I want the Conservatives to be a party for the whole country. I believe that the principles that guide us – security for families and the country, freedom under the rule of law and opportunity for everyone – can unite our people and help build a better future for our country.
That responsibility also rests on our shoulders because of what has happened to Labour over the past few years. Millions of people who have supported Labour all their lives are appalled by what has happened to a once-great party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Antisemitism has grown, the party’s response to threats to our country’s security has become equivocal, and moderate Labour MPs have become targets for deselection and harassment. These are all alien to Labour’s best traditions.
I want voters who may previously have thought of themselves as Labour supporters to look at my government afresh. They will find a decent, moderate and patriotic programme that is worthy of their support. To be that party for the whole country, Conservatives must do more than demonstrate the flaws of Corbynism. We need to offer a positive and optimistic vision of the better future that our policies will deliver.
That means getting the best Brexit deal for Britain, one that protects jobs and rights and makes the most of the opportunities that Brexit brings, to play a more global role, while also delivering on the domestic issues that matter to people here at home. So we are investing in our NHS, to secure it for the future. We are driving up standards in our schools, so every child can get a good start in life. And, 10 years on from the financial crash, we are building an economy that works for everyone in our society.
Over the past eight years, we have brought our economy back from the brink. Our public finances are in much better shape and we have helped businesses create jobs. But pride in these achievements does not blind us to the problems that remain. In four important respects, we need to go further to fix our economy.
First, some markets are still not working in the interests of ordinary people. Free markets drive innovation, reward creativity and increase efficiency. But it is the job of government to make sure they work properly. So, where markets are failing consumers, we are stepping in to fix them. From this winter, our energy price cap will stop loyal customers paying unfair prices. Where other companies are charging their customers a “loyalty penalty”, we will take action.
Last year, I made fixing our broken housing market my personal mission. To restore the dream of homeownership to a new generation, we have scrapped stamp duty for most first-time buyers and we are helping them on to the housing ladder through schemes like Help to Buy. But we will only fix this broken market by building more homes. We have only built enough houses in the past when councils have played their part. That is why last week I announced that we would lift the government cap that stops them borrowing to fund new developments – a change that will allow them to build tens of thousands of homes every year, and which Shelter has described as “a major reform”.
The second challenge is to help people with the cost of living. Employment is up to record levels. But too many people have not had a decent pay rise. I know how hard people work to make ends meet and provide for their families. They want a government that is on their side. That is why Conservatives will always strain every sinew to help people keep more of their money. It is why we have cut income tax, introduced a national living wage, extended free childcare and frozen fuel duty. Later this month, the chancellor will freeze fuel duty once again, helping everyone for whom the car is a necessity and not a luxury.
Our third challenge flows from the difficult decisions which were necessary to get the deficit down. They have meant sacrifices for the British people. Public sector workers had their wages frozen. Local services had to do more with less. There must be no return to the uncontrolled borrowing of the past – that would be to take us back to square one. But the British people need to know that the end is in sight.
So, when we have secured a good Brexit deal for Britain, at the spending review next year we will set out our approach for the future. Debt as a share of the economy will continue to go down, support for public services will go up. A decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off. We are not just a party to clean up a mess, we are a party to steer a course to a better future, and ensuring that we build an economy of the future that works for every community is our fourth big challenge. Technological changes are already in motion that will transform how we live and work. These have the potential to improve our lives, but only if we take the right decisions now.
Our modern industrial strategy is helping the whole country get ready for that economic change by investing in our infrastructure, driving up research spending and boosting the skills of our workforce.
In the past, economic change has left some communities behind. This time it will be different. Government is today stepping up to its proper strategic role in our economy, ensuring that good jobs and real opportunity are spread across the whole country – with every town and city seeing the benefit.
So these are our Conservative solutions that will build a country that works for everyone: fixing markets, not destroying them; helping with the cost of living; ending austerity; building an economy of the future which benefits the whole country. This is how we will win the confidence of a new generation of voters, whose defining memory is not the fall of the Berlin wall, but the collapse of the banks.
The British people are not bound by ideology and there has never been a time when party labels have counted for less. This presents an opportunity Conservatives must seize – to be a party not for the few, not even for the many, but for everyone in our country who works hard and plays by the rules.
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