We come together with less than 70 days to go before the most important election we have known for a generation.
Less than 70 days before we decide our country’s future for the next generation.
And today I am going to talk to you quite plainly and soberly about the choice we face at this election.
For it is a choice.
It is a choice between parties – between a tired Labour Party making things worse and a Conservative Party with the energy and values to get our country moving again.
It is a choice between two leaders - between Gordon Brown who has failed the leadership test, and David Cameron who every time he is tested grows in strength and stature.
But it’s a bigger choice even than that.
Our country stands at one of those forks we come across as we travel the roads of our history – and just as in 1979 we had to make a choice, so we have to choose today.
We can either continue down a path of decline and fall, a path with rising debts, higher mortgage rates, ever rising taxes and high unemployment.
That is Labour's path.
It always has been.
We know where it leads and we must never allow this country to be dragged there once again.
Or we can change direction - tell the difficult truths, put debt and taxes back on a downwards trajectory, and create the solid economic foundations of a Britain that works for all.
That is the Conservative path.
It will not be easy - our opponents and the vested interests that sustain them will try to stop us every step of the way.
But it is the ambition that inspires this party and the goal that will bring hope to this country.
To win this election, we are going to have to win three great battles.
Battles about the past, the present and the future.
Let us start with the past.
We will hold Labour to account for thirteen years of past failure.
And do you know the simplest way to do that?
Repeat the things that Gordon Brown once promised.
“Prudence with a purpose” he said.
Before he began tripling the national debt.
“No more boom and bust” he boasted time and again.
Before he gave us the biggest boom and the deepest bust.
“A future fair for all” he first promised seven years ago.
Since when deep poverty has been rising, social mobility falling, the many have got poorer and the few have got richer, and Gordon Brown’s policies have hurt the very people he claims to care about.
“Increased prosperity” his Manifesto promised the last time the country went to the polls
Now for the first full Parliament in our modern history, our national income per person is lower than it was at the previous election.
Think of that.
The long march of rising prosperity, that continued through every Parliament since the war, through the shortages of the 1940s and the strikes of the 1970s, put into reverse by this Labour Government.
And we will be asking Britons in this election the simple question: are you better off than you were five years ago?
Because sadly the answer is ‘no’.
There is one thing Gordon Brown said that has turned out to be true. I only came across it the other day.
It comes from a speech he gave to an audience of bankers in 2002, and this is what he said:
"What you, as the City of London, have achieved for financial services we, as a government, now aspire to achieve for the whole economy."
Well Gordon, congratulations - that’s one promise you did keep.
You created a Britain where the bailed out banks pay million pound bonuses to the few, while the many see their incomes fall and their opportunities disappear.
So we will talk about Labour’s past record because it is a guide to the present.
For the man who gave us:
- the pensions raid
- the stealth taxes
- the double counting
- the phoney fiscal rules
- the gold sales at the bottom of the market
- that 10p tax con
The man who wrenched banking supervision from the Bank of England
The man who failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining
The man who is now planning to raise tax on jobs in the middle of a recovery – the National Insurance increase that we will try our hardest to avoid.
The man who in the middle of a recession unleashed the forces of hell against his own Chancellor.
The man who led us into this almighty mess - that man, Gordon Brown, is not the man who can lead us out.
We discovered today that Alistair Darling won’t be leading us out of it either, even if they win.
The forces of the removal men will be unleashed against him.
If Gordon Brown wins, he will go down in history …
He’ll be the first person to deliberately choose Ed Balls as his next door neighbour.
This dysfunctional, divided, divisive Cabinet cannot bring themselves together let alone the country.
That brings me from the past to the present.
I do not want anyone to be in any doubt about how serious our economic situation is.
We were the last economy in the G20 to leave recession and we see one of the weakest recoveries.
A record one in five young people cannot find work.
Our budget deficit is the highest in the entire developed world.
