The Spectator

Full text: George Osborne’s 2015 Conservative conference speech

Full text: George Osborne's 2015 Conservative conference speech
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Let me tell you how proud I am to stand before you the first Conservative Chancellor in a Conservative Government to address a Conservative Conference in eighteen years.

If I’d told you twelve months ago that the Member of Parliament for Morley and Outwood was going to come onto this stage and speak in our economy debate you’d have called security.

Andrea, your win capped off a night that no-one here will ever forget.

Can you all remember where you were when that exit poll came through?

I certainly can.

I was just a few miles away from here, waiting to go to my count at the Macclesfield leisure centre.

I was completely calm.

No I wasn’t.

I was completely nervous.

Unable to sit down.

Unable to stand still.

I was pacing around.

And then a moment of calm did descend.

I realised there was absolutely nothing more I could do.

I was powerless.

Completely powerless in the face of the real power of the British people.

You realise, the way we talk about these elections is all wrong.

We think elections are the moment when we all go round the country and talk to people.

But actually elections are when the British people talk to us.

And what the British people said to us in May couldn’t have been clearer:

We elect you to do a job.

So take decisions, don’t duck them.

And the truth is this:

If you do take those decisions - even if the decisions are unpopular and bitterly opposed at the time -

If you do take the decisions and they are rooted in your values and turn out to be the right ones, then people will go on putting their trust in you.

That’s the lesson of the last Parliament.

That’s the lesson for this one.

So we’ve had our instructions from the British people and we say to them:

we will not let you down.

You in this hall are the heroes of this famous campaign.

You’re the ones who fought inch by inch, door by door, street by street for this election victory.

We’re a team.

A great team, I’m lucky to count myself part of.

I want to thank you.

I want to thank you on behalf of every candidate who stood in this election.

And I’ve been asked to pass on a special thanks.

From the maintenance team at Downing Street.

They want to thank you that they don’t have to put up an eight-foot high tombstone in the back garden.

I want to thank my brilliant Treasury team:

- Greg Hands,

- David Gauke,

- Harriett Baldwin,

- Damien Hinds,

- Mel Stride,

- Chris Skidmore,

- Jake Berry,

- Conor Burns

and the world class economist Jim O’Neill.

And there’s one member of the Conservative team who I personally owe a huge amount to.

Let’s face it.

There were moments when lots of people had doubts whether our plans would work moments, as I was well aware, when people had doubts about me.

But one person always backed me in private and in public, and never wavered in their support.

I want to thank him.

That is the person who’s led our country with integrity, intelligence and imagination.

My friend, our Prime Minister: David Cameron.

Under David’s leadership, after a full term in Government we increased both the number seats we hold and the share of the vote we won.

That’s a winning combination no Prime Minister of any party has achieved since the nineteenth century.

It earns David not just a mandate to govern;

It earns him a place in the very highest rank of our party’s leadership.

David, we salute you.

But, friends, it is precisely in our hour of greatest success that I choose to come here to deliver a warning.

A warning for us all to heed.

It is this:

Don’t let us rest on our laurels.

The British people have not put us here to congratulate ourselves.

They have put us here to do a job.

The lesson of the last five years, and the victory that followed, is that the future favours the bold.

So we’ve got to be the builders, the people with the new ideas.

The people open to the new thinking.

Ready to listen.

Admit where we get it wrong.

Accept when others have got it right.

The people with the plan for the future.

Some stand on the sidelines.

Some want to knock things down.

But we – we are the builders.

And let me tell you who we are building for.

The working people of Britain.

The millions of people who work hard, provide for their families and pay their taxes for the public services we need.

The people who just get on with it.

They don’t have a trade union calling them out on strike;

there’s no pressure group that will go on the radio to fight their cause.

These are the people we’re fighting for.

Millions of working people.

These people need to know we are on their side.

Because many of them, let’s be frank, still voted for the Labour Party just this May.

They want security and opportunity, but they didn’t quite feel able to put their trust in us.

We’ve got to understand their reservations.

