Our policies must provide the keys to a double lock.
How do we create future prosperity?
How do we ensure it is fairly shared?
At the last election no party really leveled with the public about the scale of economic and social challenges facing Britain. David Cameron’s advisers believe that if they’d been more honest about the looming austerity the Tory performance might have been even worse. Labour would have been able to run more scare stories about loss of benefits and loss of government programmes. But are we all underestimating the wisdom of the voter? Anyone who has been on the doorstep or who has staffed street stalls knows that voters understand that these aren’t ordinary times.
They know that we have borrowed too much as households and governments for too long. They know that the rise of the emerging world economies raises real threats to British jobs and British wages. They know that problems that grew up over a couple of decades aren’t going to be solved quickly. They also know that big challenges aren’t going to be met by small plans.
The Conservative Party should also look at the electoral mountain that it has to climb. It isn’t going to win a majority without taking some big steps and some big risks. A bolder economic plan – focused not on cuts but on delivering long-term and sustainable prosperity should be at the heart of the next election manifesto. Terry Leahy, the genius behind the phenomenal growth of Tesco in the past twenty years, has said that if businesses focus on profits, they risk failing. If, instead, they focus on looking after customers, the bottom line will take care of itself. That is a philosophy that the next Tory manifesto should follow.
We should be begin by recognising that we no longer live in a world where Europe and North America hold a near monopoly of the world’s money, skills and major companies. Now, other countries, particularly in the Far East, are producing more graduates in science, maths and engineering. Children in their schools are more literate and numerate. These are young countries without burdensome welfare states and ageing populations. They are instead investing heavily in fast railways, high-tech universities and state-of-the-art power plants. The most reassuring manifesto isn’t the one that ignores these challenges but has a long-term plan to meet them.
That can only be half of the Tory manifesto however. If the manifesto must convince people that there is a plan to create prosperity it must also convince people that there is a plan for it to be shared. Following ‘the 50% rule’ the manifesto must focus as much on the purpose of prosperity as its pursuit. Economic solidarity doesn’t mean equality but it does mean a degree of progressiveness in the tax and benefits system. It means that as individual people and companies grow richer they help fund better public services, decent pensions and adequate care for the vulnerable.
In the final report of this Majority Project we will publish our own ‘shadow manifesto’. It will develop the themes set out below, suggesting solutions to eight key national problems and the ultimate goals of Conservative policy.
PROBLEM: AGEING INFRASTRUCTURE
The goal: World class universities, excellent transport infrastructure and energy security - all underpinning Britain’s long-term prosperity.
PROBLEM: BRITAIN’S HIGH TAX BURDEN
The goal: Lower, fairer taxation for job creators, the low-waged and for families with children and caring responsibilities.
PROBLEM: UNEQUAL LIFE CHANCES
The goal: A country where people look to families, education and employment as the three routes to happiness and prosperity.
PROBLEM: CONCENTRATIONS OF POWER
The goal: nation that empowers the little guy against the system – whether that little guy is the small business, the hard-pressed taxpayer or the user of public services.
PROBLEM: EUROPEAN FAILURE
The goal: A nation where the British parliament is sovereign and where the British people can elect politicians with the power to deliver real changes.
PROBLEM: INEQUALITY ACROSS THE UK
The goal: A United Kingdom where scarce resources are focused on the neediest communities.
PROBLEM: INTERGENERATIONAL FAIRNESS
The goal: The release of money for life-changing early intervention programmes, high-skill apprenticeships and long-term care.
PROBLEM: ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION
The goal: Greener, cleaner local environments, and a more effective, more realistic approach to climate change, avoiding heavy investment in expensive and immature technologies.