Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Spring Conference: Danny Alexander MP's Speech

Holding the position of Chief Secretary to the Treasury through the difficulties of the last 3 and a half years has been a great privilege and an enormous challenge.After the huge task of tackling the deficit, after all the criticism from our opponents, after the headwinds from the Eurozone and the United States.

Employment is rising.

Unemployment falling. Growth is back.

We know that Governments don't create jobs and growth.

It is the hard work of millions of people and hundreds of thousands of businesses that does that - but Government can and must create the right conditions for this to happen.

Be in no doubt that the right conditions for this recovery would not have happened without the Liberal Democrats in Government.

Every job that's been created, every apprenticeship opened up, every tax cut delivered for working people has our Liberal Democrat DNA running through it.

Because of us, Britain is on its way back.

As Liberal Democrats, we aspire to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.

And we know the words are in that order for a reason.

Building a fairer society on a weak economy is like trying to build a house on foundations of sand.

That's why repairing the British economy has been our highest priority.

But you can never have a truly strong economy without fairness.

That's not the Lib Dem way.

That's why in taking the difficult decisions my priority has always been to ensure the wealthiest contribute the most.

Rescuing the economy hasn't been easy.

The economic and financial disaster left by Labour was biblical in scale.

Tackling the crisis requires a clear strategy and a determination to stick to a sound economic plan - and to continue to stick to it in the years to come.

But repairing the economy on its own isn't enough.

We have to do it fairly.

That's why we forced onto the agenda the decisions to cut income tax for working people.

Conference, note that word 'forced'.

We have had to fight for this at the last election and at every Budget and at every Autumn Statement since 2010.

And what a fight it has been.

It started in those election debates when the Conservatives said 'We cannot afford it'.

In 2010 the Conservatives campaigned for inheritance tax cuts for millionaires, we fought for and delivered tax cuts for working people.

In 2012 the Conservatives wanted 'shares for rights', we fought for and delivered tax cuts for working people.

In 2013 the Conservatives wanted a tax break for married couples that excluded millions of families, we fought for and delivered - you guessed it - more tax cuts for working people.

Now, somewhat belatedly, some Tories are feebly trying to claim credit.

But there's a big difference between doing something because you have to, and doing it because you want to.

In this coalition they had to, because we wanted to.

Don't get me wrong, it must be hard to be a Tory in a Treasury delivering so much Lib Dem policy, so it's no surprise if some of them have gone native.

Raising the income tax threshold has given working people the largest tax cut in modern times.

Just 4 weeks from now, over 25m working people will benefit from being able to earn their first £10,000 tax free.

That is a tax cut of £700 for over 25m workers.

This move has also taken over 2.5m people out of tax all together.

This tax break was promised by the Liberal Democrats - but resisted by the Conservatives.

Fought for by the Liberal Democrats.

And people know that it is being delivered by the Liberal Democrats.

And fellow Liberal Democrats, we're not stopping there.

Every day in the run up to the Budget Nick and I are drawing strength from our Party's growing campaign to press for a further rise in the allowance to £10,500.

That would be another £100 tax cut for working people on top of the £700.

We are fighting just as hard to deliver yet again for British working people.

And what of the future - after the May 2015 election.

As you know, Nick has asked me to lead our team that will negotiate with the other Parties should the British people deliver another hung Parliament.

I will be honoured to work with our colleagues Sal Brinton, Lynne Featherstone, David Laws and Steve Webb. What a team!

Our Party will fight the next election with our own ideas.

Our own policies.

Our own values - no one else's!

And I can tell you that a top priority in any negotiation will be our aspiration to raise the personal allowance dramatically again in the next Parliament.

To raise it to £12,500.

Conference, that would be a further tax cut for working people of £500.

A two term Lib Dem government would then be delivering a tax cut for working people of £1200 - that's £100 a month.

And we would start the process as soon as possible by delivering a tax cut of at least £100 in the first Budget of the new parliament.

Record tax cuts for record numbers of working people.

Liberal Democrat policy, delivered by Liberal Democrats in government with the promise of more to come.

We've helped in other ways too.

We've offered help to freeze Council Tax. Curiously, many Tory and Labour councils are refusing to pass that help on.

While Labour and Tories put up council tax, 95 per cent of Councils run by Liberal Democrats are freezing Council Tax next year.

Whether it's in Westminster or in Town Halls, the Liberal Democrats are demonstrating that we can be trusted with people's money.

We've helped by freezing 'Fuel Duty'.

This will save families 20p per litre by the next election - £12.00 when filling up a typical family car.

And in some of our most remote places, we've actually cut fuel duty.

All these measures help.

But we know that many people are still feeling the financial pressure.