So to these working people who have been completely abandoned by a party heading off to the fringes of the left let us all here today extend our hand.

Do you know what the supporters of the new Labour leadership now call anyone who believes in strong national defence, a market economy, and the country living within its means?

They call them Tories.

Well, it’s our job to make sure they’re absolutely right.

Because we’re now the party of work, the only true party of labour.

My message to today’s Labour Party is this:

You head back to the 1980s.

We’re heading forward.

You listen to the few.

We’ll govern for the many.

Now I often get asked in this job: do you understand the impact of the decisions you make?

And my response is this.

Yes I do.

Because we’ve made decisions, there are a record number of people in work.

And let me tell you, if you don’t make decisions, then people do suffer.

And let me tell you this as well.

Failing to run a sound economic policy is the most unkind, uncaring thing a Government can do.

I’ll tell you what happens when you lose control of the public finances and borrow money you don’t have.

It’s not the richest who suffer, or the trade union barons who lose their jobs.

No, it’s always the poorest who suffer when the economy fails.

It’s always working families who lose their jobs.

That’s not a kinder, caring Britain.

I’ll tell you what that is.

Its economic cruelty dressed up as socialist compassion.

And we’re not going to let them wreck the lives of working people again.

We are the builders.

And to build, you must build on solid foundations.

We’ve laid those foundations these last five years.

We’ve established the idea that government can’t go on spending money it hasn’t got.

The idea that businesses need to be competitive and make profits to create jobs.

The idea that you don’t show your compassion by the size of the benefit cheque you dole out, rather you get people back to work.

That’s what we built together.

Every argument we won, another business started…

… another person got a job…

… another academy school opened…

… another family felt the security of work.

Every argument we won, we have shifted the terms of the debate in our country and created a new centre ground, around fiscal responsibility and lower welfare, reformed public services and support for business too.

We turned our country around, and together we’ve made sure, Britain is working again.

Now we must build on those foundations.

Create the budget surplus.

Deliver lower welfare, lower taxes and higher wages.

Build the new roads, and railways, and runways.

Win reform in Europe and put the power into the Northern Powerhouse.

To borrow from an American President, we choose to take on these things not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard.

For we are the builders.

And there are few things harder than repairing the public finances.

We are still spending much more as a country than we raise.

In the spending review this Autumn, we’ve got to finish the job.

And we’re going to do something more.

We’re going to make sure this country never gets into this mess again.

So we’re going to run a surplus.

What that means is that in good years, we’ll raise more than we spend and use the money to reduce our debts.

That way we’ll be better prepared when the storms come.

Because frankly, I look at the world at the moment and I see a lot of economic risk out there.

China is vital to our future, but it’s not growing as strongly as it was;

the Eurozone is still very weak;

and the latest jobs numbers from America are disappointing.

We can’t be immune from all of this. We must be prepared for whatever the world throws at us.

Our plan for a surplus provides security for working people.

We’re going to put it to a vote in the House of Commons next week.

And we’re going to go on fixing the roof while the sun is shining.

Part of fixing the roof is getting the British taxpayer out of owning great chunks of the banking system.

I have this morning announced our plans to sell the remaining stake we have in Lloyds bank.

Next Spring, we will make Lloyds shares available to every member of the public.

They’ll be offered at a discount.

Small shareholders will get priority.

And long-term investors will get a bonus.

You can register from today.

It’s the biggest privatisation for more than twenty years.

And every penny we raise will be used to pay off our debts.

With Labour the banks went bust - we’re fixing them.

With Labour the debt soared - we’re going to bring it down.

Labour have now turned their back on opportunity and aspiration - we’re going to build the share owning democracy this Party has always believed in.

Labour - the wreckers.

We are the builders.

We’re going to have to do a lot more to get Britain back into the black.

I won’t pretend that making these cuts will be easy.

We’ve got to find more than £20bn of savings.

But I’ll tell you what I’m not prepared to do.

I’m not prepared to cut the NHS to balance the books.

We’ll make sure the health service has more money than ever before.

Some people question our commitment to the aid budget but with millions fleeing war zones, and a crisis in Europe, I’m not prepared to cut it.

