Normally a first-term government is given a second chance, but we’re not living in normal times and we all know this election will be one of the most closely fought in recent history.
So for what’s it worth, here are six reasons why I’m optimistic about May.
- We’re the only party with a clear plan for the future of the British economy. We’ve said we’ll deliver a budget surplus, full employment, three million more apprenticeships, a higher minimum wage and the infrastructure for a Northern Powerhouse. It’s a serious long-term strategy, it’s based on a realistic assessment of our nation’s strengths, and it’s a continuation of what we’ve already achieved.
By contrast, Labour’s economic policy amounts to a tax on bankers’ bonuses, a two year energy price freeze (except it’s now a ‘cap’), cutting the deficit by introducing higher charges for gun licenses, a tax on bankers’ bonuses again and a free owl for every household. The Greens want to shrink the economy, UKIP haven’t decided whether they’re in favour of free markets or public ownership and the Liberal Dems will decide what they’re in favour of after the election. Competence or chaos, it’s a clear choice.
- We have a strong retail offer to voters. When we’re asked on the doorstep: ‘what will a Conservative Government do for me?’ we can say we’ll cut your taxes, increasing the personal allowance from £10,600 to £12,500. Crucially, our offer embraces nearly all of the working age population – 30 million people – and includes the higher 40p threshold because we back aspiration.
By contrast, if you own a small business or you’re ambitious for your children, if you’re putting a bit of money aside at the end of each month then Labour have nothing to say to you. If you drive a white van, they’ll cross the road to avoid you.
- Every day the evidence is mounting: we’re taking the country in the right direction.We now have 1.7 million more people in work, three quarters of a million new businesses and 2 million more apprenticeships. Energy prices are falling, real wages are rising and last year we posted the fastest growth of any major Western economy.
When we point this out, the Opposition are quick to brand us ‘complacent Tories’. But we’re not complacent: we know there’s more to do to make sure everyone has a chance to share in the recovery. Yet that’s all the more reason for Britain to stick to the plan. We learned the hard way in 2008 that the biggest threat to peoples’ living standards is a debt crisis. Until the structural deficit is cleared our economy will remain vulnerable to future shocks.
- We have a vision for the country. From Macmillan’s ‘you never had it so good’ to the Thatcherite project of restoring national greatness, our history shows that we win when we’re optimistic about what Britain can achieve. We don’t just want to win so we can balance the books, but because we truly believe we can be the most prosperous major economy on earth by the 2030s. We’ve got the English language, a world-class research base and now the most competitive tax regime in G20, it’s well within our reach.
Yet with all this potential, the best Ed Miliband can aspire to for Britain is an £8 minimum wage, a lower increase than forecast by the Government.
- Labour don’t have a strategy, just a series of opportunistic tactical interventions which don’t add up. Labour began this Parliament saying that deficit reduction was an ideological assault on the state, then they opposed every cut we made, now they’re pledging fiscal discipline. On the NHS, they’re against private sector involvement under any circumstances, except when circumstances demand it. Their flagship energy price freeze policy has melted, their tuition fees policy has been savaged by universities and would leave those on the lowest incomes no better off. They say they’re in favour of enterprise, but can’t find a single business leader who agrees with them. They’re a One Nation party playing Scotland off against London.
In the heat and pressure of an election campaign, under the full glare of the media spotlight, these contradictions will start to unravel.
- Ed Miliband. Picture the scene. It’s late at night and the Prime Minister is woken from his bed to be told that Russian tanks are massing on the borders of a NATO ally. The Cabinet is hurriedly assembled to decide on Britain’s response. If the prospect of Miliband chairing that meeting frightens you then you are not alone. As we get closer to May, the whole country will have to confront that prospect.
So these six reasons are why I think there is both all to play for and much to lose if we get it wrong. Now we have to get out there and win.