Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Labour’s position on Brexit is a shambles. One moment they are committed to delivering the result, the next they are calling for a second referendum. Not even Jeremy Corbyn has a clue about how he would negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU, and he was unable to remember the ‘six tests’ that Labour has set for any Brexit deal.
This confusion fuels anti-democratic sentiments amongst Labour MPs who are embarrassed that so many of their constituencies voted to leave. It also makes leave supporting Labour voters wonder if their trust in the party has been misplaced.
By contrast, the one thing that the Conservative cabinet are united on is that Brexit should go ahead. Theresa May has remained firm in her commitment to respecting the result of the referendum, making it clear that there will be no second referendum under her watch.
Making Brexit a success should be central to the Conservative Party message, and as we kick off conference this year, I’m sure there will be several events, debates and speeches about how we should leave the EU, and what to do afterwards. Yes, there will be a small gang of anti-democrats, but the majority of participants will be looking forward constructively to how to seize the opportunities that Brexit provides. Where the Labour Party message on Brexit is confusion, the Conservative party’s should be determination and vigour.
And of course, the big thing that the continuity Remain campaign has failed to grasp, is that Brexit was never about precisely how we left the EU, but what could be achieved in this country outside of it. We will take back control, in spite of Tony Blair’s best efforts, and the Conservative Party should be leading the national conversation about what to do with that control.
There is a huge appetite for change – something which Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell hope to capitalise on, in order to push forward their radical socialist agenda. Higher taxes, clamping down on business, public ownership of industry, significant restrictions of the rights of the individual, and a crack down on the press. These are dangerous policies that deserve our criticism, but as I have previously written on this website, we shouldn’t assume that criticism of Corbyn alone is enough to persuade voters that this important and exciting place in Britain’s history should be guided by a Conservative government with liberal values.
Britain after Brexit won’t only be determined by the final deal – which hopefully will mirror the IEA’s Canada plus model – but also about the domestic policies that the Government puts in place in the lead up to March next year. Will the government take bold action on housing, perhaps even by building on parts of the green belt? Could HS2 be scrapped and money spent on improving wi-fi and phone signals instead? How could automation revolutionise public services?
These are just some of the debates and panels that I’m excited to be going to this year at party conference – and as I’ve now been to a couple of these I can safely say that the fringe events are where the party is at.
As Cabinet ministers make quite unambitious speeches, a heated battle of ideas takes place in tents and rooms outside the main venue. Today, for example, I’ll be speaking on a panel with Priti Patel MP, Helen Dickinson (CEO, British Retail Consortium), Lance Forman (Owner, H. Forman & Son Smoked Salmon), and Adam Marshall (Director General, British Chambers of Commerce) about what business wants after Brexit. Given the organisation that I proudly represent, you won’t be surprised that I’ll be making the case for some tax cuts. But there are also so many things to discuss about skills, about whether there should be retraining programmes to prepare for automation, about which tariffs should be lowered when we (hopefully) leave the customs union – the list goes on. Gosh – I’m excited already!
This is the last Conservative Party conference before Britain leaves the EU. It’s not a time to be tinkering around the edges with obscure technocratic policies, or proposing bizzare taxes on milkshakes. It’s also not the time to be introducing Corbyn-lite policies like increased taxation on foreign ownership.
It’s a time for real, genuine reform. There are people and think tanks with the ideas to beat Jeremy Corbyn’s, and if I were May, I’d be listening to activists at fringe events instead of beating to Whitehall’s hesitant drum.
People want change, and if the Conservative Party isn’t ambitious enough to deliver it, then they will vote for someone who is.