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I want to start by congratulating the fantastic hon. Members who have delivered brilliant maiden speeches today: my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), for Kensington (Felicity Buchan) and for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith). For those of us who are not newly elected, the bar has definitely been raised, and I am definitely feeling the pressure.
I want to start, Mr Deputy Speaker, by telling you about the moment when I think I realised that I was a Conservative. It was in 1992 and I was 12 years old. The UK was in recession. Interest rates were 10%, rising to 12% and even 15% at one time. Those high interest rates had rendered mortgages very expensive and had caused a fall in household income, a fall in consumer spending, a fall in demand, and a sharp decline in confidence. Unemployment was at 10% in 1992. Companies were laying off millions of people. The UK had to leave the exchange rate mechanism and devalue. The reason I remember that time, and one consequence of that recession, was that my father lost his job. He used to work as a timber merchant and was suddenly unemployed, and it took him some years to get back into employment. Our family fell on hard times, as my mother’s salary as a nurse had to be stretched a long way.
People might well say, “That was under a Tory Government. Why on earth would that make you a Conservative?” It was not about who was in charge, but rather the lesson that I learned from that experience and the underlying philosophy. It was the first time that I saw the preciousness of a job. I saw how work was the route out of the devastating ruin of unemployment. I saw how job creators and innovation lifted people out of poverty. I saw that it was not all about handouts and the dole—although that is, of course, vital for those in desperate situations—but more about the pride of self-sufficiency and the dignity of work, no matter how humble, which could be life-saving. For the first time, I saw the intrinsic connection between business and enterprise on the one hand and community and survival on the other. I learned that there was no limit to what can be achieved with hard work, determination and the ladders of opportunity. For me, that is the Conservative philosophy.
The reason I dwell on my family’s experience of almost 30 years ago is that today it is simply remarkable that many more millions of people do not have to live with that crippling insecurity. Thanks to the jobs miracle that we have seen since 2010, 3.8 million more people are in work, 32 million people have enjoyed a tax cut, full-time employment is at a record high, unemployment is at its lowest since the 1970s, income inequality is falling and wages are rising. Millions of people around the country have the opportunity and the peace of mind that they can make ends meet, provide for their families and save for retirement.
Thanks to that jobs revolution, the UK is a place where even someone who is born with nothing can, with hard work, improve their situation over time and build something better to leave their children. I will tell the House why I could never vote for the Labour party or any of the other Opposition parties—it is because every Labour Government has left this country with more unemployment than when it was elected. Every Labour Government has raised taxes for millions of working people. Just as night follows day, every Labour Government costs Britain more.
This Conservative Government understand that growing the economy and reducing inequality are not mutually exclusive goals; they actually work together. Our economy grows best from the middle out, when growth is more widely shared. Our economy has grown by 19% since 2010—faster than the economies of France, Italy or Japan—and as a result we are able to allow significant investment in our services and infrastructure. In Fareham, infrastructure such as junction 10 on the M27 needs vital investment, to enable the delivery of 6,000 new homes and 5,000 new jobs at Welborne garden village. I urge Treasury Ministers to consider the scheme in detail in advance of the March Budget. That transport improvement is desperately needed, as congestion is increasing in the Solent region, slowing down journey times and connectivity and adversely affecting productivity.
This Conservative Government will continue to make an enormous difference to opportunities by bolstering the ladders into the middle class. Levelling up investment in education, increasing the minimum wage and enabling more home ownership will continue to raise standards of living for massive numbers of British people. I am proud that Fareham College—an outstanding further education college—is one of the pilots for the new T-levels, because a focus on technical training will become critical for our workforce and our economy.
It is the Conservatives who have relentlessly worked to eliminate the deficit and support business and, post Brexit, will pursue free trade. The fact is that if we want to help the poorest in our society we have to enable competitiveness, productivity and business confidence, which spurs private sector investment. Labour just does not understand that. It believes that punishing business is the way to support our poorest—a fundamental misunderstanding of wealth creation and how prosperity is spread. What drives this Government is ensuring that every striving, hard-working, optimistic child in the UK has the same incredible chance that this country gave me. That is the driving force for anyone who calls themselves a Conservative, and it is the driving force that makes Britain great.