Imran Ahmad Khan is MP for Wakefield.
The great Adam Smith said that “government should limit its activities to administer justice, enforcing private property rights, and defending the nation against aggression”.
In this day and age, critically during this pandemic, the very heft and influence of such axiomata appear denuded. Over the course of the last 50 years, the British state has continuously been growing in size, and during this current emergency the state is suffering a massive growth spurt in which its responsibilities, duties and powers have vastly increased to an unprecedented degree.
This pandemic is destined to be a reference point in the history of our nation; a point at which we note the relationship between citizen and state was redefined, perhaps irrevocably, certainly with enduring consequences.
It is all too easy, albeit misguided, to believe that the policies and measures deployed by the Government are ideologically aligned with those advanced by the Labour Party, and the wider international socialist movement to which it belongs.
State intervention during this crisis, however, represents quite the opposite. Conservatives fully understand that the state is the only entity that possesses the necessary machinery, capacity and resources to respond to national emergencies.
The new powers, duties and responsibilities the government has sought and secured in order to protect the nation, and prevail over this pandemic disease, reflect not a permanent transition towards a command structure society in which the state dictates the purpose and direction of the economy and lives of its citizens; rather, these have been a necessary emergency call to arms championed by the Government, with the state effectively leveraging all to find purchase and deliver a community and citizen-centric national effort that ultimately safeguards individual life and liberty of millions.
Conservatism’s focus upon the individual as the basic unit of analysis in policy making is precisely why this crisis represents a temporary circumstance. Individual rights and liberties, such as property rights, pluralism, free speech, free markets, minimal state intrusion into private live, political participation and democratic accountability are the founding bedrock of the Conservative Party.
This crisis certainly has seen some of these totemic values being fiercely challenged by the unrelenting priority to protect public health services and save lives, however, these values endure and have suffered no permanent loss or any of their vital importance to freedom or special relevance to the Party.
For the Government led by Boris Johnson, the citizen is master and the state slave – not, as socialists would have, the citizen slave and state master. Fulfilling the promise to get Brexit done is one example of how Conservatives not only listen to the citizens, but take instruction and direction from them. It is not for the state to dictate what people should want, do, or aspire for; that is for the citizen, autonomous and free.
On December 12th 2019, the citizens of the United Kingdom clearly instructed the Conservative Party to lead Britain out of the European Union, reform the immigration system, and be fiscally responsible, whilst continuing to invest into our NHS and public services.
It is only when citizens have called for more spending that it is unquestionably valid for the government of the day to do so. This Government’s obligations and responsibilities were both founded on, and continue to be driven by, the wishes, the determinations and instructions of its citizens.
During this emergency, this founding principle has not been forgotten. Citizens have called upon the Prime Minister to protect our most vulnerable and our NHS which, through the admixture of new rules, guidelines and funding, he has sought to achieve
Throughout the emergency, individuals have come together in their faith, charitable and community groups. We have harnessed our society to best serve ourselves by serving and safeguarding vulnerable citizens. Individual freedom and the ingenuity that is a direct by-product of it manifests itself brilliantly in the commercial fabric of our United Kingdom, which owes its very success to small and medium sized businesses.
Rather than seek to dominate, direct and control these businesses, conservatism seeks to protect, enable and support. Protecting lives and livelihoods, jobs and businesses is what the citizens want now, and thus such actions, which will help preserve our commercial sector now, enabling it to thrive following this pandemic, are necessary and valid.
Milton Friedman once stated that “nothing was so permanent as a temporary government programme”, words which reverberate amongst those who fear the new powers and responsibilities the state has taken on will not be given up lightly. Conservatives do not wish to let this transition become a permanent one, and have set out the relevant policies and strategies to ensure that these powers are laid down in due course.
This is not an issue of dogmatic ideologies. Libertarians may wish for a smaller citizen-centric state, and socialists may long for a larger controlling state. But it is ultimately the Conservative Party which acknowledges that the citizen is king, and their wishes, whether they be for more or less, must be taken as the only legitimate foundation for all future policies.
I know in Wakefield, and elsewhere, citizens called upon Boris Johnson and their Conservative representatives to protect the NHS, depart from the EU and maintain fiscal responsibility while providing first rate services.