David Cameron attacked Ed Miliband for “bashing business” today, warning that doing so was “crazy” because it would undermine Britain’s attempt to compete in the global economy.
In his closing speech to the Conservative conference in Manchester, the Prime Minister dangled the long term prospect of income tax cuts before the public as he pleaded for the chance to “finish the job” of balancing the nation’s books. He sketched out the battle lines for the 2015 election as he responded to Mr Miliband’s pledge last week to impose a 20-month price freeze on the unpopular energy companies.
Without defending the “bix six” energy giants, Mr Cameron said: “I know that bashing business might play to a Labour audience. But it’s crazy for our country. So if Labour’s plan for jobs is to attack business, ours is to back business.”
When Mr Miliband talked about the face of big business, Mr Cameron said, he thought about the faces of hardworking people in British design and engineering factories like Jaguar Rover Triumph. “Labour is saying to their employers –‘we want to put up your taxes – don’t come here – stick to your jobs and take them elsewhere.’ ”
He said: “We know that profit, wealth creation, tax cuts, enterprise…are not dirty, elitist words – they’re not the problem, they really are the solution because it’s not government that creates jobs, it’s businesses…that get wages in people’s pockets, food on their tables, hope for their families and success for our country.”
Mr Cameron admitted that the Tories needed to “do more” to help people struggling with what Labour has dubbed the “cost of living crisis.” But his answer to it was to reduce income tax rather than the “quick fix” offered by Labour.
He insisted that Government needed to cut the deficit to keep mortgage rates low, grow the economy, create jobs and cut taxes. “We’re Tories. We believe in low taxes. And believe me –we will keep on cutting the taxes of hardworking people.”
The Prime Minister did not announce new policies in a 43-minute speech which previewed the Tories’ 2015 election pitch. He told the conference the economy was “beginning to turn the corner” but warned: “We are not there yet, not by a long way.” He added: “This struggle will only be worth it if we as a country finish the job we’ve started…We still haven’t finished paying for Labour’s debt crisis. If anyone thinks that’s over, done with, dealt with, they’re living in a fantasy land.” He warned that Labour’s plans to borrow and send more would “put us back to square one.”
His central argument was that he did not come into politics to cut the deficit, as he raised his party’s sights beyond the age of austerity to his mission – building a “land of opportunity for all”. He explained: “This isn’t job done. It is job begun.”
Mr Cameron accused Labour of leaving behind “a mess” in which “the casino economy meets the welfare society meets the broken education system”.
He emphasised his “one nation” credentials by heaping praise on social workers who wrestled with agonising decisions on whether to put children into care. “Social work is a vital and noble calling,” he said. “I have to make some tough decisions in my job, but none as tough as whether to break up a family and rescue a child, or try to stitch that family back together.”
The Prime Minister insisted that the Government’s “work for dole” plan for the long-term jobless is not “callous.” He said: “We don’t patronise people, put a benefit cheque in their hand and pat them on the head…this party is fighting for all those who were written off by Labour. It’s this party that’s for the many, not the few. The land of despair was Labour – the land of hope is Tory.”
Mr Cameron reassured the Tory faithful he would fight “heart and soul” for a majority in 2015 and was not looking for a second coalition with the Liberal Democrats, as some of his Tory critics suspect. He said Britain needed a “strong government, with a clear mandate, that is accountable for what it promises and,yes, what it delivers.”