Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
Notwithstanding some journalists knocking the forthcoming general election, I believe it is an historic event the likes of which do not occur frequently.
It is historic on two levels, the more immediate of which is the Government’s ability to implement Britain’s decision to leave the EU if the Conservatives win.
The second, broader one is reversing the profoundly undemocratic trend of decisions and power shifting away from elected national governments towards non-elected bodies such as international organisations and courts, treaties, regulators, and quangos. (Interestingly most regulators do not even have a legal basis for their rules.)
Under pressure governments have too often given up their powers, so limiting citizens democratic choice. This tendency has gone the furthest in the EU, where two different networks of power operate simultaneously – one still based on domestic politics but the other based on the EU institutions and rules. –wo networks – one national and one transnational, with both including politicians, civil servants, academics, business lobbies, non-government organisations – overlapping in all EU Countries.
Brexit is about a serious objective: to separate these two networks of power. This requires the election to result in a government which can take us out of the EU.
Remainers supporting our EU membership argue that we live in a post-democratic world in which the realities of modern global power are beyond the control of nation states and their voters, so if people vote the right way, which the transnational establishment approves, their vote will be respected, and it will be a final vote. But if they vote the wrong way their votes will be ignored or reversed by further referendum. The transnational establishment believes that electors are ill-informed, prejudiced, backward, and make the wrong decisions!
This election is thus about how we are to be governed; or more specifically whether we are to govern ourselves. The transnational establishment believes this is a mere nostalgia, but as one of the richest and most powerful states, the UK is quite capable of doing something similar to Norway, Switzerland and Singapore.
The referendum showed that a majority of British citizens wish the way they are governed, though not perfect, to be one in which they are fairly consulted, and their voices are listened to.
This is thus one of the most important elections for a hundred years. On the outcome hangs the preservation of the nation state and the genuinely democratic government. What is extraordinary is that in the interests of what they see as economic benefits, the Remainers are happy to throw both out of the window.
There are three other, less fundamental, issues I raise regarding the politics of the election. The first is about government spending.
While borrowing, and particularly longer-term borrowing via bond issues, is extraordinarily cheap, there is a rational case for governments to borrow to finance infrastructure investment – but not to pay for government consumption expenditure. The Conservative leadership needs to be quite clear on this issue, and not to allow a slippage back to excessive government consumption spending.
Secondly, a full review and reform of the business rates system is needed urgently. Small shops are paying too much, resulting in high streets closing down. Online retail distribution centres are clearly not paying fair or adequate rates.
Finally, Britain’s main long-term economic problem is that our savings rate is too low. This leads, inevitably, to inadequate capital investment and poor productivity growth. There is also the tendency to sell off too many of our leading businesses to generate the cash to keep our capital account stable.
There is an obvious limit to the extent we can go on financing ourselves with such sales, albeit we are very good a creating and nurturing new businesses. Leaving the EU ought to be a stimulant to increasing our savings rate.