I sometimes disagree with my Times colleague Matthew Parris – I think he’s wrong, for example, to take such a confrontational attitude to the so-called Tory Right and to UKIP-minded voters. Matthew may wish that the Conservative Party could win a Commons majority with people who largely think like him but it can’t. It needs to be a broad church. The same need for tolerance applies to Right-wingers, too. They can’t seek purity. They need to realise that a majority Conservative Party needs to be less laissez-faire (government has important roles), more focused on the problem of low pay, more respectful towards minorities, and less pessimistic about the future.
But I don’t want to write about those well rehearsed differences today. I want to point you towards an important and beautifully-written column that Matthew has written for Saturday’s Times on the subject of a long-term, future-orientated conservatism.
Matthew argues that the Conservatives should not try to be more populist than Labour – offering short-term and ultimately inadequate solutions to the cost of livings crisis. He wants the Conservative Party to think about a long-term rescue of the economy – and offers a list of big and bold ways of achieving that rescue…
- Building on the Fens to turn Cambridge into a scientific, futuristic city of two million;
- Merge Derby and Nottingham (!);
- A hi-speed railway to connect Cambridge to Oxford;
- A ‘HS3’ that connects England with Scotland (independence referendum permitting);
- A new motorway for England’s east coast;
- Massive investment in the University and Technical College movement championed by Ken Baker;
- A determination to finish Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit vision;
- An extension of the National Forest of the Midlands – initiated by John Major.
You don’t have to agree with all of Matthew Parris’ specific ideas to get the idea. I’ve long hoped that the next Tory manifesto would offer an agenda for ensuring Britain can compete in what Digby Jones has rightly called the ‘Asian century’. In an article for the Daily Mail last August I listed my own big and bold ideas. A world class hub airport on the Thames Estuary. Massive tax simplification. New strike laws that would prevent disruption of essential public services. Much higher pay for maths and science teachers. Fundamental renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe (or exit).
Would such a ‘rescue’ manifesto bring victory? My answer then is the same now: “Perhaps not. The nation may shirk from such an ambitious rescue plan, but at least every Conservative will know that their party had lost fighting for something that was worthwhile and that they had told the truth about Britain’s economic predicament.”
The one thing that would make this future-orientated Conservatism electorally compelling would be if it was rooted in a vision of one nation. We won’t get that elusive Tory majority if voters think Conservatives will fix the economy but they, personally, won’t benefit from it. That’s one of the reasons I’d add a Macmillan-sized housebuilding programme to my own list of bold ideas (if I was writing it today). Plus year-on-year cuts to NI (or some other socially just tax measure). Paul Goodman has it absolutely right with the shields at the top of ConHome: Homes. Jobs. Savings. And all for the long-term.