The reality is that only way to help raise living standards for the long term is to fix the economy.

This has not been straightforward.

It has tested our nerve and our ingenuity.

We have had to face up to challenges made harder because previous Governments ducked them.

Conference, this is not just the story of your parliamentarians and of your team in Government.

This is your story.

Only because of your unstinting hard work across the country was this Party able to rise to the challenge of Government.

Only because you have kept the faith can we now look forward.

But this is a story that we ALL have to tell.

This needs to be told on every doorstep in every constituency.

It needs to go on every one of your leaflets and letters.

This won't be the first time that we've had to rely on our own campaigning to tell our story - but it's more important than ever.

On the doorsteps, people have been known to ask 'But what have the Liberal Democrats ever done for us?

Now, you have the answer.

Record numbers of jobs - delivered.

Falling unemployment - delivered.

Low inflation - delivered.

A growing economy - delivered.

Record cash rises in the state pension - delivered.

Record numbers of apprentices - delivered.

A £700 income tax cut for 25m workers - delivered.

That, ladies and gentlemen is what the Liberal Democrats have done for our country!

Each and every one of these things is important.

But my feeling is that we've delivering something more.

As I talk to people and businesses across the country I see first hand that we are delivering a sense of optimism.

Of hope.

After all the stresses and strains since the crash of 2008, we can feel confidence returning.

There is still much more to do and there are risks ahead.

In my own native Scotland, the most serious risk to the recovery would be a 'Yes' vote in the referendum.

In every sense, economically, socially, politically, we know we are literally 'Better Together'.

The economic and political arguments are overwhelming.

But for me, this is more than an argument about logic or perceived self-interest of any kind.

It's about the spirit of our family of nations.

It's about our joint heritage.

It's about that this being a time to come closer together to face the challenges of the world rather than to move further apart. Nationalism is about creating new barriers between people. Liberalism is about breaking them down.

That is why Liberal Democrats will fight so hard to keep the UK together.

The wider UK faces risks too.

I can see two major risks post 2015.

They are called the Labour Party in government by themselves and the Conservative Party in Government by themselves.

Just look at the Conservatives on Europe - hopelessly divided.

With only 75 days to the most important Euro elections in a generation, their divisions are growing deeper.

The anti-European Conservatives should hang their head in shame for trying to play chicken with our largest export market.

Over 3,500,000 UK jobs depend on our trade with Europe. 'Out of Europe' means 'Out of Work'.

Only the Liberal Democrats understand that 'In Europe' means 'IN Work'.

Too many Conservatives are now flirting with exit from the EU for the British economy to be safe in their hands alone.

And what of Labour?

Labour haven't even had the decency to apologise for their catastrophic handling of the economy.

They are drifting ever left ward and are turning into the anti-business Party.

They've been wrong on just about every economic issue of recent history.

Wrong on the 'triple dip'.

Wrong on the deficit.

Wrong on unemployment.

So many Labour politicians remain so wedded to more borrowing and more debt that the economy would not be safe in their hands alone.

The truth is that for decades, our country has lurched between Labour Governments that have borrowed too much and Conservative Governments that have cut too much.

What this coalition has proved, is that with the Liberal Democrats in the mix we can have a

Government anchored in the centre ground.

A Government that can be trusted to spend your money wisely.

That's because we are a Party that you can trust to run the economy successfully AND have an innate sense of fairness and social justice.

There is still much to do in this Parliament and the next to pay down the deficit and secure the recovery.

This must be done fairly.

And here's where I have news for those on the right - there is such a thing as society.

We cannot and will not rely only on cutting public spending and targeting welfare to finish the job.

That's why we are committed to ensuring that the wealthiest pay their fair share.

We will find a way forward that underpins a stronger economy AND delivers a fairer society.

Liberal Democrats will complete the job of eliminating the deficit as planned. When the public finances are back in balance, we will still have work to do to get our national debt burden down to safe levels.

It would not be fair to leave that to our children.

But we Liberal Democrats will also ensure that the state has the resources to fund the public services and infrastructure investment that our country needs.

And we will insist that the wealthiest make a proper contribution.

A strong economy and a fair society.

Conference, the last few years have seen our Party tested in the greatest economic crisis of our time.

Your fortitude has been uplifting to those of us that have represented you in the Government that has rescued the British economy.

This Government has seen our values and policies 'made real'.

Think what more we could do with a second term in office.

Only we can protect Britain from the irresponsibility of the left and from the unfairness of those on the right.

Only with the Liberal Democrats in office can we make sure continue the recovery.

That matters because.

Every boost to growth creates a job.

Every job created helps a family.

Every tax cut for working people is another step towards a stronger economy and a fairer society.

This is our story - now let's go and tell it with confidence and pride.