As you return to your Chair, Mr Speaker, I return to the 1950s. There has been a lot of talk about austerity, but when our historians speak about austerity they focus not on public spending but on living standards and wages. In 1950, we spoke about the fact that there was rationing and people had low disposable incomes—we did not focus only on levels of public spending. Indeed, in 1950 we spent 6% of GDP on defence. The point is what is happening to living standards where it really matters.
Just before the Budget we heard the fantastic news that this country is now experiencing its fastest wage growth for almost a decade. [Interruption.] Ruth George chunters, but if she reads coverage of those wage statistics in The Guardian, she will see they have been analysed to see why that is happening. The conclusion is that it is due to competition between firms for workers—in other words, wage growth is coming from the unemployment miracle that we are delivering. Indeed, in the Budget the extra money that the Chancellor was able to deploy comes from the fact that the OBR has revised employment figures up for this country. That is not a magic money tree—that is literally the hard work of the British people paying off, and more tax revenue coming in to support higher spending.
In a country which, compared with other similar northern European countries, has not had as high an average GDP per head as it could have had, what can we do to sustain those higher wages in the years to come so that we can in turn sustain higher public spending in the only way possible? The answer is competitive taxes, so that we do not eat into people’s take-home pay, we have sensible levels of public spending, and above all, we keep borrowing and debt under control.
If we followed the Labour party we would decimate that growth in wages because taxes would surge, eating into take-home pay. Investment would fall as businesses would be less confident if faced with a return to ’70s-era socialism. Above all, my biggest problem with what Labour Members offer with their increase in debt is that if they push up public spending as they promise, yes, public spending austerity will fade briefly, but it will return as we go from feast to famine, as we have done so many times before through boom and bust. What will happen to austerity? It will be forced on the next generation with higher debt. That is a gutless and cowardly approach to public finances. The right approach is sensible, prudent, conservative economics, based on markets and a sensible balance between low taxes and targeted public expenditure on priorities such as the NHS, and that is why I will be voting for the Budget tonight.