I KNOW that I have a reputation for gloominess. My warnings about property prices and personal debt in the run up to the 2008 financial crisis earned me the nickname “Dr Doom”. But my message now, to the people of the county where I grew up, is one of hope.
That’s not to say that these aren’t tough times for the British economy. The pound has lost 13 per cent of its value against the dollar since the EU referendum, pushing up inflation to a five-year high. Families are feeling the squeeze as prices rise faster than incomes, making the average household £500 worse off than it was last year.
The Conservative government is taking our country in the wrong direction. They’re undermining our public services, starving our schools, hospitals and police of the funding they desperately need.
And they’re intent on leading us into a destructive and extreme form of Brexit, taking us out of the Single Market and the Customs Union – and threatening to do so without putting a new trade deal in place. That would mean new tariffs and trade barriers for British businesses, and would be disastrous for jobs, the economy and our public services.
So why am I so uncharacteristically hopeful? I’m hopeful because, in this election, a brighter future is on the ballot paper. The British people are far, far better than the small, mean-spirited vision Theresa May has for our country. And you don’t have to settle for it. On June 8, you can vote for a party that will stand up to the Conservatives and change Britain’s future: the Liberal Democrats.
You can vote for the only party that is now standing up for the interests of British businesses. By choosing to take us out of the Single Market, the Conservatives have lost any right to claim they are the party of business, jobs and economic security. The Liberal Democrats are that party now.
We believe that you should have your choice over your future, and that means giving the British people the final say on the Brexit deal in a referendum. If you don’t like the deal that the Government negotiates, you should have the chance to reject it and choose to remain in the EU.
Instead of the economic self-harm of leaving the Single Market, the Liberal Democrats want to build an economy that allows people and businesses to thrive. Thriving businesses mean more jobs, lower unemployment and more money for our public services. And unlike the Conservatives, who focus on tax cuts for giant corporations, our focus is on the small businesses and start-ups that are the lifeblood of our economy.
Back in 2012, as Business Secretary, I established the British Business Bank to give small, home-grown businesses better access to finance. Today, it helps more than 48,000 businesses to benefit from £7.5bn worth of finance, from a waste management company in Hull to a family-run sausage maker in Bedale.
Now, we want to expand the Business Bank and continue to make it easier for firms to borrow and grow. We also want to give entrepreneurs extra support to get their businesses off the ground, by offering them a £100-a-week Start-Up Allowance for the first six months. We understand the courage and sacrifices it takes to start a new business, which is why we’re offering this support towards living costs in the difficult early stages.
We’d also make the difficult decisions necessary to put our public services on a sustainable footing. We’ve set out fully-costed plans to invest an extra £7bn in schools and colleges, and £1.2bn in police forces, over the next Parliament. We’ve also promised an extra £6bn a year for the NHS, funded by raising income tax rates by 1p.
We’ll tackle the housing crisis by building the 300,000 new homes a year the country needs, including 100,000 affordable and energy-efficient homes. And we’ll finally end the Conservatives’ pay freeze for public sector workers, giving teachers and nurses a raise for the first time in years.
This election is your chance to choose this brighter future: a fairer Britain with an innovative economy, good schools and hospitals, and affordable housing. A vote for the Liberal Democrats can change Britain’s future. That’s enough to make even Dr Doom optimistic.
Sir Vince Cable was the Business Secretary from 2010-15. Born in York, he is the Lib Dem Shadow Chancellor.