Finding the money: how do we reduce demands on the state?
Conservative beliefs; One Nation heritage; Truss temptations; OBR; subsidies war; family breakdown; threat of Islamism; distracted police; unfinished realignment; dire polls; edge of recession
We think conservatives need to talk more and get better at sharing ideas. So here we share the best newspaper columns, policy reports and books that will stimulate thinking and promote new ways of doing things.
The Conservative Reader is published every Friday lunchtime, so please do look out for it. And expect plenty of content about the things we think make conservatism such a compelling body of thought: identity and belonging, community and commitment, market economics, national resilience and good government.
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In the American Conservative, David Cowan invokes Disraeli’s ‘One Nation’ ideal as a model for true conservatism:
Where Truss’s instincts have proven to be sharper is in her argument that people want the current economic consensus to change. The Conservatives have been in office for over twelve years, steering the nation through the fallout of the financial crisis, the Brexit vote, and the pandemic. Afflicted by meagre economic growth, low productivity, falling real wages, and rising living costs, Britain is set to be poorer than Poland in 2030. Truss won support from her party’s members on a pledge to reverse national decline and pursue economic growth, but she was ultimately not up to the task. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has focused his energies on clearing up Truss’s mess but has yet to produce his own distinctive policy agenda.
In the face of free-marketeers’ ideological zeal, it is tempting for conservatives to respond with a focus on pragmatism. A healthy dose of realism was certainly needed after Truss’s fall. But economic ideas are needed too. Instead of triangulating between the extremes or falling back on liberal economic orthodoxy, an authentically conservative understanding of how to build a strong national economy is key. American Compass in the United States and Onward in Britain have been leading the way on defining conservative economics over the past few years. To support this mission, conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic can find a rich source of inspiration by delving deeper into Britain’s tradition of One Nation Conservatism.
…Voters in the deindustrialized heartlands or struggling coastal communities did not back Brexit so Britain could become a “Singapore-on-Thames” with light touch tax and regulatory policies. They wanted to “take back control” of British politics after years of seeing their communities being left behind by globalization. Economic and cultural insecurity fueled the sense of alienation from the nation’s leadership. While power, investment, talent, and wealth drained away into metropolitan areas, the rest of the nation struggled to be heard. It is the re-emergence of the two nations that has done so much to undermine social trust and economic well being in modern Britain.
James Vitali argues in The Critic that, far from mere pragmatism or aversion to change, conservatism offers substantive beliefs of its own:
Conservatism is not a comprehensive philosophy of reality, but “certain beliefs about the activity of governing and the instruments of government”. It is the rationale of the fundamental necessity of stable and cohesive political order for human flourishing. Whilst some on the left view order as inherently oppressive and exploitative, and certain types of liberalism consider order merely as a necessary evil, conservatives recognise order as a vitally important good in itself which also makes the pursuit of all other human values possible. Order and freedom are not juxtaposed in conservatism; it is order that makes freedom itself possible.
…The object of the conservative, then, is passing on inherited forms of political order that are productive of human flourishing to the next generation. This gives conservatism a particular disposition on change. It is not hostile to change; conservatives often see change as positively desirable. The purpose of change in conservatism is to improve, to reform in order to conserve — not to bend that which exists to some abstract ideal. Conservatives worry about change that might compromise whatever makes a particular political order distinctive, which is why they generally attach such importance to repair and reform, rather than transformation.
…Conservatives defend institutions, but not because they conform to some metaphysical or objective truth (although they might believe they do, their scepticism cautions them against founding a political society on such a basis). They defend them because of the role they play in sustaining political orders. They contain an inner logic that many other political creeds do not understand or attach weight to — a historical rationality and purpose that is independent of human design, but which helps to preserve the cohesiveness of a political community by channelling change and providing markers of common identity.
On ConservativeHome, Peter Franklin says the Tories must forge an alternative economic vision to Trussism:
How then should we fight the good fight against [Trussonomics]? Firstly, by not humiliating the party members who voted for Truss. They made the wrong choice in 2022, but for the right reasons.
No one can claim the country is on the right track – or that we’ve fully delivered on the promises of 2019. Furthermore, there’s the decades-long failure to tackle this country’s underlying problem, which is that our economic model is broken.
It is therefore no surprise that the status-quo candidate was beaten last year. In all likelihood, Penny Mordaunt, Kemi Badenoch and Tom Tugendhat would have beaten him too. Truss just happened to be the alternative they were given.
So while we must defeat her demonstrably wrong ideas, this can only be done with a better change agenda, not a no change agenda.