One pound in every four our government is spending has to be borrowed from the markets.
And for the first time ever, those markets are threatening to downgrade our credit rating.
You have just heard from Ken Clarke.
What an extraordinary service he has given to our party and to our country.
Ken bequeathed to this government one of the strongest economies in the world and they leave behind one of the weakest.
It is confirmation, if ever one needed it, of the time old truth that in the end all Labour governments run out of money and all Labour governments lead this country to the edge of bankruptcy.
The question we face is how do we get out of this mess.
How do we deal with this soaring national debt that poses such a risk to our economy.
And again, we have a choice.
Britain can do nothing. That is Labour’s plan.
No action on the debt for the next year.
No credible plan to deal with it during the next parliament.
Let me tell you what Labour’s plan would mean.
Higher mortgage rates for every family.
Higher interest rates for every business.
More repossessions. More insolvencies. More people unemployed.
A feeble recovery sent into reverse.
That is why Britain cannot afford another five years of Gordon Brown.
Greece stands there as a warning signal of what happens to countries who wait too long to act.
And I am not prepared to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer who puts the economic destiny of our country and its millions of citizens into the hands of bond markets and stands by helpless as they extract their price.
You know the real irony of the situation?
The one thing that stands between this country and the brutal harsh judgement of international investors is the prospect of a change of government.
If those international investors really thought for one minute that Gordon Brown would be in charge of this economy after the election there would be a rush for the exits.
They don’t because they know that we Conservatives offer an alternative.
We will act to deal with the debt.
There is not a chance of sustained growth unless and until we show we can deal with our debts.
For what business is going to create new jobs when they fear out-of-control spending is going to lead to ever higher taxes?
What family is going to spend when they fear a sharp rise in mortgage rates?
What investor is going to come to the UK when they fear a downgrade of our credit-rating and a collapse of confidence?
And let us consider the case of those who say that we should not make a start in dealing with the deficit in 2010.
Are they really saying that a new government, elected in the spring of this year, with a mandate for change, with the credit rating agencies hovering and the markets waiting, should delay taking any action on the deficit until the spring of 2011?
How credible or sensible is that?
It is the plea of the sinner down the ages. Make me virtuous, oh lord, but not yet.
It convinces no one.
So we have a plan of action.
Within days of coming to office I will create an independent Office for Budget Responsibility.
No more hiding PFI and pension liabilities off the balance sheet.
No more dodgy growth forecasts.
No more fiddled Treasury figures.
That’s our pledge.
For the first time, taxpayers will have a proper, independent set of the nation’s accounts.
Within 50 days of coming to office we will hold an emergency budget.
This will set out overall spending levels. And it will include measures that will make a start this year in reducing the deficit.
I have set out in more detail than any Shadow Chancellor before me examples of the spending decisions we will take.
We will impose a cap of £50,000 on the highest public sector pensions.
We will freeze for one year public sector pay, but not for the lowest paid million.
We will stop handing out tax credits to people earning more than £50,000 and cut child trust funds for the better off.
We will have a review to bring forward the rise in the pension age so that in our ageing society our children are not left to pay off the debts of their parents.
We will lead by example by cutting the House of Commons by 10% and cut the salaries and perks of Ministers.
And we will - with international agreement - introduce a new bank tax to stop ordinary taxpayers underwriting the risks taken by super rich bankers.
All this, I have made clear because I wanted people to see that there are politicians who prepared to take difficult decisions
And I want people to know that we are all in this together.
So David Cameron’s Conservative Party will not cut pension credits or winter fuel payments or free TV licenses and bus passes.
The pension age changes we make mean David Cameron’s Conservative Party can afford a more generous state pension.
David Cameron’s Conservative Party will not cut the NHS budget.
David Cameron and the Conservative Party will not balance the budget on the backs of the poorest.
What Philip and I will do is cut the chronic waste, the quangos and the tiers of bureaucracy that hold our public services back.
