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Speech by David Cameron at the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Annual Conference, (6 December 2008)

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Text: David Cameron... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Speech by David Cameron, then leader of the Conservative Party, at the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Annual Conference, Belfast, (Saturday 6 December 2008)


"It's a great pleasure to be here in Belfast.

Today we come together - Conservatives and Unionists - to create a dynamic new political and electoral force, a new force to cement Northern Ireland's position as a peaceful, prosperous and confident part of our United Kingdom.

I want to talk to you about the future we're going to build together.

But before I do, I need to answer a very simple question:

Why am I here?

Why do I want us to take this radical step?

Why has my team been working so hard to make this happen?

Put simply, why is this new force so important to me and my Party?

These are good questions.

There are some who'd wonder why we are tying our parties together.

For those who see politics and all it can achieve through the prism of dry electoral data, it might seem a waste of time.

After all, we've only got a small presence in Northern Ireland, so why not focus instead on building our base in England?

Today I want to tell you why I utterly reject this view and the whole notion of no-go areas for the Conservative Party and explain why I believe that Conservatives and Unionists are better together than apart.

It comes down to three things.

A deep commitment to the Union.

A strong belief in democracy.

And a great respect for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Let me take each of those in turn.


First, the Union.

I've never been a little Englander.

I passionately believe in the Union and the future of the whole United Kingdom.

We're better off together - England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland - because we all bring our strengths to the mix.

When I fly into Belfast and see the great cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard I'm reminded what an incredible part Northern Ireland played in our past.

When I'm walking through the Glens of Antrim I'm moved by some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK today.

When I visit one of Northern Ireland's thriving social enterprises - now employing over 30,000 workers - I know that the ideas, energy and enthusiasm of these entrepreneurs will help us build a better Britain for the future.

It's a union built around shared belonging, shared past and a shared destiny.

But standing up for the Union isn't just about expressing our important feelings about our shared heritage.

It's also a rational argument based on mutual interest.

Together, we are the fifth largest economy in the world.

Together, we have a seat at the top table and are listened to in a way that other countries can only dream of.

Together, we have one of only five permanent seats of the United Nations Security Council.

Together we are a major player in the EU, in NATO and other international organisations.

And together, we have the British military - one of the most respected armed forces in the world.

Northern Ireland punches above its weight in Britain's armed forces and Britain punches above its weight in the world because of the expertise and bravery of those forces.

Indeed, nothing embodies the Union better than our military bonds.

Last century, when we stood alone against a deadly threat to all we hold dear, we stood alone together.

The servicemen of our islands fought together in every single theatre of the Second World War.

They were led from the front by a strikingly high number of senior British officers with roots in Northern Ireland: Sir John Dill, Sir Alan Brooke, Sir Harold Alexander, Sir Bernard Montgomery.

As Churchill affirmed, 'the bonds of affection between Great Britain and the people of Northern Ireland have been tempered by fire'.

That is not some rhetoric belonging to the past.

A few weeks ago, you welcomed home to this city the brave men and women of the Royal Irish Regiment.

All of them heroes - risking their lives thousands of miles away protect our security at home.

We rightly salute them for their courage and professionalism as we do those who over thirty long years paid the ultimate price to protect democracy and the rule of law here in Northern Ireland.

We owe them an immense debt of gratitude.

Not just here, but throughout these islands.

We will never forget.

The first Member of Parliament who ever represented me was Airey Neave.

One of the first politicians I ever wrote a speech for was Ian Gow.

Both men were great Conservatives - and they were great Unionists.

Both died for their devotion to the Union.

I suspect there isn't a single person in this room who hasn't been affected in some way by terrorism.

Of course Northern Ireland bears most of the scars from those days but when I think of Airey Neave and Ian Gow, or the likes of Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball in Warrington, I am reminded that the fight against terrorism wasn't just your fight, it was the fight of unionists and democrats everywhere.

We were all in it together.

And we came through it together.

So for me coming here and joining our parties is not a matter of political calculation.

It's about strengthening those unbreakable bonds that bind our union.


I'm also here as a strong believer in democracy, with a desire to see that deepen across our islands.

For as long as anyone can remember, politics here has been dominated by constitutional issues - the Union, or the latest developments in the peace process.

Many people have been put off from participating in a politics based on division.

Others still haven't bothered to vote.

But the constitutional certainty that Northern Ireland now enjoys opens the opportunity for that to change and for normal politics to develop.

Normal politics in which people in Northern Ireland can participate at all levels of government in the United Kingdom, from the council chamber right the way to the cabinet table itself.

I support devolution and want to see the Stormont Executive succeed.

In Reg Empey and Michael McGimpsey you have two outstanding ministers.

Together you control nearly 60 per cent of the Assembly budget.

It's in good hands.

But people in Northern Ireland need to be involved in decisions about their lives that are not devolved: taxation, public expenditure, pensions, the broad thrust of social policy, defence and foreign affairs.

As things stand, Northern Ireland MPs are effectively excluded from exerting a real influence on any of these matters.

This is not true representative democracy and it has got to change.

That's not just in the interests of Northern Ireland - it's in the interests of the United Kingdom.

It's in my own selfish interests, too.

I want the most talented people to form my government and that will mean people from all corners of the UK.

Why are there great Ulstermen and women on our television screens, in our boardrooms and in our military but not in our Cabinet?

The semi-detached status of Northern Ireland politics needs to end.

It's time for Northern Ireland to be brought back into the mainstream of British politics.

