James Sunderland writes for The Times.
Among all the bold policy promises of the leadership campaign, it is curious that “Conservatism” itself has barely attracted more than fleeting interest. While blind adherence to dogma is never a good look for any incoming prime minister, it is clear now, perhaps more than ever, that a return to traditional Conservative policies will be needed to control public spending, inflation and debt, and also to stimulate economic growth. This is the fiscal imperative of our age and No 10 must be ready.
One of the unintended consequences of Covid-19 is that the state has become too big, unwieldy, expensive and omnipotent. With the tax burden now just too high, people have become reliant upon central government in a way that could hardly have been envisaged by the free-market Conservative policy makers of yesteryear. Rowing back on this dependency is now essential if the UK is to fulfil its full potential as a truly democratic and sovereign nation, and a return to a low-state, low tax economy of opportunity, entrepreneurial spirit and individual responsibility is vital.
As the leadership contest draws towards its protracted conclusion, undecided party members will wish to be assured that the next prime minister will take a bold step forward by re-igniting those fundamental Conservative principles and values that hold us together. The UK must once again become a bedrock of economic growth and innovation. And that is why I am supporting Liz Truss.
Everyone will have their own definition of Conservatism and what it means. The Oxford English Dictionary cites “the holding of political views that favour free enterprise, private ownership, and socially traditional ideas” and the Cambridge Dictionary highlights policies “that traditionally support business and oppose high taxes and government involvement”. In recent decades, notably the Thatcher years, Conservatism has become the primary model for economic growth, and this has been achieved through privatisation of state industries, free markets, low taxes, a limited role for government, personal responsibility, economic freedoms and self-determination. So, whilst we may still need to remind ourselves how to re-ignite the economy in 2022, I am confident that we will.
For me, Conservatism is about many things. First and foremost, the primary role of any government is to defend the realm and keep its people safe. Given that the world is probably more dangerous, competitive and unstable than at any time since the Second World War, I am reassured that Liz Truss has promised to increase defence spending to 3 per cent GDP by 2030 — it is the right thing to do.
The high cost of living also needs to be tackled but the answer does not lie solely in government handouts. Cutting taxation for people and businesses will provide a timely boost for investment, using our new freedoms outside the EU to cut red tape, achieve new free trade deals and unshackle business from over-regulation. Indeed, scrapping the national insurance tax rise, cutting corporation tax back to 19 per cent and introducing a moratorium on green energy levies, will leave more money in pockets and provide a buffer to meet the high cost of living. Importantly, there is no evidence that this will be inflationary, but it will incentivise economic growth and investment to prevent stagnation.
The Conservative Party is the party of law and order. By reinforcing the drive to recruit 20,000 new police officers, creating new crime league tables, investing more to fight organised crime and passing new legislation to protect our borders, people in the UK will be safer. A renewed focus in dealing with illegal immigration and the activities of people-trafficking gangs across the Channel through the Bill of Rights will also result in the UK fixing those elements that make us beholden to the European Court of Human Rights. Liz Truss has stated that she is prepared to take any action necessary to fix the problem, and such decisive leadership is needed to break the cycle of dangerous Channel crossings and fix our broken asylum system. This clear commitment to the security and sanctity of our sovereign shores is hugely welcome.
True Conservatism centres upon the need for equality of opportunity and education. A new six-point plan to get our education system back on track after the interruptions of Covid-19 will bring down the cost of childcare, expand high performance schools, apprenticeships, improve standards and reform university admissions. And unlocking the opportunity of home ownership for millions of people will be achieved by reforming mortgage rules, planning regulations and local red tape.
It will be necessary too to abolish the prescriptive housing targets that have concreted over our open spaces and vexed local councils and local people for decades. The best people to decide local housing needs are those elected locally to do so, and councils must be afforded the autonomy to make planning decisions that are right for their communities. Stalin-like planning targets from central government are the antithesis of Conservatism. Building responsibly and sustainably in the right locations will become as important as not building in wrong locations. Liz Truss has already announced the abolition of top-down targets and rightly so.
When the new prime minister is unveiled on September 5, it will be critical for the Conservative Party to resolutely unite behind whichever candidate is chosen. While I would be honoured to serve under either Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak, it is clear to me that a return to Conservative principles and values must lie at the heart of future policies, and I would urge the new government to embrace this from the outset. Preserving the Union and completing the final throes of Brexit remain pivotal. And by fixing current challenges, we can ensure that a Conservative government stays at No 10.