I want to talk about something today that I think is not just in the foreground of this election campaign, it's not just in the middle of this campaign, it's not just the background, it's all across the country.
And it is that simmering, burning anger, that people feel about the expenses scandal and what has gone wrong with our political system.
Everywhere I go you get questions, yes, about immigration, about crime, but also there's always that question: how did this happen, how do we stop it happening again, and how do we take back our political system and make sure that we the people are in charge, not the politicians. Because people say to me about the MPs' expenses, they say how angry they feel that they pay their taxes, they work hard, and they see politicians spending money on things that were never meant to be part of the MPs' expenses system. And then they hear the politicians saying, "Well, I was just obeying the rules, it was all allowed by the rules", and it makes them incredibly angry. And it doesn't actually make it any better when some politicians say, well of course my party was much better than everybody else's. That's rubbish. We had our duck houses, the Liberal Democrats had flats for kids and cake tins and cushions. Everybody was doing it, and everyone should admit to that, and everyone should sort and clean out this system.
Do you know what, it's not just the expenses, that's like the first chapter of the book. The rest of the book is all about how people feel they don't have any control over the political system. They feel that the politicians make these endless promises, they call all the shots, but nothing changes, and people can't take control, can't take power. That's what needs to change.
Now, in this election you're going to hear lots of blueprints, lots of processes, lots of calls for alliances between Labour and Liberal and the rest of it to sort it out. I think we need a very simple recipe. We need politicians that we can elect clearly, we need ministers to be accountable always, and we need to be able to throw out politicians decisively when they do the wrong thing. That's at the heart of it. I just want to set out for you the seven simple steps that I think we need to take to sort out our political system and put people back in control.
The first thing is we need to change the way we choose our candidates. We need to make sure it is the people that choose the candidates and not the political elites. In some safe seats, you see Members of Parliament -- maybe they do a great job, but people wonder, who selected them, who chose them? One of the things we've done in our party is we have pioneered the idea of open primaries, and saying to people: you may not vote Conservative, you might vote Labour or Liberal, you might not vote at all, you might think we are all rubbish, but you can come in and vote for our candidate.
And we went one further than that; just down the road from here in Totnes, we sent a ballot paper to every single household, and we said: after all that has happened in Totnes, we want you, the people of Totnes, to pick our candidate, and I am proud of the fact that we did that, and I am proud of the fact that they picked someone who had worked for more than 20 years as a GP at the heart of that community, who would make an absolutely fantastic Member of Parliament, Sarah Wollaston. So I want to see many, many more postal primaries in the next Parliament. That is something we started, it is something we are going to continue, it is something we will pioneer.
Step two, very simple, you've chosen your candidate, you should be able to sack your Member of Parliament if they are caught misbehaving. You shouldn't have to wait until the next election, stuck there with someone who has done the wrong thing, who has taken the taxpayer for a ride; they are still going on collecting their pay, getting their pension, getting all the benefits, but you, the people, can't do anything about it. That is wrong, so I say, let's have a simple system of recall, a simple petition. If your Member of Parliament has been found guilty by the parliamentary authorities, you should be able to take the power and throw them out without having to wait for the next general election.
Next step, third step, make ministers accountable. I want to be able to see every penny that they spend; not just me, if I am your Prime Minister, but I want you, the people, to be able to see every penny that they spend, every contract that they award, all the meetings they have been having, all the decisions that they make.
Let's make sure our ministers don't just get that red box, get that order from the Queen and then go on and make all these decisions without involving us, the people. They must make sure they are accountable every working day they do that job. But we all know something else, it's not just the ministers that make the decisions in our country. I've lost count of the times that people come to my constituency surgery, or businessmen or farmers or others say to me: why can't I challenge this regulation, why can't I find out this bit of information, why can't I employ this particular person? Why can't I set up a business in the front room of my council house, why can't I clear this ditch to stop the field plumbing? And the answer? It is a quango. A quango has made the decision, and in all too many cases, there is nothing you can do about it. I say step four, it is time to end the quango state.
Where those quangos are carrying out an important technical function that can't be done inside government, where there's some fairness reason that they have to be separate from the ministry, that's okay. The other quangos should either be abolished or folded into the government departments. They become a law unto themselves. They have hundreds of press officers, communications officers, they lobby each other, they lobby the government.
Sometimes you go to conferences and there's just stall after stall of organisations that we all pay for with our taxes, lobbying the government, lobbying the Conservative Party. Well, obviously I want their money at our conferences, it's great, but that's not what we pay our taxes for, is it, so let's end the quango state.
