Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
“Didn’t they look happy”; “We wish them a lifetime of happiness”, or “It was such a happy day” – all fitting descriptions of the wedding of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex and, no doubt, of many other weddings which took place this weekend.
What does a new parent wish most for their tiny, precious bundle of joy? That they should, above all, be happy. So what is happiness and why do we all search for it so hard? How do we know when we’ve found it, and what do we need to have to secure it?
And if we can agree that it is an experience that we all want to share and create for others, how is British politics doing at fostering it in our nation’s collective psyche at the moment?
Last week, I attended the launch of the Centre for Policy Studies new publication New Blue: Ideas for a new generation. Tonight sees the launch of Onward, backed by Ruth Davidson and led by Will Tanner and my fellow Leicestershire MP, Neil O’Brien. In early May, Bright Blue published their Burning Injustices paper, and the Resolution Foundation launched the conclusion of their Intergenerational Commission’s work.
At their heart, I am sure that all these think tanks want to help people in the UK to live happier and more prosperous lives. I keep thinking about the words of the former New Zealand Prime Minister, Norman Kirk, who said that people don’t want much – just “someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for.” A bit like Harold Macmillan’s entreaty to the head of the Conservative Research Department in 1957, asking him if he could just write down what the middle classes wanted, and then he would do his best to give it to them.
Undoubtedly, having a secure place to call home is a key part of this search for happiness and contentment. It is why Ruth highlighted this as an early focus for Onward in her excellent Guardian article last week. And it is why the Government has made such a priority of building more homes and solving the housing crisis – although with this aim come challenges for existing residents which I will highlight in a brief debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday.
The abundance of ideas from Ownward, Freer, the CPS, Policy Exchange, Bright Blue and other centre-right think tanks shows how vigorous the debate is and continues to be about the kind of country we want and how we are going to get there. But it is notable that the debate is happening amongst the think tanks and those writing for them, and not visibly within Government.
Of course, this is partially down to the Brexit bandwith problem. But we shouldn’t overlook the joint letter on fixed odds betting terminals, signed by Conservative MPs on very different sides of the Brexit debate recently, and coordinated by my fellow ConservativeHome columnist, Iain Duncan Smith. The letter and the issue help prove that it is more than possible to work together when a pressing social need presents itself.
There are many other domestic issues where this is true, too. It is why I hope the Government will consider setting up a domestic policy cabinet sub-committee which can get on with examining and approving policy ideas and announcements to tackle pressing domestic issues, while the Prime Minister and others are inevitably focused on negotiations with the EU.
If the ‘somewhere to live’ is already being addressed, the ‘somewhere to work’ is represented by the continuing impressive employment numbers, and if the Government can’t do much about ‘someone to love’ then the Conservative Party needs to work on the ‘something to hope for’.
When did we last hear about the British Dream which the Prime Minister spoke about during her Party Conference speech last year? Even if the ideas to turn this into a reality are generated from outside the Party via the think tanks, we can only hope that the Number 10 Policy Unit are ready to be specific about ‘something to hope for’ which makes us all happier sooner rather than later.