It’s a year since Conservatives and Liberal Democrats came together in the national interest to provide this country with the strong, stable government it needed. So it’s a good time to take stock – and I think Conservatives should take some pride in what we have achieved these past twelve months.
Of course, we haven’t been able to do everything we wanted to do, but that’s the nature of coalitions – you have to compromise and accommodate. But let’s keep our eyes fixed on the bigger picture. After thirteen years of Labour – and their waste, debt and taxes; spinning, smearing and briefing; and patronising, old-fashioned, top-down way of doing things – we are finally bringing some good Conservative common sense and values to this country.
Nowhere was our common sense and values needed more than in dealing with the deficit. ConservativeHome readers know well why we need to cut spending. They become clearer with every Eurozone country that applies for a bailout. But let’s be clear about how we’re doing it as well. Yes, we’ve been decisive– remember George Osborne saved £6 billion last year and we’re on course to balance the books within four years. But we’re also making these cuts in a way that protects the most vulnerable. We’ve protected the families with the least – with an extra £180 in child tax credits this year. We’ve protected the lowest earners – taking a million out of tax altogether. And because we’ve restored the pensions link to earnings, we’re making sure our elderly get an extra £15,000 over their retirement than would otherwise have been the case. In opposition, we said we’d get Britain back into the black in a way that is fair and responsible. And now we’re in government, we’re making good on that promise.
But we’ve always said our plans for government go so much further than just sorting out the deficit. We want to change our country for the better in every way. And here, again, we are applying core Conservative values to the task in hand.
We believe in responsibility – doing the right thing even if it’s the difficult thing. That’s why we’re so passionate about building a bigger society. The idea at its heart is something that all Conservatives understand – if we want a better country and a stronger society, we must all play our part. That’s why Eric Pickles’s Localism Bill signals the biggest shift in power from the state to communities seen for decades – with more freedoms for councils to spend their money as they wish and more freedoms for neighbourhoods to take control over housing, planning and the ownership of assets in their area.
We believe in real fairness. Under Labour, we had the warped, upside-down world where those who did the wrong thing got rewarded whereas those who did the right thing – who worked hard, paid their taxes and stayed out of trouble – got punished. We’re changing that. We’ve capped immigration to ease the pressure on our communities. And thanks to Iain Duncan Smith, we’ve started the long-overdue, deeply-needed reform of our welfare system that too often traps people in poverty. With us, it will always pay to work. And if people who can work still refuse to work, their benefits will be cut.
We also believe in compassion. No party has a monopoly on caring, but I think as Conservatives we should be particularly proud of some of the commitments we have stuck to this past year. We are protecting the NHS from cuts because we know that for so many people it is literally a lifeline. And we have also protected our aid budget because, likewise, for so many people it is a lifeline too. And this party should be proud that because of the decisions we have taken in government, in four years’ time we will not have just paid down the deficit – this country will also have vaccinated more of the world’s poorest children than there are people in the whole of England.
There’s something else Conservatives believe in – opportunity, for all. This has always been the Conservative dream – letting people flourish according to their talent, not the circumstances of their birth. So, in government, we have made some important decisions. We’re promoting excellence in education by ending the dumbing down of standards and boosting Academies and free schools. We have announced a package of measures – from shared parental leave to more money for relationship support – to strengthen families and give every child the best start in life. And we have also unveiled some of the most pro-growth, pro-enterprise policies in a generation. From cuts in corporation tax to new enterprise zones, investment in our infrastructure and science base to more apprenticeships and a review of all existing regulation, we are helping give our private sector-led recovery the boost it needs to create the jobs and opportunity people want.
Add to all this the way we have: protected Britain’s sovereignty by introducing a Bill that makes sure no government can hand more powers to Europe without first holding a referendum; advanced Britain’s national interest abroad with a Strategic Defence and Security Review, equipping our armed forces for the needs of the future; we have established a National Security Council to oversee the protection of our national security. And we’ve taken head-on, in the national interest, the difficult issues that previous governments ducked like putting higher education finance on a sustainable footing; and helped families with their finances with a council tax freeze and a fuel duty cut.
Having said that there is much, much more to do. This is a five year government whose pre-eminent task is to restore our economy to vigour and put our finances back on a sound footing. But as we go about doing it, I believe we can take our country with us.
Yes, those local election results last week were down to your hard work – to your campaigning, your knocking on doors, your getting the vote out. And I want to thank you for that.
I believe the British people know that difficult decisions have to be made. They know big problems call for big solutions. And I believe that as they look at what we’ve been doing, in the national interest, they will give us their support. So let’s move forward with confidence – confidence in our values and our ideas; and confidence that the British people will be with us.