ConservativeHome has consistently welcomed David Cameron’s commitment to stand up to big business. It was one of the "Ten reasons for supporting Project Cameron" that we published early last month:
"Conservatives should be on the side of competitive markets – not a corporate state where big businesses collude with the government to create barriers to entry through regulations. Eurosceptic Conservatives should remember that before the transformational work of Business for Sterling, FTSE-100 companies led the charge towards eurozone membership. Small firms – and big firms with devolved internal structures – are the engine of the economy."
Few big organisations have more monopolistic tendencies than the BBC and it was encouraging to hear David Cameron highlight the ways in which the poll tax-funded Corporation crowds out competition in the media industry. This extract from David Cameron’s remarks to regional newspaper executives comes in today’s FT:
"We’ve all seen in our own constituencies small internet businesses, often involved in education or other information provision, working away to create a market, to make some money, and then the BBC comes along and squish, like a big foot on an ant, and that business goes out. And I think that we need to look at ways of actually making sure that the BBC doesn’t over-extend itself."
The Tory leader and former Carlton TV employee went on to commend "a better set of rules that stops the BBC from charging in… and actually putting other people who are struggling to provide a market, out of work." It may be time for the Conservative Party to revisit the findings of the Elstein Committee – commissioned by Tory MP John Whittingdale in 2003. The Committee’s report recommended that the BBC should not have monopoly use of the monies raised by the licence fee and/or successor revenue-raising measures for public service broadcasting.
The old media BBC probably needs to be subject to the same kind of competition policies that prevent big businesses erecting barriers to market entrants or engaging in, for example, predatory pricing. Standing up for the little guy shouldn’t be limited to the media world, either. Government and big charities can crush small charitable endeavours. The Conservative Party’s 2003 Green Paper on the voluntary sector – Sixty Million Citizens (download a pdf of it here) – proposed an ‘Unfair Competition Test’ that would stop the state using its financial muscle to overwhelm start-up social entrepreneurs.
Mark Prisk MP recently welcomed a Friends of the Earth campaign to encourage shopping at smaller, more local shops:
"Local, independent retailers help to create a sense of community on the high-street, and can offer specialist goods that are not easily available elsewhere. Small shops also help to give high-streets a unique character and can benefit the environment as customers are more like to walk or cycle."
Opposing further deregulation of Sunday trading will be one test of the seriousness of this Conservative commitment to local shops.
Standing up to the over-mighty – as Michael Howard once put it – is a great conservative theme. ‘Small is beautiful’ is a more poetic way of putting it.