Thank you, Stephen, and thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen for that warm welcome. I would like to thank our hosts, Michael Heller and Henry Davis, I would like you to thank our sponsors, Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management, I would like to thank our chairman, Andrew Heller, and of course, I would like to thank the extraordinary, the indefatigable Stuart Polak who is celebrating a quarter century, not a hundred years, here at CFI.
I would also like to give my personal thanks to Daniel Taub for his words and his work as the Ambassador for Israel in Britain. Daniel is articulate, he is passionate, he is persuasive, he is just what Israel needs in Britain today. I know how hard he works. You are a real friend of Britain and you are hugely welcome here today.
Now I know this is a special day for many people as the festival of lights begins. And it reminds me of something my good friend and your good friend Danny Finkelstein wrote the other day. He gave us “30 reasons I like to be a Jew” the other week. Reason number 5 was “you get holidays when the rest of us don’t get holidays”. Reason number 6 was “you still get everyone else’s holidays too”. So let me wish you a very happy Chanukah and a very happy Christmas too!
FRIEND OF ISRAEL
Now I’ve been a friend of Israel through thick and thin. I believe in Israel – and that belief is rock solid. It is an extraordinary nation – and even more extraordinary when you think where it is. On its doorstep, the barbarism of ISIL, the tyranny of Assad, Hamas and Hezbollah a missile’s distance away, Iran looming nearby with nuclear ambitions, and terrorists all around, hell-bent on doing it harm like those last month who brutally murdered four rabbis as they prayed.
One of those was a British Israeli, Rabbi Avraham Goldberg. Francis Maude and others here attended his shiva. And Rabbi Goldberg and the other victims will remain in our thoughts today.
So Israel is a vulnerable country and yet, against all odds, it has become an oasis of freedom where the call to prayer mingles with church bells, where Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, echo down narrow streets. And it’s a symbol of success supplying Britain with a sixth of our prescription medicines developing the processors that we all use in our laptops. And Israel is a country with more start-ups per capita than any other country in the world.
What an incredible nation this is – and we are a true friend. Now true friends will always try to offer you good advice. This is why I will always tell Israel that illegal settlements are a bad idea. They don’t advance the likelihood of peace or security for Israel which I know its people pray for. They make that aspiration less likely. And when I went to Jerusalem earlier this year, my message to the Knesset was this: Yes, we will tell you when we think you are wrong but we will always defend your right to defend yourselves.
During the summer, Hamas rained down rockets on Israel, built extensive tunnels to kidnap and murder, and repeatedly refused to accept ceasefires. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said, and I agree with this, every word: “Israel uses missile defence to protect its civilians. Hamas uses civilians to protect its missiles. There can never be any equivalence between the two.”
Now of course this is not just Conservative Friends of Israel – this amazing organisation, bigger today than I have ever seen it, works both ways. This group is a friend of the Conservatives. For the past 40 years, CFI has been there for this party, bringing us together, getting behind our candidates and taking people to Israel because nothing comes closer to helping you understand that country than actually visiting.
But now is not the time to rest on our laurels. It’s not really in Stuart’s nature to put his feet up anyway. We’ve got just 142 days to go until a crucial election. 142 days to stop Miliband and his lot in their tracks. His party took Britain to the brink – and they would do it all over again with more spending, more taxes, more borrowing and more debt.
And now they’ve now shown their true colours on Israel. Two months ago there was a vote in Parliament on whether to recognise the State of Palestine. For years in our country there has been cross-party consensus: We only recognise the State of Palestine when there is a genuine two-state solution – and Israel’s future is truly secure.
Yet here was the Labour leader, on a vote put down by a couple of backbenchers, a vote he could easily have avoided or walked away from, not just breaking that consensus but actively whipping his own colleagues to support the motion. That is the Labour leader we are now faced with and he has to be defeated.
And you see it in local Government. Look at what his local council colleagues are doing. Labour Leicester – promoting boycotts of Israeli goods, Labour Brent – supporting a theatre which has banned Jewish films.
Unlike Labour, we in this party oppose boycotts. And let me remind you of what I said to the Knesset: “Delegitimising the State of Israel is wrong, it is abhorrent – and together we will defeat it”.
But in the run up to May the 7th, the argument we have got to take to the country is not just about how disastrous Labour would be, they’re pretty good at showing that themselves, it’s about how we have a plan to make this country a better place – and how we will see it through.
You don’t just get a second term by default – you have got to really earn it. Now I could stand here and talk about all the things we’ve achieved, as Stephen did so clearly just now. But instead I want to say this. All those new jobs, these new businesses, the new apprentices, all those tax cuts that are making people’s lives a bit easier, the outstanding schools that are setting your children up for a better career those things didn’t appear from thin air – they are the result of a long-term economic plan, a plan which has transported us from the doldrums of the Great Recession to the top of the table of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
And yes, that plan, it is about facts and figures and policies – but it’s about something else more important – values – the things that all of us here share and believe in. Opportunity – the belief that everyone, whoever they are, should have the chance to get on. Enterprise – the notion that hard work is the best way out of poverty and the only ticket to success, Responsibility – knowing that no-one owes us a living – and that it is our duty to look out for this generation and the next. And openness – that it’s the content of our character, not our race or religion, which really matters. And I want to tell you why we need a second term to deliver these values that we share.
It’s a principle of Jewish communities as well as Conservatives that everyone should have the opportunity to get on. We believe that it doesn’t matter where you started, whether it was on a council estate without a penny to your name, or at Stansted Airport after being kicked out of Uganda or on the Kindertransport – a refugee, an orphan, without a word of English. You can make Britain your home and your life a success.
