As the old saying goes: to govern is to choose, however difficult the choices. In the past five years I haven’t been short of difficult choices to make, but I believe that, when we look back, people will see we made the right, long-term choices for Britain.
You saw it in last week’s budget. We chose a responsible, long-term budget over the usual pre-election giveaways. I remember sitting on the green benches in 2005, watching Gordon Brown at the despatch box, promising jam today and jam tomorrow, ignoring the fact that Britain was living beyond its means.
We have rejected that cynical approach. This budget did not contain any irresponsible extra borrowing. It did not use the boosts of low inflation and lower debt interest to fund giveaways. Instead we have directed our firepower to dealing with our debts. Back in 2010 we said we would get debt falling as a share of GDP by the end of this parliament. Many said it was impossible, especially given the eurozone crisis. But — by George — we’ve done it. What is more, we have set clear plans to get our country back into surplus by 2018. The sun is starting to shine — and we are fixing the roof.
So I hear Labour’s non-plans and short-term policies and I am deeply concerned. The security of millions of families rests on May 7, and yet major questions are left unanswered. How would Labour deal with our deficit? Just how much more would they borrow? What taxes would they increase? Where do they want to take our economy?
Three years ago, Ed Miliband dashed over to Paris and said he wanted to follow the president: “We are in agreement in seeking that new way that needs to be found and I think can be found.” He wanted us to follow the same path as the new French government. But where has that path led? Unemployment over the Channel is almost twice what it is in the UK. Our economy is growing seven times faster than France’s. Imagine if Miliband had been free to pursue his French dream: the fallout would be felt in catastrophic job losses, falling living standards, eye-watering debt and fast-diminishing hope in our future.
The path we need is the path we are on — and it has two approaches at its heart, both of which were evident at this budget.
One: investing in tomorrow rather than today. This government has consistently put our long-term national interest over short-term gain. At budget after budget we’ve protected science and funded research. We’re building the first railway lines north of London since Victorian times, updating roads, investing in broadband. It would have been easier to give that money directly to people in tax credits or higher welfare. But we have always rejected the short-termism that held Britain back — and we did the same this budget. There were investments in science and technology; we are abolishing national insurance contributions for the under-21s, giving many more young people a brighter future; and making sure the foundations of our economy are strong means we can keep securing the future of public services like our NHS.
Two: rewarding those who work hard and do the right thing. For too long, those who did the right thing were punished. Savers got penalised for saving. Young people worked long hours in a fruitless quest to buy a home. Bankers boasted about paying less tax than their cleaners. Since 2010 we have been working to turn this around — from a fair state pension, to Help to Buy, to tax cuts for the lowest paid.
This budget built on that work. Another million of the lowest paid are being taken out of income tax. The savings tax is being abolished for 95% of taxpayers, so every penny you saved you will keep. A new Help to Buy Isa will mean more young people getting the keys to a home of their own: for every £200 saved, they will get an extra £50 — so if they save £12,000, they’ll have £15,000 to help get them on the housing ladder. Bit by bit, we are restoring the link between effort and reward.
These approaches are paying off. We are the jobs engine of Europe, with 1,000 new jobs created every single day since 2010. The deficit is down. We have the lowest inflation on record. Last year, ours was the fastest-growing major economy in the developed world.
It’s not just a bigger economy we are building, but a better one. Manufacturing is growing rapidly. Over the last year, the north grew faster than the south. Yorkshire created more jobs than the whole of France. And critically, the rewards of recovery are being spread more fairly. The share of tax paid by the richest is rising. The hardworking, lowest paid are feeling the wind at their backs as they pay less in tax — or none at all. The independent experts at the Institute for Fiscal Studies have confirmed that living standards in 2015 are forecast to be higher than when we took office. In homes across our country there is a growing sense of hope and security.
All this presents a very clear choice to you on May 7: between competence and chaos. This is not about dry and dusty budget forecasts, but people’s lives. That’s why I urge the people of Britain to stick to the long-term economic plan that has got us this far — and make the right choice for you and your family.