Just five days ago, I stood up in Parliament and spoke from the heart -
and, I believe, in the interest of our country.
I stand here today in the same spirit.
To say what I believe needs saying,
and bring into focus what’s really at stake.
To make my case to the Conservative Party…
… its members and MPs…
… and to the country.
And that case is not about me.
I’m not here to polish a back story - you already know it…
And I don’t have a ready-made logo or slick video.
What I do have is a passionate desire get Britain onto the right course and steer us through the
From Windrush to Covid-19…
… people have turned to me when times are tough.
And we face tough times again today.
For all our strengths, our party has lost its way.
Look at the polls.
Look at the by-election results.
Look at what people are telling their MPs.
While families are limiting their weekly shop…
… politicians are caught up in arguments over who knew the latest sleaze allegation when.
This isn’t just bad for the country…
… it’s catastrophic for the Conservatives.
And when we lose our integrity, we lose the trust of the British people.
We need a leader who makes credible promises…
… brings people together…
… and makes tough decisions in the national interest.
I served in Government…
… because when I’m given a job…
... I don’t just get on with it, I grip it.
Over the last year I’ve put all my energy into seeing us out of the pandemic…
… giving us back our freedoms from lockdowns…
… and reforming our health and care sector for the long term.
If I stop to think about it, it’s the proudest year of my career -
the lives impacted, the freedoms secured.
I served in the national interest until I no longer had confidence in the Prime Minister.
I didn’t say one thing and do another.
And when I reached that sad conclusion, I told him so - and I did something about it.
This wasn’t because I could hear the hooves of a herd.
If anything, I expected half the herd to turn around and charge at me.
I left the Cabinet because it was the right thing to do…
… both for the party and the country.
And the case I want to make today ultimately isn’t about me.
I’m not going to talk about being the son of a bus driver…
… proud though I am of my Dad…
…or claim that I’m the only possible person to take this country forward.
It’s about us, the people we serve, and the values we stand by.
… personal responsibility…
… and social justice.
These are all central to the Conservative ideal.
The Conservative mission to extend freedom, prosperity and opportunity to all is at risk if we cannot uphold that ideal.
And what’s true of the public is also true of our party.
From ordinary members to cabinet members, Conservatives will not unite around someone they cannot trust.
Because ultimately that’s what leadership is about.
Levelling with people,
leading them towards clear objectives,
and setting an example.
Shift managers know this.
Platoon commanders know this.
Faith leaders know this.
But somewhere along the way in Westminster we’ve lost sight of that calling.
That sense of higher purpose and national interest.
And it’s the responsibility of all of us in public life to restore it.
So I’m here with a blunt message about our party and our country.
Because we just don’t have time to obsess about the parlour games of SW1.
We need to face outwards, not inwards.
Over the coming days we’ll see all the other candidates come forward and make their case.
My advice, my plea is this:
For months, the public have been watching developments in Downing Street and behaviours in parliament with dismay.
They are watching how we conduct ourselves now too, at this time of crisis at home and abroad.
And they need to see that we’re focusing on the issues that matter.
Somewhere along the way,
Conservatives have got so used to being the natural party of government…
… that we’ve lost the core skills and values that earned us that title.
We know Labour usually do well in polling questions like ‘caring about ordinary people like me’.
They talk a good game on that…
…people often think they have a soft heart but lack hard-headed competence.
We Conservatives have to get much better at reclaiming and explaining our moral purpose.
But it’s not just that.
Over the last couple of years our reputation on most values and policies has slidden away.
Too many people now believe Labour are more ‘fit to govern’,
more ‘competent’ -
and even more likely to cut taxes.
We know this isn’t because they are putting their faith into Labour itself.
The truth is, they’re losing faith in us.
And for those of us who have been around long enough, it’s starting to feel very familiar.
This weekend, my wife Laura and I are celebrating our silver wedding anniversary.
I was thinking back twenty-five years ago, to when we were preparing to get married.
The Conservative Party was defeated in the biggest electoral landslide since the Second
The British public sent us into the wilderness -
and that’s where we spent the next thirteen years.
The way things were going recently,
I feared our party was on a trajectory to the same electoral oblivion once again.
It didn’t have to be like this.
Just three years ago, we won the largest majority since Margaret Thatcher.
And just over a year ago we got Brexit done.
Neither would have happened without Boris Johnson.
And his effectiveness and love for country is undeniable.
But we cannot be complacent about the situation we are now in.
This is a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ moment.
We’ve seen this movie before, and we know how it ends.
So it won’t be enough to just have someone else, anyone else,
at the helm.
With the country in an economic crisis…
and Europe facing a war with no clear end in sight…
the British people are looking for competence in their leaders.
And if they can’t find it in our party,
they’ll tell us using the most powerful language in any democracy:
Let’s not forget that the next election won’t be about Jeremy Corbyn or getting Brexit done.
The next election will be about what the Conservatives have to offer for the next four or five years.
And that’s why this moment, this leadership election, is a turning point.
I have every hope that this campaign can and will be the turning point we need.
Just look at the people coming forward already, and the abundance of ideas.
We Conservatives don’t believe in identity politics.
