When historians come to write about Britain in the years 2010-2015, they will tell the story of a country that journeyed from economic ruin to economic recovery, and did so while sticking together.
It is a story that begins in May 2010 with a coalition government being put together against a backdrop of a sovereign debt crisis sweeping Europe – Athens ablaze, Italy and Portugal teetering on the brink and the United Kingdom, with its broken banking system and vast budget deficit, dangerously exposed.
It is a story that will record the shared sacrifices that were required to get the economy back on track and the public finances back in black. And it is a story of those sacrifices beginning to pay off; of how, by January 2015, Britain boasted the fastest growing major developed economy, 2m more jobs and rising living standards. How that story ends, however, is up to you, the voters.
The election in May this year could mark the moment when, despite all the siren voices urging us to swerve Left or Right, we resolved, as a nation, to hold our nerve, hold our course and finish the job. But it could equally mark the point at which we lost our nerve and abandoned our course, just as our journey’s end came into view.
For make no mistake, a vote for either the Conservatives or Labour would put all the achievements of the last five years at risk. Labour’s economic policy is built on denial and irresponsibility. Like an arsonist throwing rocks at the fire brigade, they have spent every day of the last four and a half years obstructing our efforts to put out the economic inferno that they lit.
This is the party, let us not forget, that allowed the banks to crash the economy and which left Britain so vulnerable to that crash by racking up the biggest budget deficit in the developed world. And their answer this time? The same as last time: more and more borrowing, requiring us to pay billions more every year just on the interest on our debt – money that should be spent on schools, hospitals and front line public services.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, are unveiling posters urging us to stay on “the road to a stronger economy”. But look at their plans and you will realise they have no intention of staying on the road – they are planning to swerve to the Right, to a future of unending austerity. They have made a choice to remorselessly cut the money for public services even after the deficit has been eliminated, cuts that will be even deeper because of their £7bn promise of unfunded tax cuts. And they have chosen to do all this without asking for a single penny more in tax from the very wealthy. That is not sticking to the plan. That is a new, ideologically-driven plan to shelter the very wealthy and impose unnecessary cuts to our public services.
Our plan, by contrast, is to finish the job and finish it fairly. The Liberal Democrats will borrow less than Labour and cut less than the Conservatives. And because we are not planning to shrink the State like the Tories, or re-inflate the State like Labour, we won’t have to cut as much, or spend as much on debt interest, as they will, meaning we can give the NHS and our schools the funding they need.
That is what I mean when I say the Liberal Democrats will anchor any future coalition in the centre ground. We will stop the two old parties veering off to the extremes of Left and Right, urged on their way by the fringe parties, the nationalists and the populists – Ukip, the Greens, the SNP, Plaid and the rest.
These parties, of course, have an advantage – one I remember all too well. They can present themselves as the new kids on the block, the outsiders, untarnished by the difficult choices and necessary compromises of government.
But think about the risks they pose – to our economy, our living standards and our prosperity – and you will understand why the role of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 is more important than ever.
At a time when our politics is becoming more fragmented and extreme, only the Liberal Democrats are promising hold to the centre ground. At a time when the politics of division and blame are on the rise, only the Liberal Democrats can be counted on to defend the values of British liberalism – compassion, fairness and tolerance.
And at a time when nationalism and populism threaten to break the United Kingdom apart and cut us off from the world’s biggest trading block, only the Liberal Democrats are making the case for a self-confident, outward looking Britain that that is "open for business."
That is why a vote for the Liberal Democrats this May is a vote for economic security against economic turmoil; for political stability against political uncertainty; and for the national interest against sectional self-interest.Reuse content