This was the week Labour arrived on Cheltenham’s electoral scene. In a bravura article in the Echo (Feb 23) the Labour candidate conceded he couldn’t win in May, but railed against the Lib Dem mantra of a ‘two-horse race’. He also savaged the Conservative-led coalition.
It’s important that Labour’s voice is heard clearly here in Cheltenham. That’s because in around ten weeks Ed Miliband could be our Prime Minister. True, he would probably have to be backed up by the SNP, the Lib Dems or even Sinn Fein, but he could still be PM. I believe that would lead to chaos in our country, but it’s entirely possible. That’s because when all’s said and done there are only two people in the running to lead Britain: David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Not even the Lib Dems think Nick Clegg’s a contender for the job.
So what Labour says matters.
But in his withering attack on the Conservative-led government, there was not a single mention of the situation David Cameron inherited. The truth is that in 2010 this country was in crisis. Labour’s Liam Byrne admitted as much when he left his famous note admitting ‘There’s no money left’. Britain was borrowing over £150 billion a year and we had the second biggest structural deficit of any advanced economy. Unemployment had increased by nearly half a million. Youth unemployment was up by 40 per cent.
We were staring into the abyss.
The problem was that for thirteen years Labour spent far more than this country could afford. Even during the good times Blair and Brown were saddling future generations with colossal debt. It also meant our economy was vulnerable when it should have been strong and healthy. And who was advising Gordon Brown when all this was going on in the Treasury? Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.
Since then, the Conservative-led government has rolled up its sleeves and is sorting out the mess that Labour left behind. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of Cheltonians and people across our country, Britain is on the up. There are 1.75 million more people in employment. Over 750,000 new businesses have been set up. The deficit has been cut by half as a share of the economy. Income tax is down for over 25 million people. Real wages are rising as the economy heals, and last year Britain was the fastest growing major advanced economy in the world.
Here in Cheltenham too, we have seen progress.
1,300 people have come off benefits since 2010, with more enjoying the security of a pay packet. Over 2,500 more apprenticeships have been created and there are thousands of people who have been taken out of tax altogether.
Meanwhile, Labour is in disarray. Ed Miliband is having a spat with Ed Balls about how to pay for Labour’s proposed tuition fee policy. And Ed Balls has managed to pick a fight with his own window cleaner about whether he asked for receipts.
This coming election is the tightest and most important in a generation. Labour’s intervention here has brought the choice here into sharp focus. Vote Conservative in Cheltenham and you vote for David Cameron and competence. Vote for any other party and you usher Ed Miliband closer to Downing Street. That’s the real two-horse race.