Grant Shapps is Chairman of the Conservative Party and MP for Welwyn Hatfield
MPs return from recess this morning with less than two years of this Parliament to go. It's unfortunate that given the alleged conduct of the few, there’s a cloud hanging over Westminster today. It’s exactly the sort of thing that angers the public – but it also infuriates MPs of every party.
Over the past week Members of Parliament have been hard at work in their constituencies. They know it’s still tough out there. But MPs with their ears to the ground will also recognise the signs of progress. On visits to local businesses or talking to homeowners, they’re beginning to hear feedback that tells them the economy is rebalancing and starting to heal.
And above all, they know that despite the many distractions in politics, it’s this Conservative-led Government that’s best placed to press through with change. We won’t sit back like Ed Miliband and Ed Balls’ Labour party and simply wait for 2015 to roll around, in the complacent hope that by saying and doing nothing, people will be duped into voting for some non-existent programme.
Instead, we must continue to be the party of action. In government, things don't always happen as we expect. But we shouldn’t be disheartened. We’re making progress – progress that’s clear to see in the big economic markers that matter to those we represent. Last week, the British Chambers of Commerce upgraded the British growth forecast for the three years to come. It’s the first time a three-year forecast has increased since before the financial crisis in 2008.
With careful management of the nation’s finances, we’re making progress towards a stronger economy. Interest rates remain at record lows. Borrowing is down – £6.3 billion in April 2013. And inflation is also down – a drop in the Consumer Price Index making the weekly shop cheaper for families everywhere.
These aren’t just numbers. The strength of our economy has enormous implications – one of which is job creation. It’s often forgotten that every Labour government has left this country with more unemployed than when they came to power. By contrast, we’re working flat out to ensure that work always pays – something worth remembering as Labour try to discredit the most radical welfare changes introduced since the war.
For years under Labour, millions of people were trapped in an unfair welfare system. They might not have been getting the benefits they needed. Or they might not have been able to see the benefit of getting back to work at all. Some will encourage you to get lost in the detail of this debate. My response to those people is to ask the big question; are we helping to remove people from the benefit trap or not?
The answer is emphatically yes. Our message is simple; if you can work, then you should work. If you can’t work because of things beyond your control, the welfare system will support you. And that approach is working. Private sector jobs are up and we have a record number of people in apprenticeships. We’re winning the battle to make sure that work always pays in the country, and yes – in the process – we’re also releasing people from the benefit trap.
Throughout all this, Labour have remained silent. This summer, we were due the launch of their latest, ill-fated Policy Review. But once again, it’s been quietly dropped. By this time in Opposition, we had released a raft of Green Papers detailing our plans. Complacently, Labour are leaving it too late to come up with the big answers to the problems our nation faces.
As one Labour donor recently said when asked if his party had written a first draft of their economic message; ‘Patently this hasn't happened.’ After three years as Labour leader, people have an idea what Ed Miliband is against – every penny of reduction in expenditure, any cap whatsoever on welfare – but what no one can work out is what the heck he is for. To head towards the election with absolutely nothing to say is to attempt to take the British public for fools. With no meaningful message, the only conclusion to draw is that Ed Miliband is a weak leader.
In these difficult times Britain needs strong leadership. So during this mid-term we won’t be distracted from our historic task; fixing the deficit Labour left behind, reshaping our economy so that work always pays and being on the side of hardworking people. Now, we are making progress. And we owe it to the British people not to hand the keys back to the people who crashed our economy in the first place.