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Let me start by wishing you all a Merry Christmas. And can I add my voice to what David said about our brave troops. The sacrifice they and their families make is felt more sharply at this time of year than any other, and we thank them for everything they do.
The Coalition Government has achieved a huge amount in a short space of time. Clearly our greatest challenge is tackling the deficit and returning our economy to health, and we are taking the difficult steps needed to do that.
But, Labour didn’t just leave us a fiscal mess; they left us a social crisis as well: a country where your chances in life are still too determined by the circumstances of your birth.
Just as we did not flinch - and we will not flinch - from taking the action needed to fix the economy, we will not back down from doing what it takes to address the deep unfairness in our society either.
It is easy to say that all this Government is about is cuts. But it is wrong. We have begun a far-reaching programme to rebuild British society so that it is open, liberal, socially mobile. So that people who want to get ahead in life can get ahead, regardless of the circumstances of their birth. So that people who want the best for themselves and their children can be sure that Government is on their side.
That’s the ambition driving our changes. That’s why we’re providing a £2.5bn pupil premium, targeted at the most disadvantaged children, as well as funding the childcare needed to help give 2, 3 and 4 year olds the best possible start in life.
It’s why we’re overhauling our welfare system - to get people into work. And why we’re raising the income tax personal allowance - to make sure work pays. From April 880,000 people on low incomes will stop paying income tax altogether, with more to follow. And it’s why our changes to higher education, though controversial, will make it easier and cheaper, not more expensive, for bright people from poorer backgrounds to go to university.
But we also know that to make our plan work - to really help people get ahead - Government must stop constantly telling them what to do. So from schools, to hospitals, to planning - we’re taking power away from Whitehall and handing it back to individuals, back to families, back to neighbourhoods.
Self-confident Government that trusts people, instead of Labour’s insistence that “Government always knows best”. It’s a big project; it won’t happen overnight; and, we know the year ahead, and the years after that, won’t always be easy. But we believe that our decisions will stand the test of time, and that we are on course to fix the economy, while building a better country.
We’re also confounding the fears about coalition. The idea that parties working together would cause paralysis and stagnation has quietly bitten the dust. In fact, now the complaint from some is that we’re doing too much, not too little.
When we talk about the New Politics, we’re actually talking about a very old idea: that people who disagree can have honest and frank discussions, and reach a conclusion they can both support. In most walks of life, that’s an unremarkable idea. I hope it won’t be too long before it catches on in Westminster too. Next year, during the referendum on voting reform, the Prime Minister and I will even show how you can politely disagree in public.
So, we have made a good start to an ambitious project, and we have a clear view of the stable, fair Britain we want to build. That’s our plan. And we will stick to it.