But it can be a real source of pride that we have more candidates from ethnic minority
backgrounds running to be leader of our Party today…
…than have ever run to be leader of the Labour Party.
Many of them with inspiring back stories about what this country means to them.
You would struggle to find any major party in any comparable country that can boast such diversity.
We truly are the most successful multiracial democracy in the world.
While we have an impressive field…
…there is very little time for the public to get to know the candidates to be their next Prime Minister.
Polling suggests there are only two candidates are both already known to them, and regarded as good potential PMs.
People want to see who is ready to take on the crises…
at home and abroad - as well as the next election campaign.
So it’s right that people and ideas are tested and forged in the fire of this contest.
And I fully support TV debates to help with that.
So yes to scrutiny, in the short time we have.
But let’s also come out of this in one piece, as one team.
I won’t call for one of those gimmicky ‘clean campaign’ pledge cards.
I am calling on the best instincts of those putting themselves forward to show it’s not needed.
Times of change and crisis tend to bring out the best and worst of human nature.
And I’m sorry to say that, looking at some of the stories in the weekend press, it’s not been
our best start.
Allegations thrown around.
People say you have to play the game.
I refuse to accept that.
This isn’t House of Cards or Game of Thrones.
And the people who are here just because they enjoy the game are in the wrong place.
This is a time for pulling together not apart.
This contest is already showing we do have new talents coming through.
And I have the confidence to bring the top talent to the top table.
Great PMs, like all great bosses, surround themselves with people that are smarter than
… and people who can challenge their thinking.
No-one is the full package.
I know I’m not.
But if we go back to seeing this job as ‘first among equals’….
We can transition from a team of rivals, to an unrivalled team.
That’s the only way we can win the next election - our fifth in a row.
We have to avoid the entrenched tribalism that we see in the Labour Party.
And we have to unite our best people and ideas together to focus on the issues that matter.
Because actually – I think after the last several years,
the public want to see less personalities and politics…
… and more good government, getting on with the job.
We won’t be rewarded at the next election for all the things we have done…
… whether that’s the rollout of booster vaccines,
or the boost in jobs across the country.
We will be judged on what we will do about the great challenges of our time…
whether that’s finding ways to ease the cost of living…
or confronting the invasion of a European nation by a brutal dictator.
I’m happy to take your questions on any policy area of government…
… and I’ll be setting out more detail on my agenda in the coming days.
When I think about the challenges we face,
I’m especially concerned about growing divisions in our society.
And how it’s harder than ever before for people to get by, and get ahead.
Today, I am launching my New Conservative Economic Plan.
It’s in your hands in this room, and it’s just been published online.
I know I said this isn’t all about me…
but there is a big photo of me on the front of it!
But seriously, this is a substantive document…
This is the kind of ‘content’ candidates should be focusing on.
Because if we can’t grow our economy, we can’t get a hearing on any other issues.
It’s as simple as that.
Improving our productivity is the most important issue of our times.
We cannot improve living standards,
we cannot fund our public services,
and we cannot provide security without it.
There is no social mobility and no social justice without productivity growth.
It’s as simple as that.
I’ve always believed in free enterprise, low taxation, and sensible regulation…
… as the conditions that are necessary for growth and levelling up across the country.
Some say you can’t have tax cuts until you have growth.
But I say, no it’s the other way around.
We need tax cuts to kickstart growth.
But of course, tax cuts alone are not enough.
A New Conservative Economic Plan must also drive the infrastructure revolution that we
started in 2019…
… from bus networks to new nuclear power.
A New Conservative Economic Plan must have skills,
and social mobility,
at its heart.
We must show the same radicalism to reform:
Childcare and Early Years…
… that we had for academies and free schools 12 years ago.
We must build more houses.
Let me say that again:
We must build more houses.
Beautiful new Garden Villages and New Towns with community support.
The Vaccine Taskforce showed what was possible with the Covid Vaccine.
We must now apply these lessons and this model to cancer, dementia and mental health.
The effects on our growth and our health will be transformative.
A new radical approach to devolution, regulation and competition will drive growth too.
This is a bold – and credible - plan.
I also know charting this course is not without risk.
But the greater risk is not cutting taxes now…
… and getting stuck in a low growth trap.
Failure to return to higher growth wouldn’t just be a disaster for our economic prosperity…
…but also our security and influence around the world.
We’ve seen countries rise and fall in the last couple centuries.
We are not owed a prosperous future and we cannot just hope for it to arrive.
Right now, families are really struggling.
This autumn and winter are going to be really tough.
Energy bills, pressures on the NHS, food and fuel prices.
We have to do what it takes to see us through this rough patch,
and then move to long term reform.
There are no easy answers –
but you’ve got some of mine,
and I look forward to hearing others.
I’ve been very straight with you today.
About our party.
And about the scale of challenges we face in the country.
But I have always been fundamentally optimistic about Britain.
And as a party we have a great opportunity in the coming days and weeks…
…to showcase our talent,
to test our ideas,
and to recommit ourselves to a mission.
If we can unite together behind a new sense of purpose…
with the right leadership –
but most importantly the right team…
I believe that we can meet the scale of our challenges.
And that we can come through them with our best days still lying ahead.