David Skelton is Director of Renewal, a campaign group dedicated to broadening the appeal of the Conservative Party.
Cast your mind back five years to the autumn of 2009. At that time, the UK was looking perilously over an economic cliff. Not for the first time, a Labour Government had brought this country to the edge of bankruptcy. Financial speculators were circling around our economy. Towns, cities and villages across the country were being hit hard by one of the worst recessions in living memory, and families were suffering the indignity of the mass unemployment that was a direct result of their Government’s economic mismanagement. Labour had built an economy built purely on financial services in London and, after 13 years in government, their economic disaster hit the poorest and the low-paid the hardest.
As we gather for the Conservative conference in Birmingham this weekend, the scale of the economic turnaround since those dark days under Labour is something we should be thoroughly proud of. While, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, no government could have fully repaired all of the damage that we inherited in just five years, this Government has done a remarkable job of creating jobs and ensuring that this is a recovery that benefits everybody.
Labour’s legacy of mass unemployment has been replaced with a real movement towards full employment, with over a million new jobs created and the majority of new private sector jobs being based outside of London. Labour’s reliance on the City of London meant that just one private sector job was created in the North for every ten in London. This has been turned around under the Conservatives – with almost three private sector jobs created in the rest of the country for each one created in London.
Gordon Brown standing up in his last Budget as Chancellor and announcing, with a grin on his face, that he was abolishing the 10p rate of tax, summed up the hypocrisy of the last Government. In one fell swoop he made a move that would have left 5 million of the poorest people worse off. By contrast, this Government has prioritised lifting the poorest out of tax altogether, with the lifting of the personal allowance meaning that 3 million people now pay no income tax whatsoever.
In Labour’s last two years in government, the minimum wage fell by 20p an hour in real terms, meaning that the poorest suffered the most from Labour’s recession. By contrast, the Conservatives by getting the economy back on track have been able to increase the minimum wage by above inflation, following a campaign by Renewal, Rob Halfon and others, with a bigger increase to come next year.
The Coalition has helped move people from the dole queue to the workplace with astonishing speed and is also helping to grow dynamic private sector economies in those parts of the country long taken for granted by Labour. Since the election, 279,000 new jobs, 77,000 new businesses and almost 180,000 new apprenticeships have been created in the North of England – in stark contrast to the widening North-South divide after 13 years of Labour government. Little wonder that Labour council leaders in the North have praised the Chancellor’s desire to build a “Northern powerhouse”. With initiatives such as the Northern hub, the Government is ensuring that the North has the infrastructure to build a strong economic future.
And Labour’s response to this movement towards full employment and a rebalanced economy? Total silence. Whereas tackling unemployment was once the raison d’être of the Labour Party, they now have nothing to say on the issue. Miliband’s claim to be on the side of the poorest has been exposed as entirely hollow.
Miliband’s disastrous conference last week said it all. Full of warm words about helping the poorest and rebalancing the economy, but with no policy ideas and no credibility. The rhetoric was a far cry from its record in government – and we must judge Labour on their record, try as they might to bury some uncomfortable facts. Ed Miliband talks regularly about tackling inequality, but he doesn’t mention that the Government of which he was a member saw inequality reach its widest level in modern times. Under this government, inequality has reached its lowest level for almost thirty years.
The vast educational inequality following 13 years of Labour government has also been tackled with necessary education reforms, ensuring everybody, regardless of their background, is able to make the most of their potential. The OECD have said that education and job creation are two of the most important factors in tackling poverty. The Government is delivering on both counts and Labour has nothing constructive to say about either
Labour’s legacy is one that we should never stop reminding them of – an economy left in tatters, mass unemployment, a schools system that let down the poorest, soaring inequality and a widening North-South divide. We should be proud of our record in government for taking substantial steps to help the poorest, tackle unemployment and build a stronger, sustainable economy. But the job’s not done, and that’s why we need a majority Conservative government in May to ensure that we have a chance to build on the good work of the past five years. If we let Ed Miliband in, it will be the poorest who, once again, bear the brunt of Labour’s failure.