When I invited Holocaust survivors to Downing Street, one of them showed me her diary. There was an entry right at the start, written by her grandfather, dated July 1939, Prague, and it read like this: “wherever you go, be a great granddaughter to the country that gives you a home” and she and so many others who came to Britain did just that and made an extraordinary contribution to our country.
Opportunity for all is what we as Conservatives, as Jews, as Britons, it is what we believe in. Now Labour may say they believe in something similar. But the difference between us is this: They think you impose opportunity, reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator to achieve parity.
We believe that you help everyone rise up – as far as their talent and their hard work will allow. And we know where that starts: in the classroom. That’s why we have brought standards back to teaching, discipline back to schools, challenging subjects back on the curriculum. And, today we’ve got state academies sending more pupils to Oxbridge than many top private schools. We have got brand new Free Schools outstripping their established rivals.
And, as ever with the Jewish community, education comes first. And that’s why I’m delighted this country is home to 48 state-funded Jewish faith schools. One of them, Yavneh College – set up just eight years ago, was this year named the best performing non-selective state school in the whole of the United Kingdom. That is something to be proud of. But there are still too many children not getting that chance – too many children without that opportunity, without that chance of excellence and that is why we need a second term to complete that vital schools revolution.
Enterprise. We all believe in the vitality of hard work. I don’t need to paint a picture of the small business owner rising early to start trading, slogging their guts out through the day, working on the books late into the night, you know it already – because many of you are that person.
That is the Jewish ethos – that you know that to make it big, you have got to start small. In the Talmud it says: “better to flay carcases in the market place and earn a living than say this work is beneath me” and time and time again you have done just that – relying on no-one and nothing, except yourself and your hard work.
So we are making this a country where that hard work is properly rewarded, cutting taxes for millions of people and capping welfare, so work always pays. And we know who it is that creates those jobs – not Government; it is businesses. So we are cutting your corporation tax, your national insurance contributions, your business rates and that is our ambition for a second term: to make this the best place in the world to start and to grow a business.
Responsibility. We share the belief that we have duties to others: family, community, country. I have spent years trying to explain the ‘Big Society’, but Jewish communities have been putting it into place for centuries. I think of Ecclesiastes: “woe betide one who is alone and who falls with no companion to raise them” and wherever I see problems in our society, I see the Jewish community: a companion, raising those who fall.
Ours is an aging population – and an increasingly lonely one and there is Jewish Care, looking after those who are elderly and alone. More and more children are being diagnosed with disabilities and there is Norwood, caring for those families who find themselves often in tough situations.
One of our greatest responsibilities is to future generations. Now when we came to office, we inherited the biggest budget deficit of our peacetime history. That was putting off investors, it was pushing up mortgage rates but even more than that it was racking up unsustainable debts for the next generation to pay. That’s why line one in our long-term plan is this: deal with our debts. And we are. Our deficit is down by a half. And by 2018/19 we will be running a surplus. No other party is committed to this simple act of responsibility. And we need a second term to make sure this country really does fix the roof while the sun is shining.
And that leads me to the final value we share – openness. Britain is an incredibly successful multi-racial democracy. Millions of careers have been built on the freedom this country offers. Countless dreams have been fulfilled because of our tolerance. But amidst all that is good in our country, prejudice and bigotry still remain in some places.
I’m proud of what we have done to combat anti-Semitism. In four years we have spent millions protecting Jewish schools from attack, we have excluded 152 hate preachers and others from our country, our hate crime legislation has been described as some of the strongest in the world. I know how important this is.
Last week I saw where bigotry and prejudice can end. I went to Auschwitz-Birkenau. And do you know what? It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read, how many documentaries you’ve studied, how many films you’ve seen, it’s only when you stand under that sign, “arbeit macht frei”, when you walk alongside those train tracks that bought millions to their death, when you see the children’s clothes, the parents’ luggage, the hair, the gas chambers, the ovens, it is only then that the horrific enormity of it all actually comes home to you.
Every year, there are fewer and fewer survivors alive to tell us what happened. One day and it will not be one day too long, there won’t be any of them left. So we have got this vital task: to ensure that the lessons from the Holocaust are learned today and that those lessons are as vibrant and as strong in 10, in 50, in 100 years’ time.
So, at Auschwitz last week, filled, yes, with an overwhelming sense of grief for the victims, my resolve was renewed to make sure we never forget what happened there, and at so many other camps, whether that is paying for schoolchildren to visit, whether it is teaching classes about Anne Frank, supporting Holocaust Memorial Day or setting up my Holocaust Commission – which is ensuring Britain never forgets. This is our task – it is a sacred task. And we must not fail. Why must we never forget? So it never happens again.
And that brings us back to Israel. One of the reasons the Holocaust was able to happen is because there was no Israel. And that is one reason – one mighty big reason – why this party will always stand behind that nation, the homeland of the Jewish people.
So, my friends, 146 days to go and the battle at the next election is about policies and plans and values but really it’s about the sort of country that we want to live in: A country that believes in opportunity – or sinks back to envy, a country that promotes responsibility and pays its debts, or opts for debt, taxes and chaos. Do we make the most of our potential or do we waste it? Are we a country that sticks by our friends or lets them down? I say to you, if you share my choices – come with me, work with me, fight with me for the values, the friendships and the country we all love. Thank you very much.