Step five, let us make sure we can always decisively sack our government. One of the real threats, I think, of this whole debate about electoral reform is that we might lose the two things that really work in our system. The first thing that works is that one MP represents one constituency. Marcus here knows every single inch of Torbay, probably every hotel, every bed and breakfast, every grain of sand on the beach. He knows it backwards. He will make a great Member of Parliament and do brilliant things for people who live here because he feels it in his bones. Don't give that up, but don't give up something else. In this country, when the government is tired, when it's discredited, when it has lost its way, you can decisively throw it out of power.
Never forget, it's not just the ballot box that matters, it's not the soapbox, it is actually the packing box that we have in the British constitution. We all remember it in 1997. It was painful, when our government came to an end and they threw us out of office, but if we are frank, it probably needed to happen. It needs to happen again, and we must not give up that idea that you can turf them out and have a new government in their place.
Do we really want to go over to a system where all you ever get is another hung parliament, politicians sitting around and arguing and haggling? Politicians love doing that. We'd have a great time. "I want this job, I want to trade that policy, a bit more spending on my pet project here, a bit less over there"; we would be making the decisions, but you would be locked out, so I say let's keep the system that allows us to throw our government out of office. It's vital.
And I've got to say, all this talk of a hung parliament, I mean, it hasn't started very well. We have got Gordon Brown this morning saying he wants to do a deal with Nick Clegg, and we've got Nick Clegg saying he doesn't want to talk with Gordon Brown. It hasn't even started and they're not really getting on!
I say what we need in our country is a decisive election result, a decisive Conservative government that can safeguard our economy, stop the taxes going up, sort out our social problems, clean up the political system and make decisive change happen. That's what our system can deliver, and that's what we've got to deliver in the final days of this election campaign.
Now, we're nearly there on the magnificent seven. Step six, you are going to hear a lot from politicians about different processes and different parts of transparency and different things we can do to stop the expenses fiasco happening again, and that's important. I was the first party leader out there making my Members of Parliament pay back money, making them apologise for what they had done, making them declare online every penny that they claimed. All those things are important, and saying never again claims for the furniture, the food and all the nonsense. Never again. That's important.
But I think there's something else the British public want us to do, and that is to cut the cost of politics. Who in their life hasn't had to make some difficult decisions during this recession? What small business hasn't had to trim budgets and cut costs? What family hasn't had to make some difficult decisions? Everyone is having to do more for less.
Why should Parliament, why should politics be any different? I spend my days these days on this bus travelling around this country. Even journalists are working harder. You know, they're not just writing stories, they are blogging, they are doing video blogs, they are tweeting. They are. They are doing all these things. If even journalists can do more for less, isn't it time politicians and ministers did a bit more for a bit less?
Step seven. Step seven is important. We should remember as politicians that we are sent to Parliament, yes to make decisions, yes to discuss the big issues, yes to come to conclusions about how best to make our country better and stronger; we are not sent to Parliament to give away powers that belong to you, the people.
So step seven is never, ever again pass power from Westminster to Brussels, or anywhere else for that matter, without asking people in a referendum first.
If you think of all the things aside from expenses, think of all the things that have done the most damage to the reputation of politics and politicians in Parliament and public life, I would say it is this issue of politicians making this promise, as Labour did and Liberals did and we did, that there would be a referendum on a European constitution, and it was only the Conservatives who kept their word, who pushed and pushed and pushed for that referendum, who voted for it and fought for it and the others rejected it. I think that does huge damage to public confidence in our system, so in our first Queen's Speech, one of our first Acts of Parliament would be to pass that law that says you cannot pass power from Westminster to Brussels without holding a referendum.
So think of these steps, think of them all together. Imagine, you the people choose our candidates, you decide if your Member of Parliament has misbehaved, you sack them.
You make sure your ministers answer to you every day, every hour, in terms of what they do, the money they spend. You make sure you can keep on throwing your government out and don't trade it for a system where they are stuck haggling and bickering for month after month.
You make sure that we cut the cost of politics and you make sure that the ultimate authority of where power lies, it lies with you the people because you cannot give it away when you are at Westminster without asking people first.
Those are all simple steps, all steps that would make a difference, all steps that people I think will understand would go to the heart of what is wrong with our politics. People have lost control. The politicians have forgotten, the public are the master, we are the servant. That's what needs to change in our system, that's the simple, straightforward, believable, doable change you will get from the Conservative government.
Now, we have got just over two weeks left before this election so, my friends, I want you to do everything you can to make sure that Marcus is the next Member of Parliament for Torbay, to make sure that Sarah is the next Member of Parliament for Totnes, to make sure that we sweep across the West Country and into Cornwall and make sure the whole of the West Country has a strong voice at Westminster, not just strong MPs who will speak up for their constituents but strong MPs who will be at the heart of a Conservative government, making sure the West Country is not left behind, is always spoken for, as one of the most important parts of our great United Kingdom.
Thank you for coming, thank you for all you are going to do. Let's get out there and win it for Britain. Thank you.