A rich entrepreneurial spirit flows through Britain. Thousands of new businesses are successfully established here each year. But the response this Government is proposing to our current economic mess will certainly not benefit the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Entrepreneurs are job creators and a fiscal environment that supports entrepreneurial activity is good for the whole UK economy, but the tax rises Gordon Brown says he needs to fund the stimulus and fend off rising unemployment, will in fact do the opposite. And while Brown has been increasing the public sector workforce at the expense of private sector jobs, Mandelson has been renewing the old Labour habit of using taxpayers' money to “pick winners“. The historical record of that policy is disastrous.
In this environment, a Prime Minister needs a firm set of principles and the conviction to stand by them. What entrepreneurs saw at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month was a bold party leader who is prepared to apply an actual political philosophy rather than just execute an administration.
I was pleased to see the two largest impediments to start-up businesses, excessive regulation and taxation, being tackled head on. George Osborne’s corporation tax cuts and National Insurance holidays and Ken Clarke’s timebombs on the most despised regulation and sunset clauses on quangos were the cool-aid we’ve all been waiting for, and, we hope, indicative of a government with long term conviction for more of the same.
But we must not forget that only 18 months ago the Conservative team, talking about ‘sharing the proceeds of growth’ sounded like they were in favour of increasing the size of the state and public spending. The economic meltdown may have given our party the oxygen of a public appetite for frugality in spending and a smaller government; but business remains to be convinced as to whether this opportunism will morph back to an era of ‘gesture’ politics, or whether the conference heralded the beginning a costed and realistic long-term proposal for tax cuts to reverse the fortunes of this country’s economy, stimulate enterprise and create jobs.
Winning elections is only a means to an end; without clear long term aims, it is no service to the country, nor historically will the result be likely to be seen as successful. The Conservatives are in the constructive position of looking forward to the possibility of multiple terms in government, which makes it all the more important that we must be about to put into power a masterful long-term strategist.
Perhaps the main problem that the Tories have is that the spoils of electoral victory are little more than a distressed purchase. The particular predicament the UK faces as a result of Gordon Brown’s and, let’s not forget, Tony Blair’s (as PM but also First Lord of the Treasury) spending is a cupboard that could hardly be more bare. When times were good, they were recklessly profligate precisely when they should have been setting aside some of the harvest. Now they find, when the multi-year drought came, that the granary is empty. As a result, at exactly the moment when it should be affordable to slash taxes to stimulate growth, it feels like more of a risk to do so. A bold and brave Conservative government will look to the example set by Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s, who lessened the burden on entrepreneurs, putting their countries back on a path to economic prosperity.
I hope that we are electing a government that considers the kind of innovative policy ideas we saw in Manchester to be a long term staple diet, rather than a brief medicine, because, when we have surmounted the immediate twin challenges of the debt deficit and unemployment, David Cameron must not stop there. Where successive Conservative and Labour governments that followed Thatcher reneged on that ‘light touch’ philosophy, Cameron must set in train a politics that can defend itself from term to term from the onslaught of politicians motivated by short-term reward.
The Conservatives understand too that hard times are hard times when it comes to spending. Hard times demand austerity. The fact that this Government has forgotten what that is must not be a reason for us to avoid it. As someone who started a business from my bedroom, I know that doing more with less is a tough challenge. But austerity shouldn’t be a terminal hindrance to a leader who has the sheer guts to stick with his long-term vision.
Like generations before us who have faced similarly wearying recessionary environments, we are ready for a radical approach, allied with strong convictions that transcend mere elections. This is the only way that Cameron can successfully lay the foundations for a quarter century of growth.