David Cameron has an account of his Queen’s Speech priorities in today’s Sunday Times (£) – clustered around the themes of helping working people get on, social justice, and growth for all regions.
And we will continue our MajorityConservatism series this week on how that Speech, the Conservative Manifesto on which it is based, and the Government’s programme can be delivered.
But today we range wider to ask: since the Prime Minister wants One Nation Conservatism – which is good – what would it look like?
- Have a families policy, get a Minister leading on it, and build on child benefit. The three foundations of opportunity are home, school and work. The Coalition did a lot for education with the Michael Gove exam and school reforms. It helped to create a record number of jobs through George Osborne’s economic management, Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare changes, and the apprenticeship push overseen by John Hayes and Matthew Hancock. But where was the families policy? There wasn’t even a single Minister in charge. There is a childcare scheme for all parents who work in the labour market, including richer ones. There is capped child benefit for those who want to stay at home to care for their children, and a small marriage allowance introduce against the Chancellor’s instincts. This is an unConservative mix. Duncan Smith should take the reins, child benefit be protected as the building block of financial support for families, and the work of groups like the Bristol Community Family Trust used as a model.
- A major shift of resources from the Universities to vocational education. This would contribute to the cost of the Government’s planned further expansion of apprenticeships.
- Expand the Living Wage. We’re not keen on schemes to compel firms to pay it and to compensate them with tax cuts. But the Living Wage has a big part to play in helping poorer workers, and we would use those tax breaks as carrots rather than sticks.
- New Garden Cities. Put simply, the housing choice is to build a lot of houses in a few places or a lot of houses in a lot of places. We would look east of London, but there are opportunities further north too. Also see Chris Walker’s article on this site today.
- Devolution within the nations that make up the UK – not just to them. The counties as well as the cities should have elected mayors with real powers, as Cllr David Hodge wrote recently on this site.
- Major airport expansion in the midlands, not the south. If the Government really wants to get the Northern Powerhouse going, it should wave the Heathrow v Gatwick tussle aside. Even Boris Island is insufficiently radical. Instead, it should shift Britain’s airport capacity north – and with it the growth, transport connections and jobs that come with major infrastructure projects. It should start by having a good long hard look at Birmingham International.
- Raise the National Insurance threshold. Raising the income tax threshold doesn’t benefit poorer people who don’t pay income tax at all. Raising the NI threshold would reach further down the earnings scale. The Treasury seems to have little interest. This should change.
- Take on crony capitalism. That’s the big energy companies, some of the banks, and corporate interests who exploit their monopolistic position in supplying basics such as food and fuel. Announce a probe and put Steve Hilton in charge of it. That should shake things up nicely.
- A renewal programme for former coalfield areas. Mark Wallace has suggested giving them Enterprise Zones. The scheme would need someone in charge who hails from these parts of the country. It’s time to heal the wounds of the miners’ strike.
- Leave the EU. It is hard to see how being One Nation is consistent with being co-governed by lots of other nations.
- Inter-generational justice for younger people. The NHS and state pensions budgets are ring-fenced. Most others are not – and the brunt of the spending squeeze thus falls on other departments, such as the armed forces, the police, housing, the courts and benefits for younger people. Paring back the country’s defences, the law and order budget and the age at which young people can buy a home is ultimately unsustainable. We need an Affordability Commission to prepare a shift away from spending that disproportionately benefits older people to one that works more fairly. The commitments to free TV licences for pensioners, bus travel and the winter fuel allowance are relatively small financial beer, but a very big symbol of the injustice in the current public spending set-up. They should be the first part of it to go after 2020 – given the manifesto and campaign commitments – and at the forefront of the Commission’s attention.
- Make the Conservative Party lead by example. That means working towards a £50,000 limit of donations; giving trade union members (and others) free Party membership; opening up decisions about which Party members are awarded peerages to Party members themselves. And what about an open primary for the next party leader, or allowing a range of registered supporters a say?
Readers will recognise many of these policies from the ConservativeHome Manifesto. None of them are inconsistent with the Party’s own. Some of them would cause a bit of a flurry. But since the Prime Minister wants One Nation Conservatism – and good for him in doing so – then One Nation Conservatism he must have.