A one-nation conservative agenda lies at the heart of delivering a healthy Conservative majority at the next election. The Government must match its rhetoric on Brexit, deliver tax cuts, build more affordable housing, return law and order to our streets and improve the NHS, says John Baron MP.
Overall morale in the Conservative Party remains low. The acrimony over the Brexit legislation, the dissatisfaction on all sides over the Chequers Agreement, along with a weakened party leader following last year’s unnecessary General Election, are all taking their toll. As the latest outbursts over Boris Johnson’s Telegraph article have shown, it is not even as if Conservative politicians or the commentariat are having a rest over the summer recess.
Yet for all these challenges, Conservatives must not lose sight of the fact that we remain in power, and therefore able to effect more change on a daily basis than any opposition politicians. The one positive aspect of last year’s General Election is that – as long as no further elections are called – we have a decent run of time until the next vote. This gives us the time to make progress on the big issues we face, to focus on the ‘bread and butter’ issues which determine elections and sell Conservative policies well in advance of 5th May 2022.
Given the electorate views the Conservatives as the party of Brexit, we must get this ‘signature policy’ right. In my last column, I wrote about the shortcomings of the Chequers Agreement – namely that it would leave the UK as a ‘rule-taker’ and would hinder our ability to strike free trade deals with countries outside the EU – so the Government must find an approach closer to the Prime Minister’s speeches at Lancaster House and Mansion House. Some boldness is required, but the electoral gains will be large if we can successfully arrange a departure from the EU which respects the wishes of the over 17 million people who voted for Brexit.
Returning to another theme, we must develop policies along the ‘One Nation’ approach, in which all of society shares in the country’s overall prosperity. Last year’s General Election campaign was completely silent on these policies, and as a party we leant ourselves easily to the charge that we lacked compassion. This was wrong on many levels, not least because since 2010 we have overseen a growing economy, record low unemployment, and falling levels of both poverty and income inequality. A sound economy is a means to an end – to better help the less fortunate – not an end in itself.
A key ‘One Nation’ policy should be to reduce taxes across the board. In this we have already made good progress – raising the threshold for the Personal Allowance has given income tax cuts for over 30 million people since 2010, and has taken more than four million of the lowest-paid out of income tax altogether. Falling Corporation Tax has made the UK an even more competitive place to do business, and firms have responded by increasing their headcounts and investing in their workforce.
The Government should reduce taxes still further – not least because, as the ‘Laffer Curve’ reminds us, reducing taxes can have the effect of raising the tax take. More tax was raised after George Osborne reduced the additional rate of income tax from 50p to 45p and, in the US, President Trump’s tax cuts have resulted in record tax receipts. However, there may be a need to look at how we tax the large tech companies, even if it means linking tax receipts with company revenue, to ensure all companies are taxed equitably.
Meanwhile, a lasting resolution to the housing shortage should also be one of the Government’s priorities. Falling home ownership amongst younger people should keep Conservatives awake at night, as much of our general approach is predicated on a ‘property-owning democracy’, and it will be difficult to enthuse the next generations as to the importance and benefits of capitalism if they have no capital.
Given the numbers of the new homes needed, and the incentive for housebuilders to limit supply to keep prices high, I am beginning to think some form of Government housebuilding scheme may be required. If we get this right, this could be as popular for the Conservatives as ‘right to buy’ was almost 40 years ago.
A greater focus on law and order – another ‘signature policy’ for Conservatives – would be a good idea. The Government is right to point out that falling Police numbers have been in response to falling crime rates, but there seems now to be a consensus that some types of crime are on the increase. The Government should respond accordingly and increase the numbers of rank-and-file Police to ensure any rises are swiftly curbed. A visible presence is an important reassurance for many communities.
As regards the NHS, there needs to be a revolution in how its successes and failures are measured. Over the last 20 years or so, the NHS has been subjected to many different ‘process targets’ by which the volume, rather than the quality, of care and treatments have been counted, and to which incentivising payments have often been linked.
However, it is only the outcome of their treatment which really matters to patients, and incentivising better outcomes would thus be hugely beneficial. Cancer is one such example – our survival rates continue to lag well behind comparable healthcare systems abroad, even as the number of process targets increase. A switch to focusing on outcomes would provide a strong incentive to improve performance at earlier diagnosis and thereby lead to better survival rates overall.
Progress on these issues would markedly increase Conservative chances of securing a healthy win at the next General Election. There are other reasons for optimism – Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party remains fraught and his peculiar views, such as in sharing platforms with questionable groups and individuals, are being found out. Moreover, the prospect of a Corbyn premiership will be a very real prospect at the next election. All those Labour candidates who assured their electorates in 2017 that a vote for them would not make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister will not be able to say that again.