With Ed Miliband’s leadership ratings in the deep freeze and Labour’s dire mid-term polling figures, it is easy to forget that an unthinkable Labour Party reoccupation of Downing Street is a distinct possibility. This is a deeply depressing thought when the country is just now showing signs of recovering from their last economic mess.
This risk must sharpen our minds. It must bring conservative-leaning people together. Whatever the differences on the centre-right, we cannot allow a Labour-led government to crash our economy, undo our good progress on immigration and make enemies of competitive British businesses and wealth creators, which are driving this recovery. We certainly cannot allow our country to return to the tax and spend, big state policies that brought our country to its knees in the first place. Above all, we must be absolutely certain that the British people get their say in an EU referendum sooner rather than later.
The economic recovery is fragile. We are still at risk of a market shock. It has taken a lot of hard work to restore investor confidence in the UK and avoid the overspending and economic collapse of Greece and others. The deficit, unemployment and immigration are all down while growth, business activity and job creation rates are picking up.
A Balls/Milliband Labour government in 2015 would trash this hard-won momentum. That is why all Conservatives must come together to make sure that the hard work and difficult decisions of the last three years are not put to waste. Now is the time to focus again on the Labour Party and its plans for state control, paternalism and socialism.
First, the economy: These last three years have been a success not only because the Conservative-led Coalition stabilised the economy and cut the deficit down to size, but because the Government started the process of rebalancing the economy away from the bloated public sector. It is a testament to this programme’s success that UK private sector employment is now at an all-time high.
Britain became great due to its enterprising entrepreneurs – that is something all Conservatives recognise. Conservatives know that people with vision and determination should have the opportunity to realise their ideas. We know it’s wrong for their ambitions to be blunted by a state that takes away huge chunks of their hard-earned money, chokes them in unnecessary regulation and clogs up the free-market with state monopolies.
But the Labour Party has an unhealthy obsession with the state. They believe that the Government can and should solve all of our problems, acting like an overbearing friend who knows best, sniping and telling you what to do from the sidelines. That’s why the Labour Party can never be trusted with the economy again. In its march to solve problems, it will build giant government departments that suck up taxpayers’ money, while ignoring those people who actually use our public services. Members of the public will be pushed around like play pieces, leading to tragedies like Mid-Staffordshire.
A big state creates big problems and costs big money. Judging from what I hear in Parliament, the Labour Party appears to have learned nothing from its mistakes. The Shadow Chancellor has finally been forced to admit that the economy is growing again – at one of the fastest rates in the OECD – but we must realise that he has his mind on other things. He sees growth as an opportunity to hike taxes on our businesses so that his ‘big state’ can solve all the problems.
The welfare state
Second, the welfare state: Under three successive Labour governments, we watched as the Government doled out handouts left, right and centre and bred state-dependency. At the same time, as unemployment benefits were ramped up, Gordon Brown introduced tax credits to buy off middle-class voters. Not only was this a costly administrate nightmare, but it also created perverse incentives.
People were left to languish on benefits because work didn’t pay, while others were lost in mountains of benefits paperwork – young businesspeople and elderly individuals were the most obvious victims. It is devastating to hear that 1 in 3 poor pensioners are not registered for their state pension top-up, probably because they, like most of us, cannot make head or tail of the system. So it is no surprise that inequality peaked under the last Labour government.
Thankfully, Iain Duncan Smith has begun to clear up the welfare mess. The Conservatives have started rolling out Universal Credit which pools a whole battery of complicated benefits into a single payment that makes sure that you’re always better off in work. He has also introduced a new single-tier pension that gets rid of all the outdated and complex elements of the current system. There will be teething problems with this heroic clean-up job, but we must stick by Iain Duncan Smith as he completes his difficult work.
Immigration and the EU
Finally, there’s immigration and Europe. What would a Labour government do if it came to power? Nobody really knows. Miliband has already admitted that Labour “got it wrong” when it estimated that only 13,000 people would come to the UK and net migration peaked at an eye watering 252,000 instead. There is more to be done, but under the careful eye of Theresa May, immigration has now fallen to its lowest levels in a decade with net migration from outside the European Union at its lowest level for 14 years.
But while the Coalition continues to crack down on Labour’s rubber-stamped bogus colleges, the two Eds have been playing policy dodgems. It would be a mistake to give them the keys to our borders again – last time they simply left the doors open. One thing is certain: Labour will have to tackle our relationship with Europe. But while the Conservatives have guaranteed this country a referendum by 2017, the Labour leadership are engaged in political infighting.
With the centre-right united we can win
The centre-right conservative family is in good health. But it needs a family reunion. We must do all we can to bring together people who may have voted UKIP, Labour or LibDem, or withheld their vote in the recent past. We must keep the doors open. It is our job as Conservative MPs and as party members and activists to do our bit.
This is why the Conservative Renewal Conference last Saturday was just a great event. It was a forum for respectful debate, where Conservative politicians, thinkers and activists could explore new ideas and policies proposals. This is the type of open and frank discussion between all levels of party supporters that we need to have, if we’re going to defeat Labour in 2015.
I have no doubt that if all conservative-thinking people were united behind the Conservative Party we can deliver an EU referendum, win in 2015 and continue the painstaking but rewarding work of getting our country back on track.