Nadhim Zahawi is the Conservative candidate for Stratford On Avon.
After the terrible events of last Monday evening in Manchester, politics was quite rightly far from all of our minds, and campaigning was correctly suspended. But we must ensure that our great democracy continues to function, as normally as possible, and it is right that our focus is now being drawn back in that direction. After all, we are now less than a fortnight away from the general election on June 8th.
Theresa May has said that this is the most important election of her lifetime, and I agree. The next leader of this country will navigate our nation through the Brexit negotiations to come. Avoiding a bad deal could not be more important, and we need a strong leader with a real mandate from the voters of Britain to do this. Just as vital will be a Prime Minister who can make the outcomes of any deal work for everyone in our country, and who can take advantage of the great opportunities that Brexit can provide.
It is therefore clearly crucial that Jeremy Corbyn does not get thrust into the role. Even the smallest risk of this man, who engaged with the IRA rather than the SDLP in Northern Ireland, who wishes to bind the hands of our police when dealing with terrorist attacks, and who plans sweeping and unnecessary nationalisations of private companies without a plan for how to pay for them, should leave us very concerned.
However, we should not vote Conservative just to repudiate Corbyn and his naïve and damaging worldview, we should vote for May to recognise her unique abilities and capability to deliver what our country needs through competent government. Most importantly, we should also vote to endorse the policies of the Conservative manifesto, which doesn’t seem to have been given the attention it deserves since the document was released.
Coverage has been dominated by the announcement of a consultation on how to fund social care, and I will be glad to see a system brought in that guarantees you will be able to pass on at least £100,000 to your family, rather than the current protected amount of £23,250. It’s an important step in the right direction, especially if coupled with an overall cap on the contribution too. However, there is much else worth discussing in the manifesto, to create a country that works for everyone.
School funding has of course been another area of contention over the last few months. I have long campaigned for my constituency of Stratford on Avon to get a fairer share of the overall education budget, and I very much look forward to the Government improving upon the initial figures put out for consultation. The changes that the Conservatives have made so far to education, in order to provide more places in great schools, have sometimes been controversial. However, the results are outstanding, with 1.8 million more children attending good or outstanding schools since 2010, and the raising of standards and expectations has led to twice as many students taking the more rigorous core subjects at GCSE. There is more to do to create a rich and academically strong curriculum, to support teachers and to provide fairer school funding. I was therefore delighted that this work is so firmly backed in the manifesto, as well as commitments to enhance the options available to parents in school provision, and to make our technical education world renowned through T Levels.
This is not a manifesto that plays it safe, and seeks to keep things the way they are. This is a Conservative document that puts forward ideas to reduce the gender pay gap, the race gap, the mental health gap and the disability gap, as well as tackling domestic violence and homelessness. It is clear that the Prime Minister’s next government will not sit idly by while women get paid less to do the same job as men, while people with disabilities find it unnecessarily hard to find a job, or while the current Mental Health Act shows itself to be unfit for purpose.
There is a radical, ambitious zeal evident throughout the manifesto, and it is shown again in the desire to end iniquitous disparities between the generations. Pensioners should never again be subjected the sort of treatment experienced under the last Labour government, with insulting increases to the state pension – so pensions must always rise by the highest of inflation or average earnings. However, we must also do more so that younger generations can find an affordable place to live. The previous Government had great success in helping make home ownership more affordable, with such schemes as Help to Buy, but this manifesto is right to point out that the key is to build more houses. Policies such as enabling housing associations more flexibility to increase their stock and new council housing deals are as welcome as the promises that new homes will be high quality.
The Conservative manifesto – the plan for a stronger Britain and a more prosperous future – will serve as a solid foundation for May’s Government, not just for Brexit but in every policy area. The policies are there, and the policies are good. We need to work around the clock until the 8th of June to let the public know about it, and deliver the strong and ambitious government we need.