Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Stratford On Avon.
For the vast majority of the time the Conservatives have been in Government since 2010, the political narrative has been about dealing with the deficit, turning our economy around and getting people back into work.
This is a classic Conservative story. Whenever Labour get into power, they spend everyone’s money – not just the rich – then they run out and don’t know what to do next. The Conservatives come in, clean everything up, and put the country back on the right track. This has been how the two parties have been viewed for many years, and it’s stuck around because, historically, it has been largely true. You can vote Conservative when you need a mess sorted out. You vote Labour when the country is able to be, well a bit ‘nicer’.
Labour have enjoyed talking about ‘typical Tories’ and ‘the return of the nasty party’ as we’ve set about creating a more efficient Government machine, in response to the public finance disaster they left behind. But any proper analysis of what we’ve done in Government shows that we have moved past being constrained by these traditional roles.
There has been a real desire to fix deep social problems, a desire to expand opportunity and a desire make Britain greater for all her people. Now, I know that there’ll be some committed members of the ‘nice’ Labour Party (perhaps one of those who supported Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘kinder, gentler politics’) who may well accidentally read this piece, and decide that this is the moment to go on Twitter and inform me that I’m ‘Tory Scum’. But I’d urge you to hold fire a moment, Comrade! Because, this isn’t a Conservative in sheep’s clothing, putting on the coat of social justice at election time. Perhaps we should consider what the two parties have done these last six years.
My party introduced gay marriage, meaning anyone can express their love and build a family. While it was a coalition policy, it would never have got anywhere without the support of the Prime Minister. Although this law has quickly become normality and an accepted part of life, it should be remembered what a historic achievement this was.
Another great achievement has been the vastly increased employment, on a scale not seen anywhere else in the world, providing families with a pay cheque and the pride of work. It is this Government that is introducing a National Living Wage, to help make work pay, especially for those on the lowest wages. Labour now argue it is not enough, but it is higher than that promised in their 2015 manifesto. This is on top of huge increases to the personal allowance, ensuring those that work get to keep more of their hard earned money.
We have reformed schools, despite Labour complaints on behalf of the Unions, but now more than a million more children are being taught in good or outstanding schools – a million more children getting a better education, and a better chance in life.
We are going to provide three million apprenticeships on top of the 2.3 million during the last Parliament; 3 million opportunities to increase skills while doing a real job, earning a wage and contributing to a business. We have uncapped university places, meaning that the best universities can provide places to anyone who’s good enough to go there. Despite campaigns against tuition fees and maintenance loans, we’re increasing the maintenance available to those from the poorest backgrounds, and more people from disadvantaged families are applying for university than ever before.
The Prime Minister has also had racial inequality firmly in his sights. He has appointed the Labour MP, David Lammy, to lead an equality investigation for the Ministry of Justice. He has told universities to have name-blind admissions, and publish what proportion of ethnic minorities get places. He has reached out to Muslim communities and provided funding for women to learn English, and become better integrated into society.
These policies are all part of our goal to increase opportunity, whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you want to do or be. We want to make education at all levels better and more open, then make sure that there is a good career open to you, and most of all we want to ensure that you are not arbitrarily held back because of the colour of your skin, your sexuality or your religious beliefs.
It is undeniable that the Government has made, and is making, real progress in righting social wrongs. Our party cares about these issues, and my Parliamentary colleagues that talk about them are themselves from all backgrounds, races, classes, sexualities and religions, north and south. This is a party that not just fights for a modern Britain, but reflects it too. No wonder that, while still not enough, the number of ethnic minorities voting Conservative doubled from 2010 to 2015.
What is Labour’s response? Well, they would rather argue with themselves about Trident, NATO, union strikes and only come together to oppose every change to the welfare system we make. At PMQs last month, Corbyn opposed the policy to regenerate sink estates, and improve lives for those that live there. I cannot improve on what the Prime Minister said in response:
“They’ve got absolutely nothing to say about people trapped in housing estates, who want a better start in their life…. Who here is the small c conservative, who is saying to people, ‘stay stuck in your sink estates’… that is the fact of politics today – a Conservative Government who want to give people life chances, and a Labour Opposition who say ‘stay stuck in poverty’.”
Our party must retain its reputation for economic prudence, but while doing this we can fight social injustice too. If we succeed, then more and more people will think: what’s the point of the Labour Party?