Dominic Raab is Conservative candidate for Esher & Walton.
As polling day looms, amidst the blizzard of policy announcements and the media circus, what will convince those last undecided voters?
When I think of the contrast between us and Labour, I’m reminded of the story of Cuban President Fidel Castro, hectoring German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at a post-UN summit dinner in 1995. El Comandante was sticking it to Kohl: ‘You eat too much, you should watch your diet’. ‘I hadn’t realised you’d become so Americanized’, replied Kohl, unruffled. Castro continued in this vein, until at one point Kohl had had enough. ‘So’, Castro droned, ‘can you explain the secret of the so-called German economic miracle?’ Without blinking, Kohl retorted: ‘Deeds, Mr Castro, deeds – not words’. In the last 48 hours before voters decide, we need to be sending a clear, positive, message to the British people, based on what we’ve delivered.
For me, the Government’s most important achievement is the progress towards building an opportunity society. Reining in Government spending, to fire up the private sector, has made our economy more competitive. Under Labour, we plummeted from 4th to 13th on the World Economic Forum competitiveness rankings. Now, we’ve clawed our way back to 9th. That’s how British business created two million new jobs, and that’s why we’ve been able to cut income tax for 26 million people.
Yes, there are cost of living pressures. But, we should be robust not just in defending our record – but also the power of free enterprise to deliver a better quality of life for the poorest. What about the zero-hours economy of Labour myth? In reality, 75 per cent of the new jobs created have been full-time. And flexible hours are crucial for students, carers and working mums. Did Ed Miliband even bother to ask them? If he had, he would have found out that the vast majority on zero-hours contracts don’t want more work than they have, and – according to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development – have higher job satisfaction than the average employee.
As for food banks, Full Fact trashed the most recent claim that a million people are reliant on food parcels. Beyond the Trussell Trust’s irresponsible and partisan press release, attacking government austerity, their data shows that just 1 in 7 food bank referrals are related to benefit changes – and that number is declining. More importantly, the vast majority of people using food banks are not languishing indefinitely on the breadline. 85 per cent of all recipients relied on food banks between once and three times a year, because of short-term cash flow problems triggered by changes in circumstances. Of course, that’s an issue. But, the sustainable answer is to keep creating more jobs, and keep cutting the taxes of the lowest paid.
Equally, on any cost of living indicator that government can influence, things are better now than they were in 2010. 50 per cent more affordable homes built each year. Energy bills lower than if we’d stuck with Labour’s green taxes. Council tax, fuel duty, household debt and inflation are all down. On every benchmark blessed by the last government, we have less inequality, fuel poverty, child poverty, elderly poverty, and fewer NEETs (youngsters not in employment, education or training) than in 2010. For that, again, thank the dynamism of free enterprise that creates both the jobs and the revenue for our precious public services.
The real threat to the poorest comes from the anti-capitalist alliance of Labour, the SNP and the Greens. But what of the populist allure of a more equal society? There are all sorts of principled objections to Ed Miliband’s agenda. But, the bottom line is that rent controls, energy price freezes and large hikes in the minimum wage threaten to be counter-productive for the very people Labour says it wants to help – pushing up rents long term, creating spikes in energy bills and deterring employers from hiring. His statist agenda offers only a mirage that would, at close quarters, dissolve the economic competitiveness that creates the wealth he wants to spread.
The only vision of the fair society that strengthens, rather than saps, our economic competitiveness is the meritocratic kind that boosts social mobility. And, here, lies some of the Conservatives’ proudest achievements. Welfare reform has given light at the end of a debilitating tunnel for millions who want to lift themselves out of the rut of benefit dependency. A combination of firmer classroom discipline, greater focus on basics like numeracy and literacy, and more rigour in the exam system has seen 1 million more children passing through schools deemed outstanding or good by Ofsted compared to 2010. Likewise, developing more quality apprenticeships and expanding non-graduate routes into professions, like the law, are broadening the ladders of opportunities for youngsters from humble backgrounds.
Creating jobs, cutting taxes, better education – academic and vocational – represent our finest achievements over the last 5 years. These are the foundations of the opportunity society that will make our economy stronger and our society and fairer. And they’re built on deeds, Mr Miliband, not words.