Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
The election turn up for the books – and a good thing to see that Government can keep its plans confidential. I was surprised that the Labour Party voted in favour where there must be the possibility that many Labour MPs will lose their seats.
So what is this General Election about? It cannot be denied that the timing and circumstances should be of substantial benefit to the Conservative Party, probably putting them in power for the next decade.
I had never understood Theresa May’s previous objections to holding an early Election. To the extent this was that she did not want to be seen taking Party political advantage of the Labour Party’s problems – surely this is the stuff of politics?
I believe and agree, however, that there are powerful Brexit arguments for a Conservative Government to have a large House of Commons majority – both to deal with “trouble makers” in the Lords and Commons but also, most particularly, to buttress our negotiating stance with the EU. The EU is less likely to take a hostile stance when it sees the Government’s overwhelming parliamentary support.
So what else should this election be about, beyond supporting the Government’s Brexit negotiating position? It would be unwise to have too many commitments when the next five years are going to be consumed by Brexit.
Norman Tebbit has made the forceful point that the Conservatives need to aim for ‘common ground’ and not the ‘centre ground’. Too often we witnessed the Cameron administration picking up ‘centre ground’ Labour policies in pursuit of hoped-for political advantage, but upsetting its supporters in the process.
Tebbit’s concept of common ground is slightly ‘motherhood and apple pie’, but there clearly are long-term Conservative commitments which we should be supporting and looking to implement – less, not more, government; lower taxes; more home ownership; incentives to save and provide for retirement; and the ability to pass on savings to our children. The recent Finance Bill contained too large an attack on the self-employed which I trust will be watered down.
Adequate spending on our Armed Forces should command top priority for government spending, and the Overseas Aid commitment needs to be reconsidered.
Business Rates for small, local shops need to be comfortably affordable or we will simply lose more and more of them. We need a healthy Buy to Let market to house those who cannot afford to get on the property ladder: this needs the reduction in the deductibility of interest costs and the additional three per cent Stamp Duty charge to be reversed.
Particularly with Brexit approaching, a huge exercise is needed to identify and get rid of regulations which add little or nothing other than costs.
At a macro level we should be phasing out our Budget deficit more quickly and stop living above our means. The problem is that savings will have to be found in Health and Welfare expenditure, together now accounting for over 50 per cent of public spending. Both are political minefields.
For a start, I suggest Government should investigate where modest charges could be fairly levied for healthcare services, for example a £10 fee for a visit to the GP or charging for board and lodging in hospital (on a means tested basis). The problem with free goods, after all, is that they have unlimited demand.