Lord Flight is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He is now chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund.
I cannot remember previously experiencing both the sense of relief and of optimism amongst businesses large and small following the result of the General Election. There is a lot going for the UK where, I hope passionately, government will not mess it up.
First of all – and it was commented on surprisingly little during the election campaign – the current entrepreneurial spirit and endeavour are the strongest I have experienced in my career. Much of this sense comes from new IT sector businesses, and involves young people. It is not just confined to Greater London. Setting up a company and a business in the UK is easiest amongst the mature economies. Government should let it happen, and resist domestic and EU initiatives which amount to additional regulations.
If the economy is allowed to continue growing, this will be the biggest contributor to getting rid of the fiscal deficit. None the less, the Government should get a move on with implementing spending cuts, particularly while the economy is strong. These, surprisingly, appear to enjoy broad support from both the Labour Opposition and the electorate.
Now is also the time to take measures to increase the savings rate. This is necessary both in order to help those under 60 to provide more adequately for their retirement years, and also to correct our economic imbalance – illustrated particularly by the ballooning current account deficit. There is a limit to the assets which can sensibly be sold to foreigners to finance it without this leading to strategic problems. A higher level of saving would also underpin a higher level of investment, and in turn productivity growth.
Iain Duncan-Smith’s welfare reforms have clearly made work pay with dramatic success, but subsidies for those in work are also a major cause of holding down wages, sector over-employment and poor productivity growth. I remain of the view that the income tax credit element of Universal Credit should be phased out. It is having the same effect as what was known as the Speenhamland System in the early part of the nineteenth century.
Energy policy needs a major re-think. Energy – and, in particular, electricity – prices in the UK and the rest of Europe are too high, largely as a result of subsidising uneconomic alternative energy. This risks damaging the manufacturing sector and manufacturing employment.
I wish the Prime Minister and his team every success in their negotiations with the EU. There are three red lines that he must insist upon.
First, that Britain’s immigration policy should be determined by Britain alone.
Second, that democracy must be returned to Britain by making Parliament sovereign over EU law in key policy areas.
And third, that our contribution to the EU, now more than £20 billion per annum gross, is cut significantly. I make also the specific point that, just as France has a veto over agricultural regulation as its main industry and Germany over engineering, so, too, the UK needs to have a veto over financial regulation, since financial services is our biggest industry.
I believe that the abolition of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a new Bill of Rights are vital for public protection and national security. As the Abu Quatada case illustrated, the UK’s highest Court in the land was overruled by Strasbourg (on an argument which had already been rejected by the House of Lords), jeopardising national security. Human Rights laws have prevented the removal of thousands of illegal immigrants and foreign criminals.
The practical choices facing us are to remain signatories to the Convention and remain within the jurisdiction of the European Court, accepting its rulings and case law; or to withdraw from the Convention and set our own legal framework for Rights. Withdrawal would not jeopardise peace in Northern Ireland. A new Bill of Rights can incorporate all the original Articles of the European Convention, together with other traditional British Rights, such as the right to trial by jury. This would also allow Parliament, not Strasbourg, to decide where the balance between competing rights lies.