Dr Gintas Vilkelis is a physicist, entrepreneur and Conservative activist in Buckinghamshire.
The extensive analysis of the root causes of poverty and high cost of living crisis in this country that I’ve done during the last few years has brought me to the inescapable conclusion that some of the biggest and hardest to solve problems this country has been experiencing are direct (and inevitable) by-products of the UK’s high degree of fiscal and regulatory centralisation. This system has run out of ability to deliver further significant future improvements.
Problems that fall into this category include:
- the North-South economic divide,
- the London housing crisis,
- the cost of living crisis, and
- the Conservatives’ chronic electoral difficulties (that kept us out of power between 1997 and 2010, and came close to keeping us out of power in 1992, 2010 and 2017).
For as long as this country remains as highly centralised as it has been during the last 100 years or so, meaningful and significant progress towards resolving these chronic problems will remain impossible. This is because under this scenario, governments’ actions will essentially remain confined to mitigating the consequences of these problems instead of directly tackling their root causes.
To put it another way, the design of the system will prevent the resolution of these problems even if the most talented and motivated people were to be put in charge of it (and if they managed to avoid making errors). And even more tragically, when they fail, they won’t even be aware that the main reason why they had failed was because their goals were impossible to achieve under the current highly-centralised system.
The dissatisfied electorate, on the other hand, don’t realise this either, so they will naturally blame ‘the people in charge’ for this failure, and will punish them by voting for the other major political party.
Furthermore, there is a strong public yearning for greater control over their own lives and for empowerment. People are fed up with the omnipotent nanny state-driven infantilisation and dependency, and repeatedly express their dissatisfaction and displeasure by voting for anti-establishment candidates, e.g. Jeremy Corbyn, and anti-establishment ideas, e.g. Brexit. It was no coincidence that the phrase which resonated most during the Brexit referendum was “let’s take back control”.
In fact, it was genuine empowerment that was the “secret sauce” of the last Conservative policy which created a sizeable and genuine excitement among the voters – the Right To Buy. As Michael Heseltine noted back then, this reform ‘reversed the trend of ever increasing dominance of the state over the life of the individual’, and consequently ‘no single piece of legislation had enabled the transfer of so much capital wealth from the state to the people’.
That was 37 years ago, and since then there hasn’t been another Conservative policy evoking anywhere near comparable degree of enthusiasm. This is because it’s devilishly tricky to come up with a centrally-imposed, one-size-fits-all policy that is also genuinely empowering.
All of the above means that by continuing to look only for the one-size-fits-all, uniformly-imposed solutions, we are not only setting ourselves up for failure to deliver on the election promises to fix many of the country’s long-standing problems, but are also failing to grasp the pro-empowerment mood of the electorate. This then makes many of those voters much more susceptible to Labour’s undeliverable promises of hope.
Here is a solution: the Party that runs the next election campaign built on 1) genuine hope and 2) empowerment, based on 3) sound economic principles, will win in a landslide.
In 2017 each of the two major parties ran on less than one third of the above: Corbyn’s Labour ran mainly on (false) hope, and Conservatives ran mostly on (discernibly-less-flawed-than-Labour’s) economic principles. It is not very surprising, therefore, that both failed to win a majority.
A systemic and comprehensive localism reform, on the other hand, will make it possible to achieve major socio-economic improvements which are unachievable under the current highly-centralised system, like tackling the housing crisis, the cost of living crisis and the North-South economic divide. It will also be the most genuine way of transferring empowerment from the state to the people.
Considering that personal empowerment (which stimulates the attitudes of independence and self-reliance that are the bedrock of a free society) is at the heart of what makes a person a free market conservative (while the infantilising state-induced disempowerment is what turns so many people into Labour voters), this means that once this idea is implemented, it will decisively and permanently shift the centre of gravity of the political discourse in our favour and metaphorically will “pull the rug” from under the Marxists’ feet by decimating their power base and their source of energy.
What I propose is a more extensive and comprehensive fiscal devolution than what has been tried so far, that will shift the country into the next gear of its economic and political evolution and will ignite popular enthusiasm. It should also be seen as the next logical step on the path of economic and political decentralisation that was started by Brexit; hence it should go hand-in-hand with Britain regaining its economic sovereignty from the Brussels’ one-size-fits-all technocratic straitjacket.
Furthermore, given that Britain’s purely domestic economy is ten times bigger than UK’s trade with the EU (80 per cent vs eight per cent of GDP, respectively), this means that each one per cent increase in the domestic economy would fully offset a ten per cent reduction in the EU trade, if such a reduction were to happen. This would strengthen our negotiating position by making the “no deal” scenario even more viable.
If, on the other hand, we don’t do this, then we’ll continue running the risk of Corbyn’s Labour winning the next general election – after which they’ll turn this country into “the sick man of Europe” again.