Lord Ahmad: The Conservative values I learned from my father, who arrived in Britain with only £5 in his pocket
My father arrived here in this incredible country in the early 1950s and settled in Glasgow. It was a very different place to the multi-cultural city we see today. Here was a man born in British India, who had to leave the town in which he was born almost overnight as the partition of the sub-continent took him to the new state of Pakistan - and was now arriving in a country equipped with a relative fluency in English and only £5 to his name.
Yet his most powerful asset was his guiding principles, which were based on self-help and the need to give something back to the community, while becoming an integrated member of the country that he would now call home. He worked a number of jobs while also studying and playing his part in the community – whether working in the care homes for the elderly or joining the local hockey club, he was determined to make his own way, through hard work and a commitment to provide for his family through the opportunities his country afforded to him. He didn’t quite “get on his bike” but he got on a train - as in his early years, he worked on the railways. It was those key values that really shaped my politics and showed me the inextricable link between personal progression, cultural integration and social responsibility with the Conservative Party, all shaped within a meritocratic framework. Entrepreneurism personified.
I joined the Conservative Party based upon these strong principles which are not unique to me, but are qualities found in every individual. We, as Conservatives, need to communicate this message more effectively across the country and show that the Party’s core value of helping people to realise their aspirations, their true potential, remains one of the key tenets of our policy agenda. Opportunity, innovation, job creation, the free market - qualities of the entrepreneur; qualities that underlie the philosophy of our party.
Before being asked to join the Government and the front bench of the Lords last September, I worked in the private sector. I understand the pressures that are on businesses and on entrepreneurs. I understand the challenges of the global market place. You’ve all heard it before and you will hear it again; it is indeed tough out there at the moment. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the Government is achieving a great deal.
Let me just talk through some of what I believe we are seeing our Government deliver. It is abundantly clear that one of the main priorities for any Government is advocating fairness, and that is precisely what our Party stands for when considering the issue of welfare reform. In very simple terms, these reforms ensure that someone who works benefits - and someone on benefits does not benefit over someone who is working - a hand up, rather than a hand out. That is the kind of opportunity culture we want to spread so that people can get on in life, which in turn helps the country move forward, and that is what entrepreneurism is all about. Creating the culture where as well as helping yourself and your family, you help your community and your country at the same time.
Low interest rates, investment in infrastructure, success in creating 600,000 new apprenticeships and over one million new jobs created in the private sector. That’s a record I’m proud of. It’s a record all Conservatives should be proud of. What’s more, notwithstanding the challenging economic climate, we have seen over half a million new businesses being set up in 2012 – a record, and it is this type of environment that the Government should continue to support; one where entrepreneurism can flourish and businesses can grow.
Some of our specific measures include those on Corporation tax, cut from 28% to 23% from April 2013 and to 21% in 2014 – compare this rate to that of the US 40% and France at 33%. Cutting it further to 20% will cost another £900 million but in my view will continue to assist business and job creation. Many of you here are involved in business and you know that whatever business you’ve set up, or whatever opportunities you’ve availed, it’s based on a risk assessment of your circumstances and where you wish to be, and we should continue to help those willing to take the risk as this encompasses the spirit of entrepreneurism.
We should also not forget the appalling economic legacy that Labour left us - a national deficit spiralling out of control and a broken financial services sector, but we’ve got on with fixing it. Credit availability remains a major issue of small and medium sized businesses, but responsible lending to this sector needs to grow and our policies such as those on the Business Bank, the Green Bank and the Supply Chain Initiative will assist in making this happen. Another important part of our recovery is to convey the message that Britain is open for business, that we are an attractive country to invest in; indeed, the Prime Minister has been leading the charge in this area; a key element to our economic progress and future prosperity.
Another achievement of our Government is the progressive reforms in the education sector. a subject that I know is deeply important to the British Pakistani Community as education lays the foundation for an individual’s future. Whenever I attend community events, irrespective of people’s background, I am told how dearly they hold their children’s education above all else, it is the focus for their family. Everyone wants to see a decent level of educational attainment for their children and this is only possible when we have a truly effective system that nurtures understanding and inspires children to progress. Empowerment through education should be our rallying call. Improving educational standards and widening choice is the basis of our reforms in this area, in particular free schools, and I hope they are fully embraced as a real opportunity.
And what of integration and progress of different communities within the Conservative Party? Well when you consider that we have six ministers drawn from the BME community in today’s Coalition government – all Conservative – all committed to the principles of our Party - this is evidence that the Party has genuinely opened up the possibility for people, whatever their ethnic, social or economic background, to hold political office at the highest level.
The Conservative Party today looks towards aspiring people with talent, who seek to get on in life and who seek to create that entrepreneurial spirit I have talked about. People who want to progress through education, through innovation, through hard work and perseverance. Playing their part in creating a society which is based on fairness whilst supporting success and social and economic advancement.
It is the principle of determination twinned with that entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and kicking within today’s Conservative Party and it is that which encapsulates our view for building an even better Britain. When I was growing up, I had a quote on the wall in my room from the Irish poet Sheridan: “The surest way to succeed is to be determined not to fail”. To me, that encapsulates a vision of entrepreneurism which is reflected in the Party that I am honoured to represent.
This article is based on a speech given to Conservative Friends of Pakistan