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Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership, and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

The (pre) leadership race is hotting up. For some members, Brexit may be the only issue that matters. But there are others – me included – who are fed up with the paralysis hitting most government departments, and want to know what the next Prime Minister is going to do for the country.

So here is a stab at 20 non-Brexit policy questions (or at least question categories) for any of the hopefuls to answer.

To start with –

  • What do you think are the greatest challenges and opportunities for this country and its people in the next 30 years? What do you think the Government can actually do about them?
  • What kind of conservative are you? If you’re a “One Nation” conservative (the most common answer) what exactly does that mean – and which recent Conservative leaders were not One Nation conservatives?

Dividing lines

I’ve put some questions below which I think different kinds of Conservatives have increasingly different answers to – in terms of intervention, personal responsibility, and our place in the world:

  • Do you think climate change is a major issue? What can or should we do about it?
  • How much do you think wealth or income inequality is an issue? Is it ok if either grow?
  • What do you think are the driving forces behind different outcomes in people’s health, education, and financial success and can the government alter those forces? How much do you think you should leave it to people – or their parents – to make decisions about these things even if the outcome is bad for them (like obesity)?
  • What do you think the UK’s role “on the world stage” should be in the next 30 years, and how must it adapt to geopolitical shifts? In the last 20 years, when do you think the UK intervened unnecessarily, and when do you think it should have intervened but didn’t?
  • Is it acceptable to align our aid spending to foreign policy and even defence aims – and given a choice, would you prefer to spend the aid money on defence (or for that matter another policy aim?)
  • Are you in favour of technological progress like AI – even if it creates some losers? In a choice between being the most innovation and tech-friendly country in the world, and the one that regulates most against ‘harms’ which would you choose?
  • What’s your position on free speech? How about in government – would you have fired Roger Scruton?

Taxpayers’ pounds or public spending

One of the differences in discourse between the US and the UK is that in the former politicians refer to ‘taxpayers dollars’ rather than ‘public spending’. Diving into this a little more:

  • How important is it that we i) eliminate the deficit and reduce debt ii) reduce taxes iii) increase public spending. How would you balance them in the next 3-5 years?

Below is a list of common noisy demands for more money in the run up to a spending review. Do you think it’s important any of these get more money in the next three years?

  • Defence spending; numbers of police;
  • Public sector workers – particularly teachers (school staff are usually over 70 per cent of a school budget) and nurses and doctors (staff make up about 63 per cenr of NHS providers’ costs) – do you think this should go up in real terms?
  • NHS and education – most of this gets sucked up by wages, but there are other ways to spend on schools and hospitals – including buildings and treatments – and the health services outside the NHS like social care.
  • Hard-working families – Childcare support; or more support for those trying to buy a house;
  • The vulnerable – more money for those on welfare e.g. universal credit; or more money for the most deprived in terms of public services services (e.g. children on free school meals)
  • Those who put in: more money on pensions.

Social mobility and opportunity

I’ve never met a politician who didn’t say – and think – that social mobility and opportunity was vital. It’s often less clear why they think previous efforts haven’t worked or why theirs will be more transformative.

  • We’ve had a decade – or more – of education reform. Did it succeed? What more needs to be done – at school, for technical education or for university – and how should it be paid for?
  • How much of a priority are gender and ethnicity gaps in companies? If it is a priority, what more could be done to close them?

What will be different this time?

Finally here are a couple of issues which everyone always says is a catastrophe, but somehow still don’t seem to be solved. What’s the plan?

  • Over the long term, health spending has kept growing and growing as a proportion of the government budget, crowding out room for spending on other things. It’s forecast to grow more as we age. Do you think there’s anything we can do to stop that? Should we?
  • Why has no one sorted social care? What would you do differently?Why do we still have a housing crisis after over a decade of talking about it incessantly? What would be different under you that would solve this problem – assuming you think it needs to be solved.
  • Public support for welfare has been in long-term decline despite continued reform – far more than other countries. Why do you think that is, and should we do anything about it – and if so what?

Theresa May’s legacy

  • Would you lower non-EU and EU immigration – and if you would, why will you succeed on non-EU immigration where Theresa May failed?
  • What do you think we need to do differently – if anything – on crime? Do you think knife crime would be at least partly solved with more stop and search or with more police?
  • Do too many or too few people go to prison? And how important is it to rehabilitate them?

(Yes, I know a lot of this is in the hands of the Justice Department and not the Home Office, but they’re interconnected)

And a bonus question that will win you no votes:

  • How well do you think the civil service works? What would you do to make it better?

95 comments for: Rachel Wolf: Twenty policy questions for the aspiring Conservative leadership candidates.

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