Oliver Dowden: Conservative Conference will pave the way to a stronger future – and election victory
When I walked into CCHQ a few weeks back as the new Conservative Party chairman, I felt like the kid that used to stack the shelves and is now running the shop. Many moons ago I was a researcher in the famous Conservative Research Department – to now be chairman of this great party is a privilege and an honour.
And it’s fantastic that we will be back meeting each other face-to-face at conference for the first time in two years. The past 18 months or so have been something no-one could have imagined, sorely testing every one of us and demanding huge efforts of us as a country. We have risen to those huge challenges, from every one of our key workers working on the frontline, to the vaccine rollout and the unprecedented package of economic support put in place for workers, our economy and public services.
We cannot be complacent against this virus, but my attention is very much on how we emerge stronger and build back better from this crisis. The signs are already encouraging. The UK is predicted to have the fastest economic growth in the G7 this year and next, with our GDP expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year. Unemployment is falling and the number of employees on payrolls is back to pre-pandemic levels. Wages are rising strongly, by 8.3 per cent according to the latest ONS stats, and there are over one million job vacancies as businesses begin to bounce back.
These are welcome indicators but there is still much for us to do. As our economy recovers and we emerge from this pandemic, we will double down on our promise to level-up across the country. We want high skilled, high wage jobs from Cornwall to Crewe, Hastings to Hull.
It’s fantastic that we will be back meeting each other face-to-face at conference for the first time in two years
Earlier this year we launched our £4.8 bn “levelling up” fund to invest in infrastructure across every part the UK. I know my Conservative colleagues have been working hard on, and supporting bids to, the fund for new investment into their areas. But, incredibly, it has emerged that Keir Starmer couldn’t even be bothered to support a levelling up bid from his own Labour council in Camden this summer – to save the very local sports centre where he tweets photos of himself playing football! Putting politics above people, in this case his own young constituents. He did find time however to write a 14,000 word essay. If anything sums up the difference between our two parties, it’s this. We get on with the job, willing to take tough decisions when necessary, while Starmer’s Labour pontificate from the sidelines.
And it’s not just government that is focusing on investing in areas across our country. We as a party are too. Our new Leeds HQ is on track to open later this year, giving us a new important base outside of London and closer to the swathe of new Conservative MPs elected in 2019.
The next election is still a long way away. But when it does come, we will be ready for it. Because the choice couldn’t be starker. A Conservative Party, delivering on the people’s priorities and taking the tough decisions for the long-term future of our country, or Starmer’s Labour, as so painfully evidenced by that essay of bland platitudes and banalities, with no vision or plan for our country.
Oliver Dowden co-Party Chairman and MP for Hertsmere
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