Northern Ireland needs MPs who have a real prospect of holding office as ministers in a Westminster government.

That's what a dynamic new political force of Conservatives and Unionists offers a revival of real democracy across the United Kingdom.


So: a commitment to the union, a belief in democracy.

These aren't the only reasons I'm here today.

There's also my great respect for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Today, Northern Ireland can look forward to a brighter future in which its best days lie ahead.

Many people, on all sides, deserve credit for that.

The Irish and American governments deserve our thanks for their contributions over many years.

But let me pay a particular tribute to the Ulster Unionist Party, to Reg Empey's leadership and to other leaders of the past.

It is largely through your efforts that Northern Ireland's constitutional position is settled.

The consent principle is paramount, enshrined in national and international law.

Nationalists and republicans now work with Unionists in a shared administration at Stormont.

The territorial claim in the Irish constitution is gone.

The relationship with the Irish Republic is of the kind one would expect of two neighbours that share a land border.

None of these things would have been achieved but for the steadfastness of your Party, your willingness to engage and take risks.

You have helped to bring about a situation in which life for most people in Northern Ireland is unrecognisable from what it was a few years ago.

That's why I'm here today - for the union, for democracy and for the Ulster Unionist Party.


We now have the chance to forge ahead and build a new, and better, Northern Ireland, economically, socially, and politically.

This is our dream, but how do we get there?

How do we combine to create a modern, moderate centre-right force that promotes the United Kingdom?

The links between our two parties are long and intimate.

We stood side by side at times of crisis.

As with any long relationship we've had our disagreements, and our misunderstandings.

I acknowledge that we've all made mistakes - and I regret that.

But today is not a time for dwelling on the past.

It's for looking to the future.

The future we can build as Conservatives and Unionists together.

A fortnight ago, your executive and the Conservative Party's Northern Ireland Area Council approved a paper drawn up by the working group that we set up in July.

I want to pay tribute here to the work of Owen Paterson and David Campbell, and to Neil Johnston and the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland.

Thanks to your efforts we look forward to offering a new choice to the people of Northern Ireland.

First at the European elections - where it is essential we see Jim Nicholson returned to the Conservative Group in Strasbourg - and then at the General Election.

We will be the only party contesting every seat in every part of the United Kingdom on one joint manifesto.


And let's be clear about what this new political force stands for.

Yes of course it's a party of the union - that's what brings us together.

But this is also a strong centre-right force for modern Conservatism that people can vote for in every part of the United Kingdom.

A party that believes in enterprise, because we know that it's people that create wealth and jobs, not government.

A party that is passionately committed to improving our National Health Service and education system, because we want to live in a civilised society that cares for the sick and nurtures the young.

A party that supports the family, because we know that loving parents are the best welfare state there is.

A party that says there is such a thing as society, just that it isn't the same thing as the state.

A party that believes in progressive ends and social justice but understands that Conservative means are the best way of achieving them.

A party that celebrates Britain for what it has been, for what it is today and what it can be in the future.

And a party that will not duck the long-term challenges we face - be they climate change, fixing our broken society or repairing the economic mess that Gordon Brown has created through his debt-fuelled recklessness.

A modern, outward-looking, inclusive, compassionate Conservative and Unionist party for the 21st century.


I recognise, of course, that within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has its own special needs and priorities.

Yes we're a party of the Union, but we need to make devolution work.

The agreement that's been reached on the process for the transfer of policing and justice powers is welcome.

Now that the executive is meeting again there is much for it to tackle.

In all the areas that are devolved to Stormont, Ulster Unionist Ministers will continue to deliver better services for local people depending on local priorities.

There is no question of me seeking to impose ideas from London.

That's not the way I work and it's not the way we do things in Scotland or Wales either.

I believe in making devolution work head, heart and soul.

But we can learn from each other.

So I will be asking members of my shadow teams to work with your spokesmen, to see where we can develop common approaches.

Because let's face it.

Many of the social problems we see here are the same as in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Only this week Iain Duncan Smith was visiting some of the most deprived parts of Belfast.

So we'll work together as Conservatives and Unionists.

But there are things that only Westminster has the power to do.

For example, keeping taxes as low as possible by getting irresponsible government borrowing under control.

Providing real help for businesses through the recession, such as VAT holidays to help small firms with their cashflow.

Cutting the small companies tax rate to 20 per cent and the main rate to 25 per cent.

Reducing employers' national insurance rates by one per cent for the smallest firms.

And a "tax break for jobs" scheme to reward companies that take on new staff.

Real help for business during a time of real need.

Not the "borrow now, tax later" approach of Gordon Brown.

And one more thing.

A Conservative Government led by me will look at those issues - such as the shared land border with the Irish Republic - that affect inward investment and Northern Ireland's economic competitiveness.


Northern Ireland has made great strides forward over the past fifteen years.

The paramilitary campaigns have ended.

New investment has come in.

Devolution has been restored.

For the first time in over a generation we can all look forward to a shared future underpinned by democracy and the rule of law.

As Prime Minister I will always honour Britain's international obligations.

I will continue to work closely and constructively with our nearest neighbours in the Republic of Ireland and I will always uphold the democratic wishes of people here in respect of their constitutional future.

But I will never be neutral when it comes to expressing my support for the Union.

So, today, let us pledge ourselves to come together as Conservatives and Unionists in a new and dynamic political force in Northern Ireland.

For the good of our parties.

But, above all, for the good of the people and our United Kingdom".


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