Elizabeth Truss is Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
For the under-30s, the ability to hail a cab or order a takeaway at the touch of a button is a way of life. Like this freedom-loving generation, I celebrate the disruptors that challenge the status quo.
Gig economy firms like Uber and AirBnB have brought fresh possibilities to all kinds of people, including those who were previously economically marginalised. Almost two thirds of those renting their property through AirBnB are women. Uber is used particularly by those with lower incomes.
Free enterprise has huge economic benefits, driving down prices and creating growth and jobs. But more than that, it is intensely democratic, open and diverse – breaking down monopolies, hierarchies and outdated practices.
It’s why so many people from diverse backgrounds have succeeded in enterprise. You don’t have to fit in or be part of the club. The essence of entrepreneurship is what the journalist Malcolm Gladwell has called the freedom to be ‘disagreeable’. To not rely on the approval of others or give up in the face of some initial social uproar. It’s how all the big disruptors made their mark – from Apple to Ikea.
When I travel around Britain meeting small businesses, I don’t just see the rude health of our market economy. From vaping shops to vegan burger bars – I see freedom of expression and diversity of thought. I am neither a vegan nor a vaper, but I love living in a country where businesses and individuals can pursue their own dreams and desires with the minimum of interference.
This is not unchallenged territory. Consumers, renters and traders need to understand that the Labour Party is trying to shut these opportunities down. Labour’s Karen Buck has put forward legislation which would force people using AirBnB to register with government first. Sadiq Khan has declared war on Uber. Robots will be taxed under Labour. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jeremy Corbyn is cooking up plans for a Bitcoin Miners’ Strike.
John McDonnell wants Britain to be planned economy, built on the triple terrors of nationalisation, cripplingly high taxes and a new set of Government authorities. His Strategic Investment Plan looks like a crime wall from a detective drama – it sends shivers down my spine. And it all costs an eye-watering half trillion pounds.
Just imagine what it would be like living in such a country. If you’ve got a big idea to start up a business, you first have to apply to McDonnell’s investment board, who will rule on whether it’s a ‘national priority’.
You would like to raise funds. But you can’t, because Labour’s economic policies have caused massive capital flight from Britain.
Then you finally win some business, but your larger competitor complains to McDonnell that you’re disrupting the industry and threatening jobs, so a sternly worded letter arrives ordering you to scale back your subversive activities or you’ll lose your license.
And if you manage to turn a profit, McDonnell immediately takes his half to reinvest in more ‘productive enterprises’, like bailing out the big corporations and paying off the debts of wealthy graduates.
This may seem far-fetched. But it’s exactly where Labour’s ideas will lead us. After all, Venezuela is Corbyn’s real-life blueprint.
We must have the confidence to chart an alternative course. One based on the values of freedom that have always made this country great, but applying them in fresh ways to new markets, new situations and new challenges.
Take cryptocurrencies. New methods of exchange like Bitcoin have already shaken things up across the world. “Mobile money” like the M-Pesa is used by over half the population in Kenya. Britain is a place that is open to the opportunities technology can bring.
Look at the impact of freedom on regeneration. London Docklands was once left behind. Now Canary Wharf is a thriving hub, rivalling the City of London, thanks to the freedom that was given to the Docklands Development Corporation to escape mind numbing red tape and do things differently. Reborn, this freedom could bring huge benefits to some of the poorest parts of our country.
As could encouraging new entrants in fast-changing markets like telecoms, transport and biotech. The last time utilities regulation had a serious shake up was the 1990s – before the internet. We could usher in challenger firms that can supply multiple utilities and change the model – like we have seen with challenger banks.
Let’s open environmental markets to exciting enterprises to deal with problems like plastics or dirty water that Michael Gove has highlighted.
An entire generation has grown up feeling the excitement and possibilities of Britain’s open, enterprise economy. They won’t welcome life-enhancing services like Uber, Deliveroo and TaskRabbit being closed down.
Let us capture the hearts of this freedom-loving generation by showing that it’s the free part of free enterprise that we value most highly. After all it is their talent, ideas and diversity of thought that will drive our country forward.