On Tuesday, Tim Montgomerie launched his Good Right campaign to galvanise One Nation elements of the Conservative party ahead of the general election and, it is hoped, swing floating voters – even Labour ones – toward supporting David Cameron in May.
The campaign’s first post, 12 Policies to Build a One Nation Conservative Party, very deliberately harks back to what was, admittedly, an electoral high point for the party – the 1950s and early 1960s heyday of Churchill, Eden and Macmillan.
But at what price did this electoral success come? In the very early days of a recovery from one of the greatest financial crises the West has ever faced, do we really want to be harking back to the days when the Conservatives did as much as Labour to turn the United Kingdom into the economic basket case it became in the 1970s?
Are these really the policies of a better Britain, or just posturing in a popularity contest? Let’s see.
MORE HOUSEBUILDING, MORE HOME OWNERSHIP
1. A Harold Macmillan-sized, state-supported housebuilding programme to cut the future cost of housing benefits and to rebuild the idea of a property owning democracy again (Blog for the Chartered Institute for Housing). The homes should be designed to the highest environmental standards in order to secure long-term energy efficiency. If Simon Wolfson is correct the return on converting greenfields in prosperous parts of Britain into new garden cities will more than pay for itself in the decades ahead.
No, no, no. Anyone following the nail-bitingly close contest in Thurrock (which, if you aren’t, you should be because UKIP’s Tim Aker has a very real chance of taking the south Essex seat in May) will know that the borough is a shining example of just how untrustworthy councils are when it comes to adequately maintaining their own housing stock. Tenants there live in the most appalling conditions, with mould an especially big problem. Furthermore, the council has changed hands between Labour and the Conservatives a number of times over the years – each party blames the other but you might say it is, in fact, the system which is to blame.
It’s worthwhile remembering that the greatest period of homebuilding prior to the post-war period was the 1930s – when a general lack of planning regulations and greenbelt areas allowed an enormous boom in the private construction of suburban housing which effectively built this country out of the Depression and left us with a housing stock which is still desirable and of a high quality today. This was done not with the help of the Government but in its absence. Strip back the obstacles developers face and, as businesses, they will provide the homes people need.
HIGHER TAXES ON EXPENSIVE PROPERTIES AND LUXURY GOODS, LOWER TAXES ON THE LOW-WAGED
2. Freedom for local authorities to levy additional council tax bands on high value properties with a requirement that the overall tax burden does not rise (Mark Field MP article) and the introduction of a super consumption tax of the kind recommended by entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates – at least until the deficit is eliminated. We must all be in this together. Additionally, in the longer-term, a progressive consumption tax could fund lower income tax for lower earners (Background Forbes article).
This is not necessarily the lefty ‘Eat the Rich’ dog whistle it initially comes across as. In the aforementioned Mark Field article, the point is made that, not only are council tax bands set at 1991 prices, but the top top band is set at properties valued at anything over £320,000 which means “a Knightsbridge oligarch, for instance, is paying £1,353.48 annual council tax for a £60 million home – exactly the same as properties worth one-thirtieth that sum.” If one accepts a progressive property taxation, that is an absurd situation. Taxing “luxury goods,” however, would take the party into far murkier – and more arbitrary – waters. What kind of things are we talking about? Don’t poorer people save up for luxury goods, too?
HIGHER WAGES FOR LOWER-PAID BRITONS
3. Above-inflation increases in the minimum wage to encourage employers to invest in a more highly skilled workforce – every year until there is clear evidence of any negative impact on job creation.
This is an incredibly bizarre suggestion for any Conservative to make given that the Treasury’s own research (see page 10) predicts the planned rise in the minimum wage to £7 an hour by 2015/16 will result in unemployment increasing by 14,000. One thing this proposed policy gets right, however, is that a rise in the minimum wage will indeed encourage businesses to “invest in a more highly skilled workforce.” All the evidence currently points to the suggestion that the minimum wage benefits older, more experienced workers at the expense of younger, less experienced ones (pages 10 & 15) as employers become choosier about what their inevitably smaller workforce should look like. With youth unemployment already higher than the overall figure, this would not be wise.
ABANDON PLANS TO RAISE THE INCOME TAX THRESHOLD AND TARGET ALL SPARE FUNDS ON INCREASING WORK INCENTIVES THROUGH THE UNIVERSAL CREDIT
4. As the Resolution Foundation has recommended the most pro-poor way of using limited funds is to increase the allowances within the Universal Credit – rather than raise the basic threshold for paying income tax (85% of the benefit of which will accrue to the 50% highest earners). This will be more socially just and do most to increase incentives to work.
In many ways, working down this list feels very much like wandering further and further down the rabbit hole. Raising the income tax threshold has been one of the most popular policies implemented by this Government and, despite being a Liberal Democrat policy, has proven especially popular with the Tory grassroots – a group of people who could otherwise be forgiven for being made to feel like an irritating hurdle rather than valued supporters of late. The entire policy goes against the grain of one of the core tenets of Conservatism – that people prosper by keeping more of what they earn rather than relying on handouts.
A RENEGOTIATION WITH EUROPE THAT CUTS ENERGY AND FOOD BILLS – AND PROTECTS THE INTERESTS OF THE LOW-PAID
5. The Common Agricultural Policy inflates food prices. EU-wide energy policies inflate household gas and electricity bills – as well as disadvantage UK manufacturing industry – without cutting global emissions. Unqualified free movement of labour benefits employers and the wealthy at the expense of the lower-paid (Professor Robert Rowthorn’s analysis for Civitas). All of these issues should be at the heart of the creation of a more socially just European Union. (More from the Global Warming Policy Foundation paper (PDF) on the need to suspend regressive green measures).
