Owen Meredith is National Chairman of the Tory Reform Group and former candidate for Newcastle-under-Lyme.
Before her election the Prime Minister wrote in a letter to Tory Reform Group (TRG) members for our party to reunite the country as part of our patriotic duty.
As Mrs May stood on the steps of Downing Street for the first time it seemed that the party was finally, after a gruelling referendum campaign, united in a clear vision of a country which would work for everyone, tackle burning social injustices, and bringing our nation back together.
Flash forward to today, as we approach Conference in Manchester, and those same divisions are beginning to resurface with a lack of clarity of purpose around the Cabinet table.
It is not only the party which is seeing division: Britain today remains divided. Despite falling inequality, record numbers in work,, and fewer workless households, we have seen division grow as wounds from both the Scottish and European plebiscites continue to spilt communities and families.
In her words to the TRG members Theresa May made clear that “we cannot allow the Government to be defined exclusively and indefinitely [Brexit]”. Yet it feels this Government continues to be defined only by Brexit.
As we gather in Manchester, the Prime Minister and our party must unite around a new common purpose of defending capitalism and defeating Corbynisim, and in doing so reuniting our country.
We need to reconnect with voters, particularly young and urban voters, and talk about our values as well as setting out realistic and achievable set of policy priorities. We must govern in the interest of ‘One Nation’. To do so, May would do well to revisit her own inspirational words last summer outside Downing Street and set out the steps we can take to deliver social and economic reform.
Three interconnected areas I would like to see clear progress and reform as we put ‘Global Britain’ on a new trajectory include employment, taxation, and the environment.
On employment, we must reform our jobs market to provide employees with security, and the incentive invest in their UK workforce and build an employment market fit for the future. As technology changes the workplace, and the fourth industrial revolution changes the shape of employment across the income spectrum, we need a radical agenda around lifelong learning.
Could we, for example, establish a Lifetime Learning Allowance to put funding of technical training on a par with higher education and help support people with retraining throughout their lives? A subsidised training fund, topped up by employer contributions and repayable tuition fee loans, could provide the radical reform we need to lifelong learning and help alleviate the public pressure around tuition fees, while providing opportunities to correct the “burning injustices” the Prime Minister speaks of.
On taxation, we should task the Office of Tax Simplification with scoping out radical reform to ensure our tax system is fit and sustainable for the 21st Century. Many of our taxes are no longer fit for purpose, and we need to do the long-term thinking about the future shape of our tax system. Business Rates penalise traditional businesses who shape our high streets and provide hubs in our communities; Corporation Tax fails to properly assess a company’s UK profitability in a globalised economy; Income Tax and NICs are increasingly unsustainable in a world where work is ever more flexible.
I personally favour raising a greater portion of tax from consumption rather than income, a shift towards a “pay as you burn, not pay as you earn” tax base. This could this help drive consumers, innovation and investment towards greener, more sustainable technologies.
A consumption tax base can also help provide a level playing field in a global economy, combat tax evasion, and help build a saving incentive for those just about managing voters who see their incomes swallowed up by tax, NICs, student loan repayments, auto-enrolled pensions and high rents.
On the environment, long before David Cameron’s huskie mushing days, the Conservative Party has shown leadership on market-driven solutions to cleaning our air and combating climate change. As our cities choke on some of the most polluted air in Europe, people in the UK are 64 times as likely to die of air pollution as those in Sweden and twice as likely as those in the US.
Cutting harmful emissions therefore has both an immediate health benefit and meets our long-term international climate obligations.
We must be radical in reforming our use of energy, looking again at issues like road pricing and carbon scrappage schemes, while pressing ahead with major infrastructure projects including building HS2, infrastructure to deliver the Northern Powerhouse, and major green energy projects like the Severn Tidal Barrage.
Ultimately voters want something bigger than Brexit. These are three areas where progress can be made by defending and defining our values to demonstrate their relevance to modern Britain and the voters whose hearts we lost back in June.
A concerted effort by the Government to address social divisions would show a clear vision for the future of our great nation. The onus is on us, as we go to Manchester, to demonstrate that unity of purpose.