Priti Patel is an elected Member of the Conservative Party Board, the 1922 Committee’s Executive and the Public Administration Select Committee. She is also a member of the Party’s Policy Board and MP for Witham.
Over the last couple of weeks, Britain has once again been reminded of the backward, statist and socialist policies that the Labour Party would inflict on them should it return to government. Schools have been shut by industrial action while firefighters have abandoned controlling a fire at a scrapyard in Dagenham to recklessly take strike action during bonfire weekend. Labour’s biggest financial backers, the Unite union, has also sought to bring down Britain’s industries through bullying at Grangemouth and the intimidation of the company’s managers and their families.
Instead of condemning these disgraceful acts, Ed Miliband and Labour are relishing the chance to turn the clocks back to the 1970s. They are silent on damaging industrial actions but loud on gimmicks. Price freezes, more public spending and tightening central controls on public services, such as the Probation Service, have been advocated by the Labour leadership. They have also flip-flopped over High Speed 2, failed to get fully behind the Government’s new and much-needed controls on immigration, and refuse to apologise for scaremongering the British people over the economy. It was not that long ago that Labour was claiming that the Government’s austerity programme would not work, and would lead to a million job losses. Those claims have been shattered by the upturn in the economy, the Government’s pro-business approach and, importantly, the unceasing ingenuity of Britain’s entrepreneurs and wealth creators.
We should be proud that the number of people in work is now at record levels, 1.4 million new jobs in the private sector have been created and there is a record 4.9 million businesses registered in Britain. Unemployment is going down and strong, steady growth is returning to the UK economy. The increased public sector borrowing and spending called for by Labour has not delivered this improvement in our economic outlook.
With Miliband and Ed Balls’ economic credibility further undermined by the economy’s success, the public should be frightened by what Labour offers. The danger that the party poses to the British economy should inspire Conservatives everywhere to campaign harder and redouble our efforts to win the next election. We should be out there engaging with the public and exposing the shallowness of Labour’s desperate attempts to win votes.
That Party’s claim to want to freeze energy prices is among the most straightforward to debunk. Not only is it economically illiterate, would distort the market and may lead to higher prices before and after the freeze period, but it fails to address the causes of high energy prices. For 13 years, Labour failed to modernise our energy infrastructure to increase and diversify supply, and did nothing to empower consumers to switch suppliers and find cheaper tariffs. Opportunities to develop new nuclear energy facilities, shale gas extraction and carbon capture and storage were wasted.
Actions that could have had a positive impact on energy prices and kept them down were rejected in favour of new green levies, taxes and costly subsidies for renewables. Miliband was among the biggest supporters and architects of Labour’s flawed approach while he was Energy Secretary and planned new costs for consumers which Conservatives in the Government have scrapped. Miliband’s sudden interest in energy prices has nothing to do with championing consumers, and he has not had a Damascene conversion. Rather, he is showing little more than naked political opportunism, behind which lies a disturbing agenda to increase state control.
In the Commons last week, we saw further examples of Labour’s centralising approach. In debates they called on teachers and on the probation service they have put themselves on the side of the vested interests of trades unions instead of supporting more choice and innovation in the delivery of public services. Our international standing on education slumped as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown put targets over standards and the development of skills useful for employment. A generation educated under Labour saw their literacy and numeracy levels fall behind those of many other developed countries.
This is why Conservatives in Government are bringing in more choice and innovation into schools to raise standards and to enable a new generation of pupils to leave school with skills strong enough to compete with the best in the world. We want teachers who can inspire our children and develop a new generation of young people who aspire to better themselves and make the most out of the opportunities they have. By contrast, Labour remains complacent and sides with those vested interests that are fearful of change rather than care about the best interests and education of today’s schoolchildren.
Likewise, on the probation service, Labour advocates maintaining a rigid statist system rather than enabling new providers to innovate and transform rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. While Conservatives recognise that more action is needed to reduce re-offending and get more criminals to change their behaviour and lead productive lives, Labour prefers to be the voice of vested interests.
Nowhere is Labour’s support for vested interests more prominent than with its relationship with trade unions. What the Unite union did in Grangemouth and their behaviour was an affront to common decency, and harks back to the industrial unrest of the 1970s. But Labour obediently allowed the union to harass and intimidate the plant’s managers and act in a way that put workers’ jobs on the line.
There will be more industrial unrest between now and the next election as union leaders, frustrated by the economy’s success proving their doomsday predictions on austerity to be wrong, seek to disrupt the recovery. But while Conservatives will stand up to support the economy and defend those who work hard, Labour will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the outrageous forces of the left.
Whether it is on energy prices, education, the criminal justice system or industrial relations, recent events prove Labour remains entrenched on the side of vested interests and unions. The challenges that face Britain will never be met by a Labour leadership ruled by unions and determined to send this country backwards into a socialist wasteland. As Conservatives, we must continue campaign against Labour’s dogma and shallowness. We must continue to be champions of enterprise, opportunity, choice, lower taxes, less regulation and more personal freedoms. And we must continue to enshrine those values into our policies to win the next General Election and make Britain a stronger, fairer and more prosperous country.