Danny Alexander's Speech To Lib Dem Conference (FULL TEXT)
I’d like to tell you about a man who’s been a great source of inspiration and guidance to me behind the scenes over the last year.
Although outwardly dour, his finely tuned political antennae and no nonsense style make him the perfect sounding board.
He’s not flash – he’s just Gordon. Gordon Birtwistle, the Liberal Democrat MP for Burnley. One of the most talented and tenacious of our 2010 intake. I’m privileged he agreed to be my PPS.
Alistair Darling wasn’t quite so keen on his Gordon.
His Gordon racked up a record deficit fuelled by irresponsible and unsustainable spending.
His Gordon denied any responsibility for the economic woes caused by his own policies.
His Gordon “unleashed the forces of hell” simply for sharing his views on the severity of the economic crisis.
Who was feeding Gordon Brown such advice? Was it Mandy? Or McBride? I think it’s pretty obvious - it was all Balls.
Unlike Labour, our party has never shied away from telling difficult truths on the economy:
Vince Cable led the way in warning of the dangers that were building.
And we made a historic decision last Spring. When we signed up to coalition government, we knew our country’s economic stability depended on it.
Returning our country to lasting prosperity is the founding purpose of this Government - the overwhelming national interest that motivated two very different political parties to take responsibility together for a full 5 years.
We resolved to act in the national interest and put our country first. That is what we're doing.
“In government, on your side” doesn’t mean telling people there's an easy answer to the horrendous problems Labour left.
It means telling it straight.
To get things right for the long term, we must stick to our guns now.
And we shouldn't forget the impact of our unity and our resolve.
Concern about both sovereign debt and economic growth is at the heart of the current market turbulence.
Turbulence fuelled by uncertainty about the ability of political leaders across the globe to take the decisive action their countries need.
Since we came into office, our coalition Government has taken the difficult, and sometimes unpopular decisions necessary to fix our economy.
This decisive action has made an immediate impact.
Interest rates have stayed low, keeping workers in their jobs and families in their homes.
Fellow Liberal Democrats, we played a decisive role in securing our country’s financial credibility. This should make us proud.
We have built a strong shelter, but the storm is still raging.
Elsewhere in Europe, the struggle to establish credible deficit reduction plans goes on. In the US, political deadlock brought a historic downgrade of the country’s credit rating.
Yet despite all the evidence, the party that put us in this hole just want to keep digging.
Labour say our motivation is dogmatic. They're wrong. It's practical.
Financial discipline is necessary for effective government. It would be completely wrong to leave the bills for past mistakes to be paid for by our children. The economic case is indisputable – that’s what so many of you have done in local government, and that’s what we must continue to do in central government. We must stick to our plans and we will.
We'll be straight with people: about how long this will take; how hard it will be, and what we will do to get it right.
A huge deficit, an unbalanced economy, our trading partners in real difficultly.
These are very big problems. Solving them will take years, and every one of us has a role to play. To support growth, to help families under pressure.
As Liberal Democrats, our judgements about what needs to be done should be driven by the liberal economy we want to build.
A liberal economy shaped by free and open competition,
A liberal economy built on long-term investment, not debt and waste.
A liberal economy where growth is shared across the country
A liberal economy where taxation delivers fairness.
Sustainable, balanced, competitive, fair. To get the kind of growth we want, we must break down the vested interests – the enemies of growth that stand in the way of future prosperity.
We are prepared to take them on. We will name and shame those standing in the way of that central national purpose.
Free trade has been a liberal rallying call for centuries. Offering gains to countries around the world and especially for Britain, with our quality exports and trading history.
Today our trade policy is being brilliantly led by Ed Davey.
The inception of the European single market a quarter of a century ago helped create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.
Astonishingly, the single market is not yet complete. Huge areas of the European economy are still not fully open to British firms – especially in the services and energy sectors
Completing this work will support growth, jobs and competitiveness not just in Britain but across the whole of Europe.
There's an opportunity for Britain to lead this agenda right now – as we did so successfully in the 1980s.
As the Eurozone seeks to deepen its integration – and we need it to do so more quickly – they will need our support. And they will get it.
Sadly, eurosceptics on left and right still fail to understand Winston Churchill’s insight that sharing sovereignty strengthens our influence and isolation weakens us. Scottish Nationalists make the same mistake.
We'll never let the anti-European isolationists or nationalists frustrate our national interest.
They are enemies of growth.
Fortunately, coalition ministers are united in pursuing a policy of practical, pragmatic engagement in the EU.
Nick Clegg and I are working with David Cameron and George Osborne to make deepening, strengthening, and deregulating the single market a central aim of Britain’s European policy – because it will bring jobs and growth.
Too many businesses are being held back by congested roads, slow railways, inadequate broadband.
At the spending review last year, we looked at infrastructure spending in the round, picking only the most economically valuable projects from across government for funding.
And as a result, we're investing more in the transport network over these 4 years than Labour managed in the last 4. The redevelopment of New Street Station here in Birmingham, the Mersey gateway bridge, Crossrail in London, and a national high speed rail network.
And we have prioritised the money to invest to make sure that high speed broadband gets to every part of the country.
Now more than ever, we need to get on with this work.
But there's a major vested interest in the way. Bureaucracy, rules and red tape that mean it takes years to get things done. A planning system that can take more than a decade to allow even modest developments to go forward.
It has to change. And under the coalition it will.
I know there are concerns about our planning reforms. So it's important to understand what we're really doing. The presumption of sustainable development is right because it establishes the right balance.
