Liberal Democrat candidate Alistair Carmichael has been a member if the coalition government for the last five years. In his election statement for Shetland News he argues that the country is in a better place thanks to the LibDems’ input.
The last few years have not been easy for any of us. This would have been a parliament where it would have been much easier to be in opposition than in government!
The coalition government inherited an economic mess in 2010:
- Our public finances were running a deficit more than 10 per cent of the total size of our economy – for every three pounds we earned we were spending four;
- Unemployment was high and rising after the crash of 2008;
- The cost for the UK of borrowing on the international bond markets was also high and rising.
Five years later we have a stronger and growing economy:
- The deficit has been reduced by half as a proportion of our economy;
- Our economy is growing at a rate that is matched only by the USA within the G7 Group of nations – outstripping our competitors in Europe such as Germany and France;
- The number of people in employment is as high as it has ever been since the Office of National Statistics started to compile figures in 1971;
- The number of people claiming jobseekers allowance (JSA) is back at the same level as it was in 2008 before the crash;
- Inflation is as low as it has ever been in my adult life; and
- Wage levels are at last beginning to grow faster than prices.
Does this mean that all is good with life and that our economy is perfect? No. It does not.
There is still a great deal to be done.
Life continues to be difficult for many of us and as a society we still face enormous challenges. Poverty and inequality are still too common. The fact is, however, that we can only tackle these challenges with a strong economy and sound public finances.
That is the issue that will be at the heart of this general election. The choices could not be clearer.
The Labour Party and the SNP offer a plan that would see us return to the same sort of government that crashed and burned in 2008 – borrowing ever more to fund public services, leaving future generations to foot the bill.
The Conservative Party, on the other hand, will stick to the deficit reduction plan but once the deficit is eliminated they will keep on cutting – driven by an ideological commitment to small government.
In particular they plan a further £12 billion cut to welfare provision without explaining where these cuts will come or what the consequences of them will be.
Only the Liberal Democrats can and will anchor our government and its economic policy in the centre ground for the next five years as we have done for the last five.
Only the Liberal Democrats have a plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society giving opportunity to everyone to get on in life.
Over the last five years Liberal Democrats have made a difference by being in government.
We have increased the point at which you start to pay income tax from £6,500 to £10,600 – a tax break that makes the biggest difference to people on low incomes.
We have re-established the link between the state pension and average earnings or inflation with a guaranteed minimum increase of 2.5%. As a result the state pension is £950 a year higher now than it was in 2010.
We have protected the NHS budget against inflation south of the border – unlike the situation in Scotland where the SNP took their eye off the ball to campaign for independence and let health spending fall behind.
As local MP for the isles I have been able to protect our communities from cuts that would have caused real harm here – the proposed closure of the Shetland Coastguard station, the removal of the emergency tug and the ending of face to face interviews by the pension service.
I have also been able to achieve some things that in previous parliaments I have only been able to talk about – delivering a lower level of fuel duty for island motorists and getting money from Treasury to deal at last with Shetland’s historic housing debt.
As a country we have come a long way in five years.
Very little that the coalition government has done to turn our economy around has been easy but it was necessary and people can now see that it is working.
When times are hard there will always be politicians offering easy answers. Their easy answers would put our recovery at risk. This is not a time to risk what we have achieved.