I want to spend our aid better so it helps the most vulnerable closer to their homes.

And because we’ve built a strong economy, here’s something else we can afford to do.

Invest in our national security and the armed forces who guarantee it - because this outward-facing, internationally-confident, economically-sound nation - will renew our nuclear deterrent, and spend 2% of our national income on the defence of the realm.

To deliver these priorities there will be tough choices this autumn.

But remember this when our opponents line up to fight for every borrowed pound of government spending.

The British people have heard the argument that the deficit doesn’t matter and they’ve rejected it.

They’ve listened to politicians who forgot to mention the deficit, and they’ve rejected them too.

Now we’re told that instead of earning the money we need to spend, the Bank of England can simply be told to print it.

What could be easier than that?

We hear them say.

What could be easier than that?

They said in Zimbabwe and Weimar Germany too.

It’s not monetarism - it’s magic money-tree-ism.

And let me tell you messing around with the independence of the Bank of England and letting inflation rip destroys savings and is a massive risk to the economic security of every working family.

Mind you, I’d better be careful not to disagree with Jeremy Corbyn about absolutely everything or else he’ll invite me to join his Shadow Cabinet.

Here’s another proposition we’re going to take on.

That Britain is condemned to be a low skill, low pay, high welfare economy.

I want the opposite. Lower welfare and higher pay.

The last time we brought our Conference here to Manchester, I slipped away from all the fringe meetings and the receptions to see something that reminds me why I do this job.

Across the way, beyond the cordon, in a nearby office block something uplifting was taking place.

People at the job centre were signing up for work.

I sat down with a group of them, young and old, to talk to them about their futures.

They were nervy at first, they weren’t confident about themselves because life had given them precious few reasons for self-confidence.

But as we talked about their new jobs they got more and more animated.

They were excited about their future and proud to be in work.

Proud to have a job.

These are the people I’m fighting for.

Now we want to help these working people keep more of what they earn.

We’ve raised the personal allowance, and I’ll keep raising it again and again.

We’ve raised the threshold for the higher rate and we’ll keep raising that too.

That’s what we’ve promised, that’s what we’re delivering.

Lower income taxes for all and no income tax for the lowest paid at all.

There’s another promise we made we’re one nation.

Everyone makes a contribution.

No one gets something for nothing.

And that includes business.

So here’s the new settlement.

To business we say this…

… we’ll go on cutting your taxes…

… to the lowest rates of any major economy in the world.

But in return, you have do more to train your workforce and to pay higher wages.

And here’s the deal for working people - we simply can’t subsidise incomes with ever-higher welfare and tax credit bills the country can’t afford.

But in return we’ll have:

new apprenticeships;

lower income taxes;

and the new National Living Wage.

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again:

Britain deserves a pay rise and with us, Britain is getting a pay rise.

You know the National Living Wage is something that should be welcomed across the political divide.

I think it’s a great weakness of today’s Labour Party that it can’t acknowledge any good things done by Conservatives.

I’ll always pay tribute to the role the Labour movement played in building the NHS and establishing rights in the workplace.

But that sits alongside the equally proud story of Conservative social justice.

The National Living Wage is the latest page in that story.

For it was Conservatives in previous Governments that ended the slave trade;

That stopped children working in factories and gave them universal education;

That gave equal votes to women…

… and equal rights to disabled people.

Now it’s Conservatives in this government that have banned modern slavery;

Legislated for gay marriage;

Given new shared employment rights to parents and today extend them to grandparents too;

It’s now Conservatives in this Government who are shining a light into the darkest corners of our prisons and bringing the best education to the poorest of our children.

So of course it’s this Conservative Government that is introducing the National Living Wage.

A government for working people.

With a pay rise for six million of our citizens.

Building the society we promised where we are all in this together.

But building doesn’t come easy.

Especially when it comes to new homes and the infrastructure this country needs.

I am very lucky to represent a constituency just a dozen miles to the south of here full of pretty villages and market towns in the flat and lush Cheshire plain.