Local communities in the driving seat, local protections in place and yes more local homes and local jobs.
So while it is politically contentious - we will reform planning.
As Chief Secretary, I set the rules that control public spending. Mostly, that's about making sure we stick within our budget, which I’m sure you can imagine doesn’t always make me very popular.
On infrastructure, I'm pressing departments to make sure they deliver their plans on schedule.
And we need to do more. More to help support jobs and growth in our communities.
Because growth can’t be imposed from the centre – it must be driven by businesses, communities and local authorities.
They are critical to delivering the jobs and homes that our communities need.
So I’d like to tell you about the next steps in our Plan for Growth.
To support local growth, I can today announce my decision to reduce the interest rate offered to local authorities by the Public Works Loan Board to finance the £13bn of debt needed to leave the Housing Revenue Account subsidy system.
I've listened to local authority concerns that this is a one-off transaction within the public sector and should be financed as such.
Let me put it simply – an extra £100m every year that councils can then reinvest in housing.
And I want to take a further step to support local growth.
Across the country, projects are being held back by tough market conditions, difficult cash flow and a lack of confidence. Projects where people could be working but aren’t.
That is why I'm announcing today the creation of a new Growing Places Fund.
Half a billion pounds that will kick start developments that are currently stalled.
Half a billion pounds that will deliver key infrastructure and create jobs.
Putting local areas in the driving seat, to boost the local economy and get people into work.
Providing flexibility to local areas to recycle funding for other projects once development is completed.
In South Gloucestershire, £300 million of private investment, 3,000 jobs and 2,200 homes is being unlocked with £6 million of public money to build a link road. Just think what we will be able to do with £500 million.
Unlocking local growth by freeing businesses to grow, creating jobs, and freeing councils to build housing. Liberal Democrats in government, on your side.
We're on your side when it comes to the banks too.
Delivering on our promise to protect the taxpayer from the cost of future bailouts. Never again should bankers go to the casino with their stakes guaranteed by the rest of us.
That's why we commissioned the Vickers report
It's why we welcomed his recommendations on ring-fencing.
It's why we welcomed his call to extend competition in the banking sector.
And it’s why we will legislate to protect future taxpayers in this Parliament.
Of course, our main tool to help low and middle income families with the pressures they are facing is the tax system.
Thanks to Liberal Democrats there is genuine progress.
And I’m not just talking about fuel duty cuts for our remotest communities, though I expect we will have that in place next year.
This year, the average worker is paying £200 less income tax than last year. Next year, the bill will come down by another £120. By the end of this Parliament, most working people will be paying £700 less income tax a year.
Conference, an income tax threshold of £10,000 was the first priority in our manifesto. Now it's the first tax priority of the government. We should be proud that in government our ideas are making a real difference to every working family in Britain.
But we shouldn't rest on our laurels. In the next Parliament, I want us to go further; our aspiration should be that someone working full time on the minimum wage should pay no income tax at all.
An income tax threshold of £12,500 - think what that would do to work incentives, think what it would mean for basic fairness.
Let’s put that on the front page of our next manifesto.
Some people have argued that we should change our tax priorities and focus our limited resources on cutting taxes for the wealthiest instead.
At a time of austerity, this argument simply beggars belief. If we are all in this together, those with the broadest shoulders must bear the greatest burden.
Fair taxation of the wealthiest is key to our deficit reduction plan. Of course, if a better way can be found to raise the money from this group, I will be willing to consider it.
But right now we must focus relentlessly on those who are struggling.
And we need to make sure tax owed is tax paid.
Last year, I announced a package of investment to strengthen our fight against tax evasion, as well as tax avoidance.
Let me tell you how we’re getting on.
This year, an additional 2,250 HMRC staff will move into new anti-evasion and avoidance jobs.
This month, over 1,000 of these jobs are being advertised.
And already this package is bearing fruit.
I promised you we’d collect an extra £7bn a year by the end of the Parliament;
And I can tell you we're already on track to raise £2bn this year.
It took 12 years for the previous Government to take action against the wealthiest 5,000 people some of who weren’t paying their fair share of tax.
We can do better than that.
In less than a month’s time, a new ‘affluent team’ will be place. This team will look specifically at the next 350,000 wealthiest taxpayers.
These are the people who pay or should pay the 50p rate of tax. And my message to the small minority who don’t pay what they owe is simple, I agree with the Chancellor. “We will find you and your money” and you will pay your fair share.
Economic credibility comes from doing the right thing – that’s why Labour lost it.
At the next election, we can make sure there will be only one party that people trust to both handle the economy and deliver fairness – the Liberal Democrats.
We’ll win that trust by sticking to our guns, especially when times are tough.
We'll do that by levelling with people about the scale of the challenge we face, not offering false promises as Labour did.
By delivering our aspiration to rebuild a more sustainable and balanced economy.
By showing that we understand the fears and the pressures on the people of this country, and share their ambition for a better Britain.
Most of all, we will do that by building a shared sense of national economic purpose so that we are working alongside every person in this country to restore our prosperity.
Do you remember how Gordon Brown liked to conclude his speeches?
Long lists - did you find them annoying? I know I used to.
But not now, with so many Lib Dem achievements already in place, I can’t resist:
A clear plan to deal with the deficit, removing barriers to business growth, investing in infrastructure, promoting free trade and competition, sorting out the banks,
tackling tax avoidance, and cutting taxes for those who need it most.
That is the economic policy of the Liberal Democrats in government and it is a record to be proud of.