Harriet Maltby is a Government and Economics Researcher at the Legatum Institute and a former Senior Parliamentary Assistant.
There are reasons to believe. So said David Cameron as he articulated a powerful vision of Conservative Britain in his 2009 Conference speech. A steep climb, “but the view from the summit will be worth it”.
Since then, we have lost our sense of belief. Poor polling, defections, and the EU turn us on ourselves. Conservative Britain – one based on stronger families, personal responsibility, opportunity, innovation, and choice – is something that remains unrealised: a hope extinguished by the reality of coalition.
Except that it hasn’t. The Legatum Prosperity Index charts prosperity in Britain from the dying days of the Brown Government in 2008/09 through to the record of the final acts of the Coalition. It shows that we have been too busy climbing to stop and take in the view. It gives us reasons to believe.
Britain is today more prosperous than it has been at any point in the past six years. This year we rank 13th, rising three places since last year. In crucial areas like education, opportunity, safety, and health we score higher today than we did in 2009. So we have also made progress towards the vision Cameron outlined.
Whilst our overall social capital has fallen slightly since 2009, our families remain strong. Marriage rates have declined from 53 per cent in 2009 to 47 per cent, though this is likely to increase as a result of same-sex marriage legislation. However, despite this decline, our families are as strong as ever, with 94 per cent reporting being able to rely on family in times of need, putting our society among the ten with the strongest families in the world.
There is evidence too that Britain has grown more philanthropic as the state has stepped back. Our rates of volunteering and charitable donation have both increased since 2009. The UK is today the third most charitable nation in the world with 74 per cent on average donating to charity in any given month. The Big Society may not yet be Big, but it is certainly growing.
Within our strong society, the Conservative-led government has not only improved opportunity, but has brought it to a greater number of people. Economic development, the harbinger of many opportunities, has grown more equal under every year of this government and is significantly more equal than it was in 2009. On a scale of 1-10 of uneven economic development, the UK scored 4.7 in 2009: today it is 3.6. That puts us among the 20 most equal in the world. This is reflected in perceptions of opportunity. Those reporting Britain to be a country where working hard gets you ahead has risen from 78 per cent in 2009 to 84 per cent.
Indeed, Britain has established its place as one of the best environments for entrepreneurship and opportunity in the world. It has always ranked in the top ten for this in the Prosperity Index, but this year posts its highest ever score and ranks 8th. Britain is the most connected nation in the world for internet. We have the third lowest business start up costs, which have more than halved as a percentage of GNI since 2009. Today it costs just £66 to start a business in Britain. We are also the world’s 15th largest exporter of high-tech goods – higher now than at the last election and ahead of the USA, Japan, and Germany. Conceived of in Britain, started in Britain, made in Britain, but exported across the world.
Fundamental to opportunity and prosperity is of course freedom of choice. It is in this area where the Conservative vision has most been realised. Cameron has delivered on his promise to give people more choice over schools for their children. The free school movement has delivered this freedom. So, too, is choice being introduced into the NHS. Reforms to energy markets brings more information and choice to consumers. Innovation with personal budgets by Conservatives in local authorities such as Harrow bring choice and dignity into vital areas of our lives, such as social care.
On our civil liberties, the reversal of 42 days detention without charge, the scrapping of ID cards and control orders, and the passing of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 led the Economist to describe Britain as a “more liberal and principled country” than it was six years ago. It is in freedom and choice that the Conservative vision has most been realised. Our overall satisfaction with freedom of choice and civil liberties has increased from 70 per cent in 2008 to an impressive 91 per cent today. This is one reason why Britain now for ranks as one of the ten freest nations in the world. A far more fitting position for the nation of Magna Carta than the 18th position in which we languished in 2009.
There are reasons to believe, but there remains work to be done. Our economic pessimism is doing much to hold us back, despite recent impressive GDP growth. The UK ranks just 28th for its economy, largely as a result of economic perceptions. Despite some of the biggest falls in unemployment since records began, only 18 per cent think it a good time to find a job. Whilst better than the seven per cent in 2009, it is still the 106th lowest in the world, surpassed only by our confidence in our financial institutions (124th).
The Party last faced the electorate with a vision of what Conservative Britain might look like. We must look up from the polls, from towns such as Clacton and Rochester, and from disquiet over the EU and take a minute to look out across the Britain we have created. It may not be a view from the summit, but it is an impressive view nonetheless.
Britain is at her most prosperous since the eve of the financial crisis and the Prosperity Index shows us why. Freedom, opportunity, choice, innovation, and strong society. This is the Britain this government created. In this election, our job is to point to the view and articulate how we make it better still. We must have faith in our record. There are reasons to believe, it is time we shared them.