Chloe Westley is Campaign manager at the Taxpayers Alliance.
We’re leaving the EU, and we’re taking back control. But what are we going to do with that control? The national conversation has been dominated by how we depart the institution – with some elites even trying to stop us leaving at all – but, while this process plays out, we need to start planning ahead for what kind of country we’re going build after we have gone. Indeed, we could do with a dose of the visionary sooner rather than later, to help smooth the process of Brexit.
It’s no secret that I’m thrilled about leaving – I was on Question Time a few weeks back, and bear the Twitter scars to prove it. I am convinced that Britain will thrive in the decades ahead. But in order to seize these opportunities, the Government must assure the public that it believes in – and will champion – freedom in all its guises.
The problem at the moment is that an obsession with securing the hallowed centre ground of politics means it’s sometimes difficult to discern between the different mainstream parties on many policy areas. This is of course less so since Jeremy Corbyn and his cronies took over the Labour party, but it can be difficult to see how many Conservative policies differ all that much from Ed Miliband’s. Price caps in the energy market spring to mind, as does the infuriating tendency to favour demand-side interventions over supply-side reforms; as does support for subsidies over tax cuts.
And if natural leaning conservatives such as me are struggle to tell the difference at times, then what must the rest of the country think?
For the first time in decades, we face the prospect of a socialist government rising to power. We know that it would want to take away more of our money through taxation, bring industries under state control, discourage innovation, and leave this country defenceless and weak against its enemies. But whilst Labour’s ideas are dangerous, one must reluctantly give the party credit for setting out a clear vision for the future.
The Conservatives are not going to win the hearts and minds of the British people by proposing Labour-lite policies. There must be something different on offer: if Labour’s vision is state control, then ours should be freedom. Lee Rowley has argued on this site that we must keep making the case for freedom, and he’s right. We can’t simply assume that we will remain a pretty free country – we have to fight for it.
And, of course, economic freedom is crucial. So to mark the Conservatives out from the socialists, the government should show some nerve and cut taxes. David Cameron and George Osborne knew how to sell tax cuts. Margaret Thatcher and Nigel Lawson knew how to deliver them. But, this week, we saw that Tax Freedom Day, as measured by the Adam Smith Institute, has this year landed later than it ever has.
We should change course and take the fight to the socialists. It was reported last week that the Cabinet were shown polling that the cost of living matters most to people on an individual and family basis. Unsurprisingly, then, the cut to Stamp Duty for first time buyers has been the most popular policy since the election. More tax for the NHS may seem popular in the abstract. And when polled about tax cuts in general, people might give a ‘nice’ answer to pollsters. But make no mistake: letting people keep more of their money so that they can save for the things they care about is hugely popular with the electorate when it is actually enacted.
So instead of talk of increasing income tax, we should start talking about cutting it. It would essentially give Brits a pay-rise at a time when many are struggling with the cost of living, and the cost of housing. The extra cash in people’s wallets would also boost our economy, encourage investment and innovation – and motivate people to work harder to get a pay increase.
There are legitimate concerns about how a Conservative government could afford to cut income tax. In 2015, the TaxPayers’ Alliance published the Spending Plan, detailing several areas of public spending that could be reduced in order to lower taxes. Some proposals have happened, but there are plenty more in that report the government should look at. We could start by scrapping HS2, reducing the foreign aid budget to about £2 billion, means-testing winter fuel payments, cutting down on excessive public sector pensions, and reducing the number, scope and budgets of quangos and public bodies – and let’s not forget that we’ve got an annual Brexit dividend of £10 billion on the way.
It’s also important to remember that cutting back on wasteful public spending doesn’t necessarily mean less money or resources for frontline services. In fact, reducing spending in one area such as foreign aid might mean that there is room to divert that money elsewhere. Every penny wasted on vanity projects like HS2 is a penny that could have been spent on treating sick patients in the NHS.
And of course, it isn’t the case that increased funding automatically equates to better services. Yes, more money for the NHS could help with the delivery of some services, but the problems facing our health service will not be solved by funding alone. The British public don’t like being patronised – we can start having adult conversations about how to improve the institutional failings of the NHS and other public services. Earlier this week, Keith Willett told the Daily Telegraph that the NHS is guilty of a ‘ridiculous waste of resources’ and could improve care without spending any more taxpayers’ money. This shouldn’t be seen as an outrageous comment.
It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the general public have moved further to left. But I don’t think that’s the case at all. The Conservative Party ran on a platform closer to the free market and promised not to increase the big three taxes in 2015, and it should look to that formula again rather than nervously trying to outspend socialists. We know this is impossible – and it’s also undesirable. Corbyn’s apparent popularity does not mean that socialist ideals are coming back in fashion. Rather, it reveals how poorly Conservatives have been making the case for freedom.