By Tim Montgomerie
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Matt Sinclair of the TaxPayers' Alliance has written a good blog over at Coffee House defending George Osborne's determination to take on the green lobby and get a better deal for energy users. The Chancellor, argues Matt, is on the side of the consumer.
Standing up for the consumer is just one manifestation of what I've called a "Conservatism of the little guy". In an article I highlighted yesterday from US Congressman Paul Ryan he said Republicans should be the party of "the consumer, the taxpayer and the entrepreneur". Simple, but true. This idea of battling for the Average Joe against the machine is one of the themes being tested in the latest ConservativeHome survey. Item 12 in a list of 23 ideas to win the next election is "a new consumer agenda that reduces the power of big banks, energy companies and supermarkets".
What can Conservatives distinctively give consumers, taxpayers and entrepreneurs? I'd suggest competition, transparency and simplicity should be near the top of our list of answers.
- Entrepreneurs should be able to compete with the big boys. Charles Moore kicks off an interesting Telegraph series on "Britain Unleashed" today with a list of the barriers that prevent this. They include employment laws, health and safety, forms, planning and time-consuming bureaucracy. Owen Paterson MP has recommended that we copy Ronald Reagan and exempt all micro-businesses from swathes of regulation.
- Consumers and taxpayers should enjoy simplicity. The Government's crackdown on tax dodging may be good politics but tax dodging would be a lot harder if it didn't take an accountant-sized brain to understand the tax system. The IEA's Mark Littlewood offered sage advice on this subject today. Similarly for consumers. It shouldn't be complicated to switch bank accounts. Andrea Leadsom has recommended a personal bank account number that is as portable between competing suppliers as a mobile phone number.
- Thirdly there's transparency. The greatest ally of those who want smaller government is sunlight. The more we all see how Whitehall spends our money the less taxpayers will be happy to hand over any more.
In summary, Conservatives should champion consumers, taxpayers and entrepreneurs by increasing competition, transparency and simplicity. We will then live up to Michael Howard's compelling description of Conservatism: "No one should be over-powerful: not ministers; not trade unions; not corporations; not the European Union. Wherever we see bullying by the over-mighty, we must stand up to it."
Don't let any Labourite claim they own the politics of the little guy.