult dedicated to the destruction of civilisations and lives, irrespective of their faith.
"This is a man who sends young acolytes to die for his own pathological purpose, while he himself skulks in caves. This is a man who prefers martyrdom at a distance."Reuse content