What is the next Conservative government going to achieve? When it gets into power in May 2010, it will be confronted with the worst public finances since the late Seventies; with North Sea oil running out and an incessant Scottish demand that what is left is Scotland’s alone; with the great financial engine that is the City hamstrung by new regulation and denuded of talent by a flight of the major players to domiciles with less vampiric tax policies; and with increased demands for welfare and insatiate expectations for public service provision.
To counter this I see no coherent strategy, no plan B, no purpose, except the orderly management of inevitable decline. All that has been suggested is incremental change, cutting “waste”, tidying up. We cannot afford to raise taxes; the UK now has the fifth highest marginal tax rates in Europe. The public sector has been bloated by Brown and most of the money has been wasted.
But even if it were all justifiably and competently spent, we still can’t afford it. The temptation will be to cut back expenditure across the board. 10% from every department. If so, the first few years are going to be bloody, arguing budgetary austerity line by line with Labour and the Left revivified by having someone they can legitimately attack. Every cut will be a Conservative cut, every contraction a Conservative job loss.
Is there a way out? Can we turn regretted necessity into desirable policy?
I believe we have one chance to use the moral authority of victory to change the political agenda by rejecting the political consensus of the Blair years. I propose a Great Repeal Act: all the authoritarianism of the Blair years, all the big government, the Quangos and Agencies, the regulation and red tape, the Health and Safety legislation, the Equalities legislation, the targets – all gone in a one-clause bill listing the repealed statutes and sections of statutes.
Do not worry about what will replace the repealed Acts, the State will have stopped controlling people’s lives. Freedom and personal responsibility will replace the Acts. Politically, we become the government that likes to say, “Yes”. Ideologically, we dramatically reduce the size and reach of the State and free our economy to respond to this second Depression. Economically, we save billions that we cannot afford to spend anyway. These savings are both in public expenditure in not having regional government or a White Fish Authority, and in indirect expenditure in removing the burden on business to train people to use a ladder.
If the work is done over the remaining 12 months of opposition, we can produce a coup de theatre every bit as impressive as Bank of England independence and, in the long term, far more important and meaningful. We can set the tone of the new government as a pro-active one of hope and freedom, rather than a reactive one fire-fighting opposition to piecemeal cuts. Not 10% of misery across every public service out of necessity but a 100% funding of core services and a principled decision to withdraw the State from everywhere else.
The problem, as always, will be our commitments to the EU that decides so many of our laws. But the Repeal Act could be temporary – for the duration of the emergency. After which self-declared length of time, we would have an accurate idea of the true costs of full EU membership and could decide whether it was worth paying. And that would be the final Act to repeal.