Evidence shows that the Government’s austerity programme is working and the UK economy is “turning a corner”, Chancellor George Osborne declared in his most upbeat assessment yet about the country’s prospects.
In a foretaste of the political argument Conservatives will use in the 2015 general election campaign, the Chancellor warned that holding to his course is the only way of delivering lasting improvement in living standards. Switching economic policies would be “disastrous”, putting at risk the advances achieved by the sacrifices of the past three years, he said.
In a speech at a building site in east London, Mr Osborne said that those – like shadow chancellor Ed Balls – who argued for a Plan B involving more state borrowing and less deep cuts have “lost the argument” because they were unable to explain the recovery of the past few months.
And he warned of the need to make “many billions” more in savings after the next election, cautioning Labour that “anyone who thinks those decisions can be ducked is not fit for Government”.
In a direct challenge to Labour’s decision to put cost-of-living issues at the centre of its agenda in the run-up to the election, Mr Osborne said that Britain was poorer today because of economic decisions taken by the previous government and warned that Plan B would “add hugely to the cost of living”.
“Just as our economy recovers and the British people’s efforts start to pay off – now is not the time to put all that at risk, and I will not do that to this country,” he said. “We have laid the foundations. We have built on top of them. But we cannot stop now. We have got to finish the job. And we will.”
Labour accused the Chancellor of a “desperate attempt to rewrite history”.
“Three wasted years of flatlining under George Osborne have left ordinary families worse off and caused long-term damage to our economy,” shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie said.
“This desperate attempt to rewrite history will not wash when on every test he set himself, this Chancellor’s Plan A has badly failed – on living standards, growth and the deficit.”
Opposition leader Ed Miliband is expected to use his speech to the TUC conference on Tuesday to lambast the Chancellor for being “out of touch with ordinary families” by celebrating while they face the squeeze.