No Conservative worth their salt, even many europhiles, could argue with this. Well, most of it. The “creation of a more socially just European Union” sounds a little too wet. And it would all be academic, anyway, with our ultimate goal – Brexit.
MORE INVESTMENT IN NORTHERN INFRASTRUCTURE TO CREATE A MORE BALANCED ECONOMY
6. All proceeds from the exploitation of shale gas within Northern England to fund expanded Northern infrastructure (See ConservativeHome manifesto).
We’re big on fracking and big on the North of England (two thirds of the CfL executive are from God’s Own County – the proper one). The idea tax revenues from a Northern industry ought to stay in the North is a nice one, though this could also go hand in hand with further decentralising taxing and spending power to local or regional councils. The Scottish independence referendum has already opened the floodgates on this issue and it could conceivably become a reality in coming years. All that said, infrastructure and an incredible explosion of wealth and prosperity in the North of England were created by industry and industry alone in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries without a great deal of Government involvement.
OPEN UP PRIVATE SCHOOLS TO THE BRIGHTEST PUPILS FROM LOWER INCOME HOMES
7. “All private schools, both boarding and day schools, all of which are charities, should be forced by law to accept 25% of their intake as scholarship boys and girls, funded by the State on a means-tested basis” (an idea proposed by Matthew Parris).
Again the heavy hand of the State reveals itself when a far less coercive alternative exists, i.e. the voucher system of education, which Conservatives for Liberty supports as the best way of opening up access to good private schools.
A WISER STATE, FOCUSED ON LONG-TERM STRATEGIC NEEDS
8. New fiscal rules that put investment in infrastructure, science and long-term research at the heart of state spending and which protect it in lean times. Plus stronger “equivalence tests” to reduce the pay, perks and pensions premium enjoyed by most public sector workers but which also provides Whitehall with the freedom to pay more to reforming civil servants.
Again, not much to argue with here. Checking the tendency of politicians to be short-sighted and overly influenced by momentary swings in voter mood is a positive step and bringing the public sector in line with the rest of the population which pays for its perks will be popular as well as just. Labour and the unions may call it a “race to the bottom” but we – and most private sector workers – call it fair. Its time to rein in the infantalised whingers who cry over golden goodbyes being replaced with silver ones.
GOVERNMENT SPENDING THAT IS MORE FOCUSED ON THE MOST DESERVING CORNERS OF THE NATION
9. The abolition of the Barnett formula and its replacement with a new needs-based assessment that will favour poorer parts of the UK including Wales, Cornwall and seaside towns (CapX background article) and reductions in the benefits enjoyed by better off pensioners to reduce the deficit and fund early intervention programmes.
It’s difficult to argue in favour of the hideously outdated Barnett formula, particularly in the days of devolution, which for Scotland at least will see tax levying powers granted to Holyrood in the near future. The subsidisation of Scotland’s economy, real or perceived, while Scots MPs still vote on English laws will only fuel resentment between the two nations and is better off scrapped. Reducing the benefits enjoyed by better off pensioners would also be consistent with the Coalition removing child benefit from well-off parents – and would once again set the trap for Labour and the Left to expose their grotesque subservience to ideology over reality by opposing it.
FAMILY HUBS TO REPLACE CHILDREN’S CENTRES AND MEASURES OF SOCIAL PROGRESS TO BE PRODUCED ALONGSIDE MEASURES OF MATERIAL GROWTH
10. A movement towards measures of poverty and also to support services that are focused on underlying causes of disadvantage including family breakdown, addiction, indebtedness and social dislocation – and not just the narrow obsession with redistributing income that is currently dominant in public policy (Christian Guy of the Centre for Social Justice introduced this idea in The Independent).
The upshot of Christian Guy’s article in The Independent focuses on removing the obstacles the poor face in improving their lives rather than relying on the “quick fixes” of welfare, which is a much more sensible approach than Labour’s preferred method of
buying votes helping the poor. The greatest care must be taken, however, that the role of family hubs to “offer relationship and parenting help, out-reach to Dads, couple mediation, birth registration and ante-natal support” does not result in mission creep towards Scotland’s terrifying Orwellian “named person” system. As mission creep is the default setting of statism, this is a danger.
REFORMS OF POLITICAL FUNDING THAT CREATE A MORE COMPETITIVE CAPITALISM AND A MORE DYNAMIC PUBLIC SECTOR
11. A reform of political donations so that there are strict and low limits on the extent to which the privately wealthy or unions can create crony forms of capitalism or a privileged status for public sector workers (See point 8 of this CapX piece). There should not be direct state funding of political parties but small donations could be encouraged by charitable relief.
Okay, so we’re crawling out of the rabbit hole now. Crony capitalism is definitely not cool and a political system where the two main parties are supported primarily by big business on one side and public sector unions on the other is not a healthy state of affairs. We approve this message.
FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR PEOPLE OF LIMITED MEANS TO ENTER PARLIAMENT
12. Introduction of a £1 million bursary scheme to help people of more diverse backgrounds to become Conservative MPs (The cost of becoming a Tory MP has been estimated at an average of £40,000).
The details of this hypothetical bursary would of course affect our judgement of it but there are nonetheless concerns about it in principle. How would such a bursary be distributed? Would this not simply establish a form of patronage for CCHQ to tread further over the prerogative of associations? Perhaps, perhaps not, but they are questions which need to be answered.
So, a few good points, and a few fairly “meh” ones. But, overall, a depressingly high socialism content. One can only hope that, as Stephen Bush suggested in the Telegraph’s Morning Briefing, it may have come a little late for the general election.