Also on ConservativeHome, William Atkinson says governments must responsibly balance borrowing, spending and debt:
Like Brown in 2008, Truss broke with the post-1979 orthodoxy that tax cuts should be accompanied by spending cuts. Unlike Brown, Truss and Kwarteng were out on a limb – not swimming with an expansionist tide, but promising to borrow more just as doing so was becoming more expensive.
…The markets are not fools. They take the OBR seriously because it takes them seriously. If the Government wants to borrow to spend, it has to acknowledge the market environment in which it does so. A decade of loose monetary policy has not changed that. The unhappiness with the absence of its forecasts shows the credibility it has built up over the last decade.
Melanie Phillips argues in the Times that parental separation often casts a long shadow over affected children:
Of course divorce is sometimes unavoidable. Of course there are children in fragmented families who grow up to be happy and productive adults. And of course there are children from traditional families who have miserable or abusive childhoods.
But for decades, research has shown overwhelmingly that, in general, children from fractured family backgrounds do worse than those from traditional families in education, employment, health and forming relationships, while becoming disproportionately involved in crime, drug-taking and alcohol abuse.
According to ONS statistics, 6 per cent of five to ten-year-olds with married parents experience diagnosable mental health issues compared with 12 per cent who have cohabiting parents and 18 per cent raised by a lone parent.
Rian Whitton argues in his Substack that Britain’s lack of an industrial policy risks leaving us the losers in a global subsidy war:
Regardless of Brexit, our manufacturing environment has been unappealing to would-be investors for decades. High energy costs can be mitigated if your country is already a manufacturing powerhouse and you have a large number of large industrial companies whose leaders are integrated within your country’s political economy, like Germany. But for Britain, the lack of established domestic industrial companies, particularly in automotive and steel, high-energy costs can be prohibitive to a successful industrial policy.
Politicians do not have some arbitrary choice about whether to hold up legacy industries like steel or invest in the ‘green industrial revolution’ by specializing in batteries. Both these sectors are energy-intensive and reliant on large domestic demand. The chances you can be a leader in batteries while simultaneously not being a viable destination for steel production is close to zero.
…I would promote strong industry by slashing taxes on energy prices for businesses and allocating government funding to technologies that have a high chance of massive returns that can be loosely tied to ‘Green’, meaning more robotics and less hydrogen, more satellite launches, and less electric aircraft. Any commitments and progress on decarbonization should be tracked to the G7 average and not place decade-long regulatory vetoes on executive agencies.
William Shawcross published his Review of the Prevent counter-terrorism programme. In his report he called for a renewed focus on the threat of Islamism over that of the far-right.
Prevent’s first objective – to tackle the causes of radicalisation and respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism – is not being sufficiently met. Prevent is not doing enough to counter non-violent Islamist extremism. Challenging extremist ideology should not be limited to proscribed organisations but should also cover domestic extremists operating below the terrorism threshold who can create an environment conducive to terrorism. Prevent has a double standard when dealing with the Extreme Right-Wing and Islamism. Prevent takes an expansive approach to the Extreme Right-Wing, capturing a variety of influences that, at times, has been so broad it has included mildly controversial or provocative forms of mainstream, right-wing leaning commentary that have no meaningful connection to terrorism or radicalisation. However, with Islamism, Prevent tends to take a much narrower approach centred around proscribed organisations, ignoring the contribution of non-violent Islamist narratives and networks to terrorism. Prevent must ensure a consistent and evidence-based approach to setting its threshold and criteria, and ensure it does not overlook key non-violent radicalising influences.
Policy Exchange published a report arguing that ‘Staff Networks’ for minority groups within the police may present a worrying distraction. Priti Patel, the former Home Secretary, provided the Foreword:
Where Staff Networks attempt to act as a ‘bridge’ between policing and communities or as an ‘advisor’ in operational policing matters it is essential that the relatively small numbers of individuals involved in running such networks provide advice which is impartial and not affected by the ‘sectarian’ interests of one element of a network over another. In order that operational policing commanders can be assured they are receiving appropriately impartial advice it is essential that information on how each Staff Network operates is available. This would enable policing commanders to assess how much credibility can be ascribed to the information provided, particularly given those involved in Staff Networks are often self-selected from very narrow pools.
Where Staff Networks are influencing internal policies, it is necessary to ensure that they are unable to operate as a ‘pressure group’ which leads policing organisations into pursuing what might be inappropriate policies or activities which are inimical to effective, efficient and impartial operational policing. For example if training on an issue was delivered by an external organisation which publicly holds contested political views, at the request of and with the credibility of a Staff Network, this could have a direct impact on the subsequent ability of police officers to act impartially having received a one-sided perspective on the issue in a training environment.
