Peter Mandelson: Don't gamble away the recovery

The Tories got the big judgements on the recession wrong. Now, in their ideological zeal for cuts, they want to take a massive risk
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Indy Politics

We've reached the point in this election where the time for TV debates is finished and the time for decision has begun. Anyone who has been out on the doorstep knows that there are millions of people who have yet to make up their mind. So there is everything to play for. And Labour is the only serious choice. We have a leader of immense strength and resilience, a man who combines toughness with a deep sense of fairness. A man who has been tested.

These are serious times and they need a serious and strong person at the helm to take us through. It is no time for novices, the worst possible time to take a gamble.

Just because the economy has returned to growth, we should not kid ourselves that we are out of the woods yet. Some of our European partners are in a state of financial peril. We are facing extremely tough challenges and tough decisions. Get those big decisions right now, and we can turn the economic crisis into prosperity. Get the big decisions wrong now and we could tip Britain back into recession and rising joblessness.

And that is what the Tories offer – a massive gamble with the recovery. They are proposing a £6bn cut straightaway in an "emergency" budget. To give a sense of scale, this is 10 times the amount of growth the economy saw in the first quarter. This is reckless and is a judgement born not from the economic needs of the country, but by the ideological zeal of an unchanged Conservative Party to start the task of cuts to public services immediately.

David Cameron and George Osborne got every big judgement wrong on the recession – on Northern Rock, on the fiscal stimulus and their plans for cuts in the middle of a recession. And now they are getting it wrong on the recovery.

Ask yourself what would have happened if those two had been in charge when the crisis hit? And ask yourself why they are arguing for cuts now – alone among the world's major economies? Because of their zeal for cuts, the Tories would have turned recession into depression. And now it would mean throwing away the recovery when the country cannot afford to take chances.

We have been warned. The Tories are not proposing to protect the schools budget, so every parent in the land should go into this election knowing they can expect deep cuts to their local schools if David Cameron wins. They are not protecting the police budget either, so we can expect cuts to your neighbourhood policing team. They want to cut Child Tax Credits and the Child Trust Fund for thousands of middle-income families and end our targeted economic support for the regions to help businesses invest and thrive.

Instead, their alternative is the "big society" – a phrase designed to conceal a George Bush-style withdrawal of universal public services. It is a future of cut-price DIY services that would set us on the path of unwinding public provision. It is an agenda that shows that, underneath the slick PR, the Tories haven't changed. Their priorities, an inheritance tax cut of £200,000 each for the 3,000 wealthiest estates while paring down Child Tax Credits, are not shared by the vast majority of British people.

If the Tories have the wrong values and the wrong policies, the Lib Dems have some of the right values but their policies are unaffordable, unfathomable or just not thought through. That's why Tony Blair warned against any flirtation with what he called "LibDemery" when he spoke to Labour staff at party HQ on Friday.

Nick Clegg has proved a stylish debate performer, but the Lib Dem manifesto was never intended as a serious programme for government. Real doubts are now setting in about his inexperience, about exactly who he is and what he stands for, about his policies on immigration, defence and his plans to cut child tax credits.

Supporters of progressive politics also have to consider which party is the best vehicle to achieve their aims. Labour is committed to a referendum on a fairer voting system and we will end the last vestige of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords.

This is the best chance in a generation to revitalise our political system but any such hopes would die if the Conservatives were to gain power this week. The Tories would kill electoral reform stone dead.

If you believe in these things, they can only be achieved with a Labour government. While the campaign has been a three-horse race, one thing remains clear – only two parties can form the next government and give Britain its Prime Minister. Labour or Tory. Gordon Brown or David Cameron. A Lib Dem vote in those crucial Labour-Tory marginals is the surest route to a Tory government, with devastating consequences for anyone who really believes in fairness, public services, jobs and the cause of political reform.

The recovery is too important, the situation too serious, to experiment with the risky policies of Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The Tories have the wrong values and the wrong policies. The Liberal Democrats have some better values but their policies are, too often, a joke. Together, they would be a disaster for Britain.

So for every day, every hour, every minute between now and election day, we will be fighting for your future. Fighting to secure the recovery. Fighting to turn the economic crisis into prosperity. Fighting to rebuild and rebalance our economy in the regions. Fighting for fairness and a better deal for hard working families. Fighting to protect schools, hospitals, the police and childcare. Labour is the only serious choice this Thursday.

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