Published:

Andrea and Damian outline some of the ideas
starting to emerge from the 2020 Conservatives’ Opportunity Society project.


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Andrea Leadsom is the Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire. Follow Andrea on Twitter.

Damian Hinds is Member of Parliament for East Hampshire.  Follow Damian on Twitter.

The arrival of David Cameron as party leader marked a new optimistic,
compassionate Conservatism.  The election
of 2010 gave the party half a chance to show what that means.  Only half a chance – because of the
overwhelming priority of the fiscal emergency and the realities of coalition.

The social – as well as the economic – challenges for the
next generation are huge and coming closer to 2015 the party needs to present
its distinctively Conservative policies for dealing with these issues.  Conservatives need to paint a picture of the
sort of society we want to see and believe can, in time, be achieved.

There are five big challenges.

As Conservatives we believe strong families are the
fundamental building block of society.  Support for families should be
explicitly at the heart of any Conservative programme.

We need to be ambitious
for everyone
.  We must widen
opportunity, boosting social mobility, even in the face of new pressures from
international competition and the ‘hollowing out’ of the labour market.  The ‘global race’ that the Prime Minister
speaks of is the context of all policy: we owe it to the next generation to
equip them to compete against the new economic superpowers – even as those
countries continue to raise the bar.


Further creative thought is needed on welfare and support
systems.  The whole welfare system must
be focused on helping the transition to a better life: a safety net with bounce

Soon, fully half of the average lifetime will be spent
outside of today’s ‘normal working years’. 
The implications of ageing are
not just for long-term care and pensions but for housing and healthcare and the
design of work itself.

Finally there is the Big
Society
.  Define it how you will, but
Cameron’s key phrase really is at the heart of Conservative beliefs.  A new Conservative government must find new
ways to leverage the latent power of local communities and society as a whole.

There is no simple set of quick fixes for these five big
challenges but we need to know and to show the destination we have in mind.  So, what eventual vision for an ‘opportunity society’ could Conservatives
be presenting?

Britain should be a place where your destination in life is
not dictated by where you started; where all roles are valued and respected;
where everyone is expected to contribute to society and the economy, but is
effectively supported when things go wrong.

In this vision of a true opportunity society:

  • Resources are transferred from remedy to
    prevention.  There is a revolution in early intervention programmes right
    across the life cycle, enabled by social impact financing of both the public
    and independent sectors.
  • There is massive focus on the very earliest years to build the lifelong
    emotional capacity of the infant. 
    Children’s Centres prioritise mother/child attachment and there is more
    support and advice for parents at home. 
  • School children learn Mandarin, Portugese or Russian – not just for the language
    skill but for the cultural awareness.  Craft skills are valued highly
    alongside academics.  In Higher Education we no longer just
    count the number of people studying post 18, but benchmark their courses
    against the best in the world and ensure they are supporting Britain’s
    competitiveness.
  • Entrepreneurship
    is an increasingly common career choice, with microfinance widely
    available.  Britain is a world leader in
    adaptive technologies, enabling more people
    with disabilities
    and able-bodied colleagues to work alongside one another.  There are all sorts of job models now to
    reflect all sorts of lives.  Job sharing
    is made easier with the advent of ‘job application buddying’ services.
  • Incentives
    to work
    are strong.  Effective and
    tailored into-work support, pioneered by the Work Programme, is developed
    further and universally available.
  • House
    prices
    are steady – because of an increased building rate and a focus on
    in-town living and making high-density attractive.  Longer mortgage repayment terms are available.
  • The health service is a health and wellbeing service
    Modern jobs are less dangerous but may involve greater stress.  So now there are more talking therapies, and
    priorities rebalanced towards the mental, as well as physical, health of the
    nation.
  • There is no longer a set retirement age and people draw down their retirement savings as it
    suits them.  There are many part-time
    jobs especially suited for people in their 70s. 
    Others dip in and out of work – some taking on deskwork contracts
    remotely, or giving specialist lessons and careers sessions in schools.

David Cameron and the
Conservatives can win an outright majority in 2015, but to do so we need to
recreate that sense of excitement, of ambition for our nation, of can-do.  Tough economic times will be with us for some
time but as we start to turn the corner we have to show that it isn’t just about
money.  Conservatives haven’t lost the
zeal for social reform, but we need to crystallise again what we mean by
it.  We hope that through developing some
of these ‘opportunity society’ ideas, the 2020 Conservatives group can make a
contribution to that.

> Harry Phibbs has reviewed some of the 2020 Conservatives' main recommendations.

> Adam Afriyie MP has written about the 2020 Agenda's prosperity thinking.

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