So, my final column for the Express and Echo prior to the General Election – I hope to be back afterwards (if this paper will have me) but electoral success is never something I have taken for granted. So could I thank all who have read my many columns over the last 5 years and especially thank the many who have written to me in response to them. Regardless of whether you are political friend or foe – I have learned from you all and there can surely be little more important to a healthy democracy than the frank exchange of views. I would also like to thank this newspaper. I have not always agreed with every comment contained within its pages but I recognise and admire its ability to capture and air many of the critical issues in our part of Devon. This is a quality publication and it has been generous of them to provide me with the space and a privilege to have been permitted to contribute directly within its pages. So what are the final thoughts I would like to share with you before signing off for the 40 day dash for the electoral finishing tape? Perhaps just acknowledge what an extraordinary privilege it has been to have served as your Member of Parliament. It has engendered within me a deep passion and I hope a deep understanding too of a strangely shaped 550 sq mile patch of some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. Central Devon has no obvious centre or main administrative heart – but then perhaps that is a part of its genius. There is no one point that pulls harder than any another – yet it seems to me that its scattered towns, villages, hamlets and farmsteads still collectively speak powerfully of something touching and special - a kind of decency – something so often and sadly absent elsewhere. Being an MP has given me a special sense of local people – I have met many many thousands over the years and interacted with them in a variety of ways – from surgery appointments to public meetings to business and voluntary organisation visits to dropping in on our schools, hospitals, churches, GP surgeries, fetes, scout groups, pubs and much else. From welcoming constituents to Westminster to sitting around the kitchen table with our farmers I have gained a great insight into the people who make up this extraordinary constituency. I have tried to represent everyone equally – although I appreciate that I will of course have failed to satisfy all. That is always the way. But then, win or lose I will also know that I gave of my best and stayed true to what I thought was right for our country and this most special of places.
The job creation miracle continues with a Conservative led Government having presided over the creation of 1.9 million new jobs since 2010 – that’s 1,000 jobs a day and more than have been created in the rest of the EU combined. Labour will knock this claiming that its all zero hours contracts and part time employment – it is not – 75% of these jobs are full time. And growth is going off the chart. We are now the fastest growing economy in the developed world. Add to that the fact that inflation is at zero per cent and household incomes above their level when we came to office (and growing) and you have a record of which Government and the British people can both be proud. I particularly salute our small businesses many of which I visit each year who have powered our local economy here in Devon. But a word of caution. The recovery is not yet complete and it would not take much to wreck it – more taxes (meaning less money in your pocket) and turning on the spending taps, as Labour propose, would take us right back to square one. There are only two possible outcomes in this election – either David Cameron in Number 10 and further stability and continued recovery or Ed Miliband and a return to financial irresponsibility and chaos. Only it is worse than that with Ed – to get into Number 10 he would almost certainly need the support of the Scottish Nationalist Party. So it would be Ed in Number 10 and Alec Salmond, with all his demands for Scotland, pulling the strings. It is vital that we have the right result in May – if we let Labour trash the economy again then there will be few resources for our key public services. This government increased spending on the NHS, in Portugal and Greece they had to cut health spending by around 20%. Let’s move on to a positive future – not back to Labour’s grim past.