Book of the week
This week we recommend Values, Voice and Virtue: The New British Politics by Matt Goodwin. He argues that the window of opportunity for political elites to address the needs of socially traditionalist voters may be closing:
The potential for this disillusionment to drive a more sweeping realignment of the Conservative Party or a resurgent national populism can already be seen. In 2022, three years after Boris Johnson’s election victory, immigration was still the second most important issue for Conservatives, most of whom still felt just as disgruntled with this issue as they had before the Brexit referendum. Amid a spiralling cost-of-living crisis, no less than 72 per cent of Leavers and 67 per cent of Conservatives felt the government was managing immigration ‘badly.’
…In the aftermath of the 2019 general election, a window of opportunity briefly opened for the new elite to finally bring the turbulence of the last decade to an end and address the country's deepening divides by bringing forward a new social settlement - one that is defined by moderate not mass immigration, evolutionary not revolutionary change and a national conversation that better reflects the wide range of voices in British society. Given the current direction of both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, that window of opportunity is swiftly closing.
More broadly, now that the counter-revolution is underway, much will also depend on the willingness of the new elite to address the widening divides over values, voice and virtue… The future of the realignment, British politics and the country more generally will be shaped by how the new elite answer … The alternative is both obvious and profound. As we have seen throughout this book, neither the established left nor established right is fully in tune with a large swathe of the country. Many voters hold values and a voice that are no longer represented in Westminster and the institutions. One clear and present danger is that the revolts of the last decade will spiral into a full-blown rebellion against the new elite and the wider system. As we have seen with the rise of the Yellow Vests in France, the radicalization of the Republicans in America and increased support for Marine Le Pen in France, the tremors that are now regularly shaking politics could yet be followed by a more devastating earthquake.
…Nor does the new elite's initial reaction to the counter-revolution bode well for the future. Rather than listen and respond to the grievances of the majority … over the last five years they have routinely derided much of the rest of the country as ignorant bigots, racists, fascists, Nazis and gammons, or, in the words of Richard Dawkins, ‘an ignorant and misled public’. Rather than viewing the last decade as a moment in which many people registered their opposition to a project that was not working for the wider country, the new elite refused to engage with it at all.
The UK has narrowly avoided recession, according to statistics released today.
The number of people waiting more than a year for NHS treatment rose from 300,000 last February to 410,000 in November.
Over 50% of non-dependent children in their early 20s live with their parents.
79% of children have encountered violent pornography before the age of 18.
There were 696 homicides in the year to March 2022 - 23% higher than 2021.
GDP shrank in the North East from April-June 2022 by 1.6%.
The House of Lords rejected proposals to stop disruption by protestors.
The Supreme Court found that the Northern Ireland Protocol is lawful.
"The Conservatives have been in office for over twelve years, steering the nation through the fallout of the financial crisis"
The Tories spent the last 12 years ensuring that their donors and mates in the City got away with causing the biggest financial crisis for 80 years. They not only allowed the spivs to keep all their profits and bonuses but spent years trying to claim that the national debt had doubled due to Labour's spending on the run-down schools and hospitals which 18 years of Thatcherism left, rather than the cost of bailing out RBS and Lloyds and the subsequent recession. They were particularly vicious in blaming people in receipt of benefits and instituted such vindictive measures as the Bedroom tax. I'm not even a Left winger but it was blatant class warfare for all to see.
"Conservatism is not a comprehensive philosophy of reality, but “certain beliefs about the activity of governing and the instruments of government”" "conservatives recognise order as a vitally important good in itself"
Except of course when it comes to regulating the activities of their friends in the City. The party of "law and order" was curiously slow to prosecute the innumerable frauds which came to light in the years after the crash: LIBOR, HSBC money laundering, mis-selling, endemic tax evasion... It was naked favouritism to people who were effectively financial gangsters. The party of "sound money" then allowed the Bank of England to print up £885 billion in QE which was handed straight to the hedge fund boys. £885 BILLION. And these people then have the nerve to claim anyone opposing this heist is "envious"!
How to get people off benefits? Well don't close down the country's industry and leave millions of people to rot for 40 years, that would be a start. Don't be the party who loves nothing more than to use unemployment as a weapon, which will always make it easier to sack people at the same time as making it harder to go to an employment tribunal. Don't fix unemployment at 7 to 8% for 40 years and ensure it stays that way via mass immigration. Don't relentlessly suppress wages at the same time as driving up house prices while refusing to allow proper collective wage bargaining across the entire economy.