Liz Truss is Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and is MP for South West Norfolk.
Ten years on from the crash, it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come since Labour’s days in government. For people just going to work and getting on with their lives, it isn’t obvious that there are more people in work now than ever before, and that our unemployment rate is among the lowest in the developed world.
There’s still more to do: that’s why we’re continuing to support business, invest in world-class infrastructure and boost skills as part of our modern Industrial Strategy. It will deliver the high-paid jobs crucial to boosting living standards and growing the economy.
Having a job, a decent wage and fair taxes is something everyone expects when we put in the work – politicians shouldn’t expect to be thanked when things are going well. But we should all remember what it was like in 2008 – when everybody felt the squeeze from the financial crisis, which was made much worse by Labour’s flagrant spending and debt-fuelled economy from the mid-2000s.
That’s why it irks me to see Jeremy Corbyn and his acolytes shout about how terrible Britain is. They ignore the fact that there are jobs for people that need them, that taxes have been held down so people have more at the end of the month, and that the economy is bigger than it’s ever been.
When Labour left office, Britain was piling on debt at the highest rate since World War Two. Now our debt is starting to fall. When you hear Labour chanting about spending cuts, remember that it was Labour’s policies that got us into the mess, and Conservative policies that brought back the jobs. Now Labour want to go back to that: a spending and debt rampage that John McDonnell has been dreaming about for 30 years. It doesn’t take a psychic to work out what would happen – we’ve been there before.
But it gets much worse. Labour’s last manifesto was heavy on spending other people’s money – half a trillion in fact, that McDonnell himself said was ‘mediocre’ and just ‘the first step’. But their plans for our economy go much further than that. They resent individual success so much that he wants to destroy our economic system altogether – no matter the cost. That’s why McDonnell called business the ‘real enemy’, and welcomed the financial crash that cost half a million people their jobs, saying ‘I’ve been waiting for this for a generation’.
It’s not just about more spending and debt. They want to bring down the system of free enterprise and exchange which Britain invented and has prospered so much from, and replace it with a committee of Corbyn, McDonnell and Diane Abbott telling us all how we should live our lives. Corbyn’s shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, got it right when she said it’s ‘sh*t or bust’ – a big gamble with our economy, with ordinary people’s livelihoods as chips on the poker board. In normal times, it would be baffling to hear the Labour party planning such total economic self-destruction. But these are not normal times.
Brexit gives Britain a massive opportunity to succeed as a free trading nation where if you work hard and play by the rules you can succeed. I don’t agree with the doomsayers who think Britain’s best days are behind us. Our open, tolerant, free-thinking attitude means new ideas thrive, people aren’t afraid of breaking the mould and starting businesses which make nearly everything we do cheaper and better. This attitude will only become greater as we leave the EU and shirk the barriers it puts up to the outside world.
But there is one big threat to Britain’s post-Brexit success looming on the horizon – Jeremy Corbyn and his big gamble with our economy. If he’s allowed into Downing Street just at the moment that we’re entering the world stage as an independent nation, I have no doubt those opportunities right there for the taking will be missed. Instead of being able to sign new trade deals, we’ll become more closed as trade barriers go up and ever more regulations and taxes are slapped on business.
Margret Thatcher said it best about Labour’s constant war on winners: ‘they would rather the poor were poorer, if the rich were less rich’. Britain would become a place where business is frowned upon, much to the joy of a smirking McDonnell. The poor would be poorer, true, but the rich will be non-existent – and that’s the greater prize for them.
So when you look at the difference between the Conservatives and Labour, there’s a lot at stake. It’s not just about levels of tax and spending. It is about whether we want to take the opportunities now open to us, or miss them because of some obsession with bringing down business and limiting people’s success.
Not everyone voted for Brexit – I didn’t at the time. But it’s not hard to see a bright future for Britain, if we choose to look for it. I want our country to be a success, and believe we’re on the right path. But with the economy shackled by Corbyn, the whole thing will have been for nought. It’s time to look forward, not back, to a future with all the confidence of a nation unleashed.