Chris Grayling is MP for Epsom and Ewell, and Secretary of State for Transport.
The threat of a socialist government in the UK has not been as pronounced as it is now for nearly half a century.
How does a generation of voters who are perhaps more culturally embedded in a free enterprise culture than any of their predecessors become hostile to capitalism and tempted by a return to nationalisation?
How is it that, at a time when the private sector is constantly delivering better products and services at a lower price, and the public sector is constantly lambasted for waste and inefficiency, so many consumers are being tempted by the argument that Government would run things better?
How is it that people who expect more and more from their public services are tempted by an economic ideology that would depress growth and starve those services of the money they need to deliver what society wants?
For those of us whose political adolescence was in the days of the 1970s and 1980s, when the contrasts between socialism and capitalism, between nationalisation and privatisation, were at their most acute, the idea that these battles are back is almost bizarre. But they are.
Polling today across the western world shows that socialism now outpolls capitalism among all but the older demographics. Those who can remember what socialism is really like would not go back. Those who cannot are very tempted.
The generations that have built their lives around corporate disrupters are the most sceptical about a free enterprise, capitalist society. This is the generation who live with Apple and Samsung products in their back pockets, whose lives are shaped by Google and Amazon. Who travel with Uber and communicate through Snapchat and Instagram, who date through Tinder or Grindr, who take short breaks with Ryanair, EasyJet and Wizz, who might yearn to drive a Tesla if they drive at all. And who have stopped watching scheduled programmes on TV channels and switched to content on demand via Netflix and NowTV.
We can’t win the argument all over again with a history lesson, harking back to 1970s or ’80s socialism. We have to make the case for capitalism today, in today’s world and in the context of today’s lives.
At the heart of the debate about capitalism and socialism is a simple premise. If you believe in socialism you believe in an economy that is largely planned, and where the accumulation of wealth is to be restricted. The state should be responsible for the delivery of large parts of our economy.Tesla Deli
If you believe in capitalism and free enterprise, then you believe that by allowing people to pursue success for themselves you create a culture of innovation and competition which benefits the whole of society. Free enterprise, business innovating in products and services, benefits the whole of our society. Government should nurture and encourage that not stifle it out with socialism.
This is the argument that has to be won all over again.
Because without capitalism and free enterprise you simply don’t get a thriving economy in a democratic nation, and without those you don’t have the quality of public services that we all want to see. Without profit, or investment in anticipation of it, there are no pension funds, no dynamic new tech businesses creating jobs and helping shape people’s lives, no new drugs to treat the elderly, no cheap holidays to the sun, no new smart phones, no social media, no electric cars.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that government should turn a blind eye when big companies fail to deliver for consumers.
But we also have to champion successful business, both large and small. That means continuing a smarter approach to both tax and regulation, if we are to continue to see the much lower level unemployment that we have enjoyed in recent times. I do not believe that it is any coincidence that at the same time as we have been steadily bringing down corporation tax that we have seen the lowest levels of unemployment since the 1970s.
The socialist way is to regulate more, to control more, and to tax more. At the General Election Labour’s proposition to the British people was that they could have everything that they wanted, and there would be no price. The rich and business would pay the bills.
But those who are attracted by that ideology should pause a moment. It’s obvious that the higher business taxes are in the UK, the fewer big companies will invest here. And as economic theory has shown many times over the years, more often than not lower tax actually generates more income for the Exchequer and not less. Less for the NHS. Less for education. Less for our other public services.
So how do we capture the attention of those who have been lured into believing that socialism is the answer? It comes down to those businesses that are reshaping our lives. Government could never have created Apple, Uber, ARM, Samsung, Deliveroo, Tesla, Expedia, AirBnB, Monzo, Zipcar, and many more. Government does not create disruptors which change the way we lead our lives.
But it can destroy them, and it can create an environment where the next generation of entrepreneurs go elsewhere.
Our job as politicians is to show that new generation of voters how essential these paragons of free enterprise are to their lives and in doing so how free enterprise shapes their lives.
It’s not good enough to say that socialism is bad. We need to explain why all over again to those who have never experienced it in action.
Britain today has a successful economy, low unemployment, and a clear path to a dynamic, independent state post-Brexit. We cannot let a throwback to a time of gloom and failure grab defeat from the jaws of a better future.