The great writer Elizabeth Gaskell used to live there, and she drew on her life in nineteenth century Knutsford to write her most famous book.

In the novel, Cranford, the town campaigns to stop the new railway coming through.

And today, there are some people in my constituency who want to stop our new high-speed railway.

I respect their opposition – but I also respectfully disagree.

Where would Britain be if we had never built railways or runways, power stations or new homes?

Where will be in the future if we stop building them now?

I’m not prepared to turn around to my children or indeed anyone else’s child, and say: I’m sorry, we didn’t build for you.

So here’s our plan.

First, we’re going to get many more homes built for families to buy.

We’re sweeping away planning rules on brownfield sites.

This autumn we’ll direct our housing budget towards new homes for sale.

And we’ll give housing association tenants the right to buy.

We’ve had enough of people who own their own home lecturing others why they can’t own one too.

I’m proud that we’re the ones giving more than a million people the chance to have a house of their own.

And if anyone wants to argue with us on that, I say bring it on.

We’re going to build the home owning democracy this Party has always stood for.

Second, we are going to find new ways to fund the British infrastructure that drives our productivity.

At the moment, we have 89 different local government pension funds with 89 sets of fees and costs.

It’s expensive and they invest little or nothing in our infrastructure.

So I can tell you today we’re going to work with councils to create instead half a dozen British Wealth Funds spread across the country.

It will save hundreds of millions in costs, and crucially they’ll invest billions in the infrastructure of their regions.

And I’m increasing asset sales to ensure we’re spending a greater proportion of our national income on capital investment than the last Labour government ever did.

Third, if we’re going to build, then we have to shake Britain out of its inertia on the projects that matter most.

There’s an idea, put forward by many people, including some Labour politicians, and its time has come.

An independent National Infrastructure Commission.

A Commission, set up in law, free from party arguments, which works out…

… calmly and dispassionately what the country needs to build for its future…

… and holds any Government’s feet to the fire if it fails to deliver.

Like working with northern councils on how we are going to make a reality of High Speed 3 the new link we want across the Northern Powerhouse.

Like working with London on the next big public transport projects after Crossrail, and how we are going to fund them.

Like how we are going to make sure Britain has the energy supplies it needs.

These are the first questions we set.

I’ve asked the new National Infrastructure Commission to start its work today.

And I am delighted that the former Labour Cabinet Minister and Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis has agreed to be the Commission’s first Chair.

He’ll now sit as a cross bench peer and help us create Britain’s plan for the future.

Working together in the national interest.

Some stand on the sidelines.

Some want to knock things down.

We are the builders.

It’s because we’re not afraid to confront the big issues that we’ve taken on reform in the European Union.

I don’t want the continent that gave us Isaac Newton and Leonardo da Vinci and Marie Curie, to say we’ve given up on the future.

We joined the Common Market because it offered us the promise of jobs and growth.

What it represents to many people across Europe these days is unemployment and stagnation.

That must change.

We want the integrity of the single market, but we don’t want to be part of the single currency and as far as I’m concerned, Britain never will be.

We want our neighbours to grow with us, but we don’t want to be part of their ever-closer union.

Let’s fight for that.

Let’s achieve that.

Then as we promised we’ll put it to the British people in the referendum – and let the people decide.

There’s one other problem our country faces that is so deep-seated, and so difficult that no government has really tried to solve it before.

And that’s the gap between north and south, between London and the rest.

I grew up in the middle of London.

And l grew up with the cliché that if it wasn’t happening in London then it wasn’t happening at all.

Becoming an MP in the North of England has changed me - made me realise that great as our capital is - there is so much more to this country.

And I’ve changed in the five years I’ve done this job too.

I’ve always been able to see the problems with government.

Now I understand too the power of government to drive incredible, positive change.

I don’t want to do this job just to occupy the office.

I’m here to make changes that last…

… solve problems to make people’s lives better…

… slay dragons that stand in Britain’s way.

That’s why I am so committed to the Northern Powerhouse.

I’m throwing everything I’ve got at it.

