This weekend, many people will have received their postal votes for the European and local elections. If your pencil is hovering over the Conservative box — or if you’re wondering whether you’ll make it to the postbox at all — I’m writing this directly to you.
People used to say there is no choice in politics anymore. With these elections, that has been blown apart. There is a vigorous national debate going on, with clear water between all the different parties.
I welcome that — and here I want to tell you the three things that distinguish the Conservative Party from the rest.
First: while other parties talk, Conservatives deliver. Nowhere is that more true than in Europe. Labour and the Liberal Democrats pay lip service to public opinion, but in reality think there’s barely any need for change in Europe. Ukip talk about the national interest, then vote against it.
Beyond the mood music, there is only one party with a credible plan in Europe. I have set out, very clearly, the key areas we are renegotiating on: keeping our border controls; cracking down on benefit tourism; securing more trade; getting more control over justice and home affairs; and getting Britain out of “ever closer union”.
Once we’ve negotiated, whatever the outcome, the British people will have the final say on our future in Europe, with that in-out referendum in 2017.
If you’re reading this thinking “I’ve heard all this before” – I get it. I was watching, too, when Labour made Britain the doormat of Europe and signed British taxpayers up to eurozone bail-out funds. So I understand the scepticism.
But if you want proof that we will deliver, just look at our record. Those bail-outs Labour signed us up to? I pulled us out of them. When there was an EU treaty that wasn’t in our interests, I refused to sign it — the first British prime minister to do so. And we are the party who got the EU budget cut for the first time, saving British taxpayers £8.15 billion.
We’ve proved we can deliver. And as for that referendum? I have made a clear and personal commitment: I would not be Prime Minister of a government unless we could carry out our pledge of an in-out referendum. This is a fundamental principle for me.
So the lines are drawn: Labour and the Liberal Democrats won’t give you a say. Ukip can’t give you a say. It’s only the Conservatives who can and will give you a say in that in-out referendum.
The second distinction is this: while other parties favour short-term gimmicks, we have set out a long-term plan that is turning Britain around.
It’s a plan with five parts: reducing the deficit; cutting income tax; backing business to create more jobs; capping welfare and reducing immigration; and delivering the best schools and skills.
It is a plan that is working, with the deficit down by more than a third, 26 million people who have had their income tax cut, immigration down, welfare capped, 250,000 fewer young people in failing schools and more people in work than ever before.
Most importantly, it is a plan driven by core Conservative beliefs: you shouldn’t spend what you haven’t earned; leave something better to the next generations; work is the best welfare there is; everyone should rise as high as their hard work will take them.
These are the values that inspired Margaret Thatcher to unleash a wave of small businesses and that drove Harold Macmillan to build a property-owning democracy.
Our ultimate goal is not about gilt yields and bond markets, it is to give people more financial security; to give families more peace of mind; to help many more young people make the most of their talents and get on in life.
This is a long-term plan underpinned by our beliefs – and the contrast with Labour is stark. They’ve given us a succession of short-term gimmicks, underpinned by political opportunism: bank taxes they have “spent” 10 times over; an energy policy that turns out to be a con; a housing policy their own shadow housing minister said would not work in practice.
They’re flailing around because, ultimately, they have no ideas beyond the ones that got us into this mess — more spending, more borrowing, more taxes. The only party with a credible, long-term plan is the Conservative Party. The third distinction between us and the other parties is this: optimism vs pessimism.
It’s been said that I was a sunny optimist in Opposition who became a grim realist in Government. I don’t recognise that at all. I am more optimistic about Britain’s future than I have ever been. That’s because I’ve been to hundreds of offices, warehouses and labs across this country and seen Britain coming back.
I’ve seen it in the faces of the entrepreneurs who come to Downing Street who have been unemployed, who got a £3,000 loan from the Government and who are now running their own businesses. This is optimism based on fact, not just faith.
But there are politicians who refuse to be upbeat about Britain. To them, pessimism equals patriotism. They insist that our best days are behind us and that everything is bound to get worse. Like Pte Frazer politicians, they are perennially crying out that “we’re all doomed”.
To me, real patriotism isn’t running your country down at every opportunity, it is seeing its strengths and building on them — because time and again, the doom-mongers turn out to be wrong.
A few years ago, they said Britain was down and out; but now we’re one of the fastest growing economies in the developed world. They said: “Jobs will be sucked away from our shores, never to return.”
But in recent years, we’ve seen several companies move production and services back to Britain, such as Hornby from India to Sussex, or EE from the Philippines to Northern Ireland.
The doom-mongers predicted that reducing public spending would slash a million jobs; but we’ve got 1.5 million more people going out to work. They said that if there was a recovery, it would only be in London and the South East. But today, where are exports growing fastest? The West Midlands. Indeed, exports from there are set to grow three times faster than Germany’s by 2017.
There is so much cause for confidence in Britain today. We have four of the world’s top 10 universities. We have a higher employment rate than the USA for the first time since the Seventies. And we, the discoverers, inventors and chroniclers of gravity, DNA, penicillin and the web, are inventing more of the products and ideas that are shaping our world: the chip in your smartphone, the bionic arm, the latest in artificial intelligence.
We are not just celebrating this success, we’re building on it: the first nuclear power station for a generation, the first new railway line north of London for 120 years, the biggest construction project in Europe in Crossrail. The Conservative Party is optimistic about Britain, and unashamedly thinking big for Britain. That is real patriotism.
So this is what the Conservatives offer: delivery over talk. Plans over gimmicks. Optimism over pessimism. Above all, the passionate confidence that Britain is on the right track.
If you believe these things too, then please — get out to vote, post your ballot, and have your say. Your vote matters.