Because we must rebalance the British economy away from an unsustainable reliance on excessive debt and a bloated government, and towards the small businesses, the wealth-creating entrepreneurs and innovation of the British people on whom this nation’s future depends.
Which brings me to the battle for our future.
There is so much bad news out there, that it is easy to get gloomy.
So let me give you reasons to be cheerful.
Every day around the world, in places like China and India and Brazil and Indonesia, people leave the grinding poverty that has trapped their families for thousands of years and become part of our global economy.
They go to work for low wages in factories – and I don’t underestimate what a huge challenge that presents to factories here in Britain.
These countries like China are nations of manufacturers, as we were in our industrial revolution.
But in time, as they become richer, like us they will become nations of consumers.
And they will want to buy things.
And when they want their branded goods, I want them to buy them from British companies.
And when they want pensions and insurance, I want them to turn to British financial firms.
When they or their health services want to buy modern medicines, I want them to look to British pharmaceuticals.
And when they start taking internal flights, I want them to do so powered by jet engines of Rolls Royce and on wings made here by Airbus.
And when they take those planes abroad, and go on their first holidays, I want them to come here to Britain and enjoy our tourism, and visit places like the Brighton Pavilion.
There is a world out there for us to sell to.
And that is why I am profoundly optimistic about our future.
Imagine what can be.
Labour’s idea of our future is to be the country that borrows money from the Chinese so that we can buy the goods they make for us.
Gordon Brown really has no vision for an economic future that is different from the past decade.
I want us to be selling to the Chinese.
I want Britain to be making things again.
But we will not achieve that unless we take down the sign Gordon Brown has put above the British economy that says “closed for business” – and put up an “open for business” sign instead.
For it is the eternal Conservative insight that when people are given half a chance they want to move up, and better themselves, and get on in life, and leave something to their children.
It is that aspiration and opportunity that Labour so despises in the British people.
Those socialists are still trying to work out why the promise we’ve made on inheritance tax is so popular.
We know why. Because working hard, and saving hard, and leaving something to your children is one of the most basic human instincts of all.
The Prime Minister unleashes the forces of hell.
I want us to unleash the forces of enterprise.
Ken has already detailed many of the things we will do. Let me go further and say this.
Our first budget will contain funded measures to boost enterprise and create jobs.
We will abolish the tax on new jobs created in new businesses.
We will cut the corporation tax rate paid for by removing complex relefis and attract international headquarters to Britain.
We will reduce the small companies tax rate by simplifying the tax code and make it far easier to get a business started.
For I am absolutely passionate about supporting small businesses.
Together these will help power an enterprise revolution.
A growing private sector, freed from the burdens of red tape and complex taxation, able to offer those without work hope.
A private sector in which our entrepreneurs are given every help they need to build our economic future and create the jobs Britons desperately need.
And then they will help us achieve the overriding goal I set for Conservative economic policy in the next Parliament.
Let us move from Gordon Brown’s economy built on debt to an economy where we save and invest in our future.
I have set out the transparent benchmarks against which the public will be able to judge whether we really have begun to build a new economic model.
A more balanced economy with higher investment, savings and exports.
A more enterprising economy where the private sector’s share is higher in every region.
A greener economy with more jobs created in the industries of the future.
I have done this job for five years – since the weekend after the last election defeat.
Back then we were not trusted to manage the economy.
Today we are.
With David Cameron, our Party has changed to reflect the priorities of the country we seek to represent.
We understand how we are all in this together.
Britain yearns for change.
Let us bring that change.
The British people cry out for a new direction.
Let us offer that new direction.
We have less than 70 days to the election.
Less than 70 days to the choice.
Five more years of Gordon Brown’s tired government making things worse.
Or David Cameron and a Conservative Party with the energy, the leadership and the values to get our country moving.
That is the choice voters face.
I have faith in their judgement.
For it is time to vote for change.
It is time for the Conservatives.