Keep calm and carry on urge Cameron and Clegg during Essex visit
MUCH like the irritating "Keep calm and carry on"-themed images that are everywhere at the moment, David Cameron and Nick Clegg delivered an official plea for the workers of the country to keep a steady nerve through dark times ahead in their visit to Essex today.
Addressing the blue and yellow collared workforce of CNH Tractors in Basildon, following a tour of E2V in
Chelmsford, the prime minister reaffirmed commitment to what he said had always been the three key element of the coalition's plans - reducing the deficit, promoting growth, and a rather nebulous third point which seemed like a rehash of the first two along with something about welfare reform.
He began: "I'm afraid we can't let up on the difficult decisions that we've made to control public spending and to get our deficit under control.
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"I know its hard, but when you've got a debt problem, the one thing you mustn't do is keep adding endlessly to that debt.
"We all know if you've got a credit card and you max out that credit card, you shouldn't go and max out another.
"The problems of overspending and too much debt can't be solved by more spending and more debt.
"And crucially, we have to keep our interest rates low - that will help firms like this expand, it will help families with their mortgages, so its right to keep with the tough decisions which we've made."
Point two, he said was promoting growth: "And we need to think of all the things we can do that help to get our economy growing whether that's encouraging banks to lend more money, whether to help firms to start up whether that's making it easier for companies like this to employ more people - whether it's investing in apprenticeships, we need to do all of those things and frankly we need to redouble our efforts in doing all of those things."
"We've got to re-balance our economy - when we came in the Government was too big and the private sector too small ... we had lots of jobs in finance but not enough in manufacturing. We had a lot of wealth concentrated in the south of the country but not enough spread around the country.
"So we've got to re-balance in all of those ways. And as we do so we've got to try and help people more - we have frozen the council tax, we have lifted a lot of people out of income tax, we've tried to help on things like petrol duty, but I know there's more we need to do."
Mr Cameron's third point was slightly more ethereal: "After dealing with the debt and going for growth, we are both in this to try and build something for our country that is more worthwhile than what we inherited from the last Government.
"What we want to do is try and get behind families that work hard and do the right thing.
"Ive lost count of the times that people have said to me 'Look prime minister, I work hard and I try to save for my old age - my wife works hard she tries to do the right thing yet we feel that we get punished for trying to do the right thing rather than rewarded."
So I want to make sure whether its reforming our welfare system so that it doesn't pay to sit at home - whether its cutting our taxes on the money that you earn , whether it's making sure you can buy your own home and invest in your home, whether it's making sure there are good schools for your children to go to - everything this Government does is not just about the dry numbers of the economy it's about building something which is really worthwhile."
He then handed over to Mr Clegg who also said he wanted to make three points. Presumably he only said this to imitate Mr Cameron, as he immediately followed his three points with another two.
His points, although different from the prime minister's more or less echoed them however he added that it was worth remembering the dismal state of the economy when the coalition had started.
Beyond that: "creating jobs, creating prosperity, creating investment, creating opportunity, creating optimism and hope in our country" were his aims, he said, and he stressed the importance of "wiping the slate clean" so as not to leave a larger debt burden for future generations.
The pair then took questions from the audience - who took the opportunity to quiz the country's two top politicians on everything from economics to the Olympics.
After a brief nervous pause the first employee raised his hand and asked :"You've both given us a speech about how you're going to try and make things better but it seems to me you're not singing from the same hymn sheet ... how are you going to work together?"
Mr Cameron replied: "Of course I would like to be running a Conservative only Government, Nick would like to be running a Liberal Democrat only Government, you the voters though decided that no one won the last election and effectively you were asking us to work together.
"Now I would argue that in spite of the differences we sometimes have, in spite of the arguments we sometimes have, we have put those differences aside, and taken pretty tough action on the deficit, on welfare, on education, and I think this coalition government is delivering. But I accept it's a tough time in our country, its a difficult time in this country, and we've got more work to do."
"Judge us by our actions, not by our words." Added Clegg.
The next question was "Have you got plans to increase spending on manufacturing apprentices?
"I've been in this company 37 years - for the last 20 years we haven't had apprentices - so that skill base is gradually disappearing - we're all getting older and if you lot don't get your act together you're not going to have the people here who can do these jobs."
"Have you got a plan for that?"
Mr Clegg replied: "Apprenticeships are now expanding in a rate that they haven't done in a generation during the course of this parliament this coalition Government will deliver a quarter of a million more apprentices than were planned by the previous Government.
"We have to give the same kind of esteem and respect for vocational education, including apprenticeships, as we traditionally have for an academic, university placement."
"Half the board of Rolls Royce - one of Britain's greatest companies - were apprentices." Mr Cameron added. "So the apprentices behind me can have the ambition not just of working for great companies but for running great companies like this."
"That's why we're putting money into apprenticeships and not just universities."
Another asked about what could be done about the rising cost of fuel.
The overall answer lies in becoming less reliant on petrol and diesel across the world, Mr Cameron replied.
And asked about the Olympic legacy, Mr Clegg said: "In many ways we haven't yet woken up to what a big, big thing this is.
"The eyes of the world are going to be on us, its going to have a massive effect on that part of London in the long run, it's going to be a brilliant opportunity for us to show ourselves off as a optimistic county, as an open country as a diverse country, as a young country, as a county open to .. and I hope we win a few sort of medals, you know... in the process."
The purpose of the visit and the speech - hyped as Rose Garden 2, in reference to the joint speech made by the pair in the more pictureseque gardens of Downing Street after winning the 2010 General Election - was to present a strong image of togetherness between the leaders of the coalition parties, following heavy losses by both parties at last week's local council elections.
With the country officially dropping back into recession roughly at the mid point of the team's parliamentary term,
"The latest figures show that the British economy will be a full 11 per cent smaller by 2016, than it would have been if the crash in 2008 had not happened. A full 11 per cent - no Government can waive a magic wand and wish that away - it's just that the nature of that cardiac arrest that took place in 2008 just takes some time to recover and it means that the economy is somewhat smaller than it would have been.
"But I'm actually genuinely very optimistic - very optimistic for the future of this country.
"Here in this plant one tractor is coming off the production line ever four minutes - I think we as a country have undersold our potential as a manufacturing powerhouse.
"Manufacturing now represented about 11 per cent of the total value of our economy 0 there's no reason we couldn't hope that to increase to 22 per cent or more.
"We can't do it overnight but we are taking the right steps along that path."
Mr Cameron then apologised for the fact that their visit had partly shut down that production line for the duration of the visit, and off they strolled, not hand in hand but certainly in step.