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Listening to Alex Cunningham, one would have thought, “Oh, the Labour Government did a marvellous job. Then along came this coalition and they mucked it up.” One would never have thought it was the Labour Government who beggared this country, who borrowed and borrowed and borrowed again, who gave us the worst deficit in the G20, who doubled national debt, who sold our gold at a record low price—£23 billion down the drain—who took £5 billion a year out of our pension funds, and who gave back our EU rebate of £7 billion a year and got nothing in return. Then, there was the moment of salvation—the last general election. A moderate coalition Government came in and started to make the sort of decisions that needed to be made in the national interest—the sort of decisions Labour ducked. Now, though, we are told, “The consequences of those difficult decisions—they’re all your fault.” They certainly are not.
If we look at the Labour years, we see that, as always happens with Labour, unemployment went up—to 2.5 million by the time they left office. We see that youth unemployment rose by 270,000 under the Labour Government. Theirs was not a successful Government, but a Government who led Britain to the brink of bankruptcy. It is our Government—the coalition Government—who are rescuing this country. Of course it is not easy. It is right to say that every redundancy is a personal tragedy—of course it is. We must try to do all we can as a country to help people back into work, but my goodness, this Government cannot be blamed for the situation from which they are trying to rescue the country.
That Labour Government were also the Government who tried to hide from the realities. Take the vast number of people claiming incapacity benefit: it is this Government who are testing and ensuring that those who receive incapacity benefit are genuinely entitled to it, and that it is not being used to mask unemployment in areas where there is a particular labour market problem. Take Labour’s measures on long-term youth unemployment, where a training scheme was introduced after 12 months and the clock was started again, to mask what was happening in this country. Although 2.5 million extra jobs—half of them were part-time, of course—were created in the Labour years, they did not seriously affect unemployment, which was reduced by about 300,000. That is because the Labour Government were not really tackling the underlying problem of the 5 million people of working age who were not engaged in the labour market.