I’ve brought new science here…

… promoted the arts here…

… backed transport links here…

… brought investment from places like China here.

I don’t know if it will work.

But I do know that if you don’t even try you’re bound to fail.

So I’m damn well going to try.

Let’s go and build that Northern Powerhouse.

In the end it all comes down to where the power lies.

To who makes the decisions.

There’s a building, not too far from here that reminds us of what local government used to mean.

Look at Manchester Town Hall, in all its neo-gothic splendour.

It was built as a place of power -a great civic cathedral, where the decisions affecting this city would be taken - not remitted to a committee in London.

But over the decades, the wings of local government were clipped again and again by all parties, most especially ours.

Almost everything, from the amount they could spend…

… to the taxes they could keep…

… to the work they undertook…

… was determined in Whitehall.

It’s time to face facts.

The way this country is run is broken.

People feel remote from decisions that affect them.

Initiative is suffocated.

Our cities held back.

There’s no incentive to promote local enterprise.

It’s time we fixed it.

And I’ll work with anyone, from any political party, to make that happen.

That’s why we’re devolving more power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That’s why the people of Greater Manchester will elect their first ever Mayor, in just eighteen months’ time.

That’s why just last Friday we reached agreement on a new elected mayor across the whole of South Yorkshire.

We’re putting the power into the Northern Powerhouse.

But we can go much, much further, here in the north and around the country.

While everyone knows this country has to live within its means - and that means savings in local as well as national government - I want to make sure that as we make these necessary savings we use this moment to undertake far-reaching reform.

Right now we have the merry go-round of clawing back local taxes into the Treasury and handing them out again in the form of a grant.

In my view, proud cities and counties should not be forced to come to national government with a begging bowl.

So I am announcing this:

Today I am embarking on the biggest transfer of power to our local government in living memory.

We’re going to allow local government to keep the rates they collect from business.

That’s right, all £26bn of business rates will be kept by councils instead of being sent up to Whitehall.

Right now, we collect much more in business rates than we give back in the main grant.

So we will phase out this local government grant altogether.

But we will also give councils extra power and responsibilities for running their communities.

The established transfers will be there on day one, but thereafter, all the real growth in revenue will be yours to keep.

So this is what our plan means.

Attract a business, and you attract more money.

Regenerate a high street, and you’ll reap the benefits.

Grow your area, and you’ll grow your revenue too.

And to help local people do that I want to make another announcement today.

We’re going to abolish the uniform business rate entirely.

That’s the single, national tax rate we impose on every council.

Any local area will be able to cut business rates as much as they like…

…to win new jobs and generate wealth.

It’s up to them to judge whether they can afford it.

It’s called having power and taking responsibility.

And for those big cities with elected mayors, like London, Manchester and now Sheffield, I will go even further.

Provided they have the support of the local business community, these mayors will be able to add a premium to the rates to pay for new infrastructure and build for their cities’ future.

Yes, further savings to be made in local government, but radical reform too.

So an end to the uniform business rate.

Money raised locally, spent locally.

Every council able to cut business taxes.

Every mayor able to build for their city’s future.

A new way to govern our country.

Power to the people.

Let the devolution revolution begin.

Friends, the great mistake for this country would be to stop moving forward.

To fail to take the big decisions.

To coast when we should be decisive.

Those were the clear instructions we were given by the British people five months ago.

That’s the job we’ve been asked to do.

We live in this great prosperous, peaceful, political democracy.

Precisely because those who came before us did their job.

Because they established factories and built cathedrals and laid railways.

Because they conducted experiments and made scientific breakthroughs and conquered disease.

Because they compiled encyclopaedias, wrote poetry and invented computers.

Because they set sail from these lands, fought tyrants and opened Britain to the world.

Now it is our turn.

We have inherited their legacy but also their responsibilities.

We have learned from their great deeds and also from their mistakes.

We see all the things they have done.

And we see all the things that are yet to be done.

We now say…

… we accept this responsibility.

We will take on these challenges.

We will do our duty.

Some people stand on the sidelines.

Some want to knock things down.

We are the builders.