As Boris Johnson spends his final weeks in Number 10, a contest is raging to decide the future leader of the Conservative Party and our nation. Although the winner will determine the direction we all take until the next election, only a select few – the members of the Conservative Party – will get to pick from the final two contenders.
I used to be a member of this relatively small group that will now choose our future leader. The thought of Johnson as prime minister ended my decade-long Conservative Party membership. I am now simply an observer.
Despite no longer holding a membership card (lost to the obligatory card-cutting ceremony), I still believe there is a place for a sensible centre-right in the United Kingdom as a balance to the centre-left. I still hold the values I always had, values that the Conservative Party once stood for.
Reintroducing honesty and trust is at the heart of resolving our current crises
What would I be looking for if I still had a vote in this leadership contest?
Firstly, there is character. We cannot continue without trust. The dishonesty that has tainted the sanctity of our parliamentary democracy must leave along with its key proponent. People must be able to rely on their government to make fair and honest decisions. Whether they agree with them or not, how they are arrived at and carried through should be beyond reproach.
Despite drama across Westminster, the rest of the country doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for something to happen regarding the cost-of-living crisis. With record levels of inflation hitting people at supermarket checkouts, petrol pumps and in their household bills, this must feature at the forefront of any serious candidate’s manifesto. Conservatives are supposed to be trusted with the economy, and a clear plan to get things back on track must be on offer.
Candidates have discussed tax cuts, but unfunded tax cuts should not be on the cards – especially now. Costs incurred during Covid must be paid back, but not by dangerously cutting public services or expecting our public sector workers to take the strain.
However, reforming taxation to rebalance the burden from work to wealth would help alleviate rising prices without leaving a black hole in the budget. Incentivising work, increasing take-home pay and reducing costs on businesses could be offset by narrowing the gap between capital gains and income tax and by making changes to inheritance tax to move to a lifetime accessions (receipts) tax, for one example.
Securing a binding contract with current and future generations
We should not forget the impact that Covid had on our children’s education, felt even more acutely by those low-income families who struggled with access to equipment and resources.
If Conservatives believe in social mobility and that the best route to prosperity is through education and training, then our prime minister must have a plan to invest in our people to compete with the world and ensure everyone reaches their full potential. He or she must give schools strong support to help children to make up for the last two years and to provide them with the best chance for the future.
Nor can we ignore the impact that Covid has had on our healthcare system and the people who work within it. Waiting lists for treatment, pressure on ambulance services, and difficulty getting a GP appointment must be addressed with urgency.
Energy security should be important to conservatives. How are our global decisions influenced by our need for resources from countries that seek to cause disorder? Much of Europe has struggled to come to terms with sanctioning Russia over Ukraine and its need for Russian gas. We have fared better, but ultimately, the price rises with global demand, and we feel the impact. We need a clear plan for maintaining our energy supply as a nation.
Edmund Burke said there exists a social contract between the current generation, those that came before, and those still to come. As we look to secure our energy, we should also have a clear focus on tackling climate change. Achieving net zero is critical, not a ‘culture war’ clarion call. Decisive action must be taken.
Defending our fundamental rights and freedoms
There is war in Europe. Our armed forces may not be on the frontline, but our values most certainly are. Western liberal democracy is once again called upon to stand against authoritarian expansionists. While our support for Ukraine has a cost, it is a cost that must be paid. We must see support for Ukraine with equal, if not more, vigour than at present. Russia must not prevail.
This government has brought a disregard for human rights its predecessors would find disgraceful. If conservatives of all persuasions agree on anything, it is protecting the rights and freedoms of the individual against an authoritarian state.
The government has already sought to interfere with the independence of our courts, choosing to prevent the examination of certain decisions. The freedom of assembly and the right to protest is under threat. Then there’s the awful policy of sending those in need to Rwanda, purportedly to punish the traffickers who prey on these vulnerable people.
Now, they talk of abandoning the European Convention on Human Rights, which was delivered by those who faced down the threat of fascism, a convention supported in no small part by Sir Winston Churchill. A hopeful Conservative leader should be standing up for the values upon which it is based and seeking to repair the damage done to our global reputation.
Innovation should be at the heart of any growth plan
Next, we need the prime minister to tackle low productivity across the UK.
We have been forced to participate in a giant work-from-home experiment over the last couple of years, and the results look promising. Our government should maximise the benefits for employees, businesses and left-behind regions, not fight against the tide as some in the government have been doing.
Like the US government – who no one considers an advocate of socialism – we should invest heavily in new technology for the long term. Where are our Apollo programmes? How are we leveraging our world-class research teams in universities? What are we doing to create a highly skilled workforce that can adapt quickly to change? How are we embedding innovation and technology in schools?
Choosing pragmatism over damaging division
Decisions about international trade should be made with a clear head, rather than continuing down a path that has divided our country over the last six years. We are where we are. The Brexit vote was implemented, and we left the European Union. We need a leader who can face the current reality and be pragmatic about the trading position of the United Kingdom with our nearest neighbours.
Conservatives are supposed to be the party of home ownership, not just the party of existing homeowners. Policies that lock younger generations out of the possibility of having the security of their own home and a stake in their community should not stand.
Houses should be a safe environment to raise a family, grow old, and make the most of life, not a wealth generation scheme – we need to see a plan to fix the housing crisis.
The above may be a vision that exists only in fantasy. If I were to compare it with the current leadership hopefuls, I would find all of them lacking, some severely. Maybe the centre-right will only return to its senses after electoral wipeout. Perhaps, the dream of proportional representation and a more collegiate approach to British politics will be realised. Maybe. But until it does, I will remain an observer of the continued decline of the party I used to call home.
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