By Tim Montgomerie
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After his intervention on education yesterday, Graham Brady, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, made a rare public speech last night and set out his core Conservative beliefs.
Delivering Conservative Way Forward's Nicholas Ridley lecture Mr Brady emphasised the importance of wider economic ownership as a force for social stability. He also made sceptical noises about fiscal union as a solution to the Eurozone's current problems.
Taking fiscal union first, Mr Brady reminded us of Nick Ridley's words about the operation of the old Exchange Rate Mechanism:
"“Can you imagine me going to Jarrow in 1930 and saying, ‘look boys, there’s a general election coming up, I know half of you are unemployed and starving and the soup kitchen’s down the road. But we’re not going to talk about those things, because they’re for the Bundesbank…’”
Ridley "could have been peering through his bi-focals at the unfolding crisis in the Eurozone today." Brady argued. While, he said, there is an economic logic to a Eurozone-wide fiscal union that does not necessarily make it a politically sustainable project:
"It is surely right to say that the Eurozone should be free to seek the degree of fiscal integration that is necessary to allow the currency union to work. But that does not mean that the Greeks will find centrally ordained austerity tolerable, any more than the Germans will have an appetite for standing behind the debts of their less responsible neighbours."
Brady reminded his audience of Mervyn King's words when, more than a decade ago, he told a Commons Select Committee that economic convergence across the Eurozone would take 200 to 300 years! The only sustainable solution to Europe's problems, argued Brady, was a lot more economic growth. The recipe for that was what it always has been – less government, less regulation, less intervention and a lower tax burden. Unfortunately, he noted, the fight to lessen the £2bn impact of the new Agency Workers' Directive suggests the EU was still going in the wrong economic direction.
The other main theme of Mr Brady's speech was ownership. Ridley had written a defence of ownership in his autobiography, 'My Style of Government':
“To own one’s own house, or business, or the capital which produced one’s retirement income extended freedom of choice, gave people a stake in the nation’s wealth, and required less tax-payer’s money to be spent on them. It produced a large and growing number of people who were not ‘dependent”."
Britain, said, Brady was facing an ownership crisis as well as a competitiveness crisis:
"There are those who contest that the UK has historically set far too much store by home-ownership and that we should be unconcerned that the average age of the first-time buyer is approaching forty but taken together, this trend, the spread of means-tested benefits, the regime for long term care, the damage done to private pension provision by one of Gordon Brown’s earliest misjudgements, compounded by the current squeeze on household finances which has seen over a million people forced to abandon contributions to their pension funds, all amount to a massive turn away from a culture of property ownership with the responsibility and independence that goes with it."
William Hague is Conservative Way Forward's guest speaker at its Party Conference Dinner. Click here for more information.