The polls say the election’s outcome is up in the air, but one thing is clear – the Tories are close to polling better than the 36.1% share of the vote won in 2010. No mean feat given the perils and challenges of five years in office. Of course there have been a few facepalm moments (ask me after May and I’ll give you my list) but overall David Cameron’s government has been one of innovation and reform – not a bad record when the books left by Labour offered little room to breathe.
That I’ll be voting for the Tories on May 7th is hardly a revelation given that I stood for council on the blue ticket last May, enjoyed (rather than endured) my first party conference a couple of years ago and have traipsed off to all sorts of by-elections around the country. But forget the slightly tame election promises and #LongTermEconomicPlan – here are three concrete reasons why I’ll be out pounding the pavements for the Tories in the run-up to May 7th – and why you should consider voting for the Conservatives too.
It is the Conservatives who are the party of opportunity – not Labour – and if you want proof of that just look at the how we’ve revitalised apprenticeships. I’m not sure whether it’s healthy to have a favourite graph, but here’s mine. Note how women have been doing better under the Conservatives then under Labour.
In 2010 the Conservatives committed to creating 400,000 apprenticeships. Here we are five years on and we’ve created 2,000,000 apprentices. In comparison Labour’s idea of opportunity was telling everyone to go to university: ‘why do an apprenticeship when you can have a degree?’ This was a betrayal of the idea that some people might actually be able to enter the workforce and secure skilled, well-paid employment by in-work training, paid for by the employer.
And note how quickly they’ve forgotten their disgraceful record on apprenticeships:
Guaranteed with a Labour govt → 80,000 more high quality apprenticeships so every school leaver with the grades has the chance to get on.
— The Labour Party (@UKLabour) February 17, 2015
Wow, 80,000 apprentices. That’s 80% fewer than the Tories promised in 2010, and 4% of the apprentices created during the five years of this Tory government.
Apprenticeships were a massive part of Britain when we made things and exported to the world, but cruelly Blair and Brown saw them simply in the context of their inept class war. Besides, who needs skilled British workers when you’re one of three EU countries not to put in place freedom-of-labour controls when the EU expanded eastwards? Much easier to bring over the cream of the Accession States’ workforce. David Cameron’s government has done the hard work of rebuilding apprenticeships, which are so important in the fight to upskill our workforce, improve productivity – and transform people’s lives.
Like most people in the South East travelling on the railways and underground is a big part of my life, and the good news is that this government has poured enormous amounts of money into future-proofing the transport network.
Labour electrified 13 miles of railway under Blair and Brown. One poxy mile per year in government. In comparison we’ve just about finished electrifying the entire railway from London to Wales in five years. Work on Crossrail (London’s new East-West underground line) is on target for completion in 2018, by which point Crossrail 2 will be well underway – much to the relief of Northern Line commuters. George Osborne was under pressure to cancel these projects, but he recognised how vital it was to have transport that was worthy of London’s position as one of the world’s great cities. Likewise hundreds of railway platforms across the country have been lengthened to accommodate longer trains that are being brought into service – why we’re not shouting about this I have no idea.
And an enormous overhaul of railways in the North-West is being delivered – new electric trains through Manchester on the new Ordsall viaduct, with big service improvements – like Chester to Manchester in under 40 minutes (over an hour at present). Labour likes to think the North is its home turf, but what did they do for commuters in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Preston, and so on? The Conservatives have made the investment that is helping increase the reliability and capacity of the railways, and helping more people get a seat in the morning.
Perhaps the most contentious of the three points, but I really do think David Cameron has shown genuine leadership as Prime Minister in the past five years. He has held together a government with the Liberal Democrats, our most despised opponents. I was on the officer team of a rock solid Tory Association outside the M25 for much of this parliament, and vividly recall our Chairman announcing his defection to UKIP as the first item on our AGM – so I have some insight into how difficult his position must have been.
Yet look at the alternatives. Wind up the government half way though? We’d have been slaughtered in the polls. Avoid addressing gay marriage? Labour would have introduced it from the opposition benches and caused all sorts of havoc. Cameron didn’t bow to UKIP’s agenda, the wisdom of which can be seen as the latter’s credibility disintegrates in the run-up to May 7th. It’s easy to bag Ed Miliband, but has he demonstrated the qualities needed to lead a government as Leader of the Opposition? I – and seemingly many others – think not. And Clegg’s lot has found coalition politics to be as comfortable as snuggling up to a boa constrictor, with single figure poll ratings since 2011. This May will see seats turning blue that have been yellow for decades.
There’s also the issue of the European Union referendum. I’ve always felt our EU membership is like an unhappy marriage: we need to try counselling before we divorce, and that’s what Cameron’s renegotiation is all about. Let’s see how serious Brussels is about changing. The EU is a political construction for wealth redistribution and regulation generation completely at odds with European project’s founding aim of building peace through economic activity, and I’d almost certainly vote to leave. But I want a proper national debate before any decision, and my gut instinct says that rushing a referendum makes a vote to stay in more likely – and then where will we be? Confirmed members of an EU that has little incentive to reform. So the Prime Minister is spot on: 2017 is the right date to hold the referendum.
Perhaps David Cameron will never be held in the same affection as our party’s great leaders, but I can’t imagine he’s particularly bothered. What I imagine he does worry about is getting Britain heading in the right direction after the precarious position that Labour left us in 2010 – and he’s done a pretty good job of that.
Which brings me back to my starting point. Back in the depths of 2013 I bet a particularly recalcitrant district councillor £20 that we’d be ahead in the polls in the run-up to the general election – and here we are, ahead in the polls and ready for the heat of the final weeks before polling day. Apprenticeships, transport and leadership are small fry in the bigger picture of rescuing the nation’s economy. But they’re indicative of a government that has taken tough decisions, improved people’s lives, and put us on the right course for the years ahead. That’s a record I’m proud to campaign on – and one that appeals to the heart as much as the head.