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Adam Afriyie is the Member of Parliament for Windsor and Co-Chair of the 2020 Conservatives Economic Commission.

AFRIYIE ADAMWith
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.


The Economy

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. The public will be pushed around like play
pieces in a bureaucratic megalith 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 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 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, when 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 and EU referendum, win in 2015 and continue
the painstaking but rewarding work of getting our country back on track.

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