The last party conference season before a General Election always sees the temperature of debate rise and the parties start to set out their main objectives which will define the key message they seek to deliver the electorate over the next nine months. What everyone can agree is that we are heading towards a very close election where the result is very uncertain.
Every party has its work cut out over the next eight months. Ed Miliband has to try to persuade people that he would be able to do the job of Prime Minister. We Conservatives need to persuade people that they should stick with our long term plan to get the country back on its feet and see through what has already been started. The Liberal Democrats need to persuade voters that there is still a role for a third party and a need for coalition politics.
The week in Birmingham started with the announcement that one of our MPs had decided to defect to UKIP. I used to be a member of UKIP in 1999 but came the other way to join the Conservatives. One of the reasons I left UKIP is that I thought they always undermined the causes they claimed to believe in. Ten years ago they were a hindrance to those of us who wanted to bring together a broad coalition of people who wanted to Keep the pound but stay in the single market for trade. Today, the only way to get a referendum on our future in the EU is to have a majority Conservative government but UKIP increase the chances of Ed Miliband winning the election.
However, as the week progressed there were some important new announcements around cutting taxes on pensions and lowering the cap on benefits for those who could work so that work always pays. I think this is important because if we want to help people out of poverty we need to help them into work and it can never be right that some people living on benefits can have more income that those who work hard and do the right thing. A lot has been achieved in terms of sorting out the benefits system over the last few years and, as the economy has recovered and grown, many people who had been left on the scrap heap for years have now had the support they need to get a job.
As with every summer, I have spent the last few months out on the door step meeting local residents to discuss their concerns and understand their priorities. We have made some important progress in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle with some major projects to rejuvenate our towns underway and new industries starting to set up. My priority now is to make sure that young people locally have the skills and the confidence to take up these new opportunities.