Lesley Rankin is a researcher at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). The final report of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice, Prosperity and Justice: A Plan for the New Economy is out today.
It would be easy for ConservativeHome readers to dismiss the final report of the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice published today. But it would be unwise.
Although an initiative of a ‘progressive’ think tank, the Commissioners span a wide range of public figures, including Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury; Helena Morrissey, a leading City investor; Catherine McGuinness, the head of the City of London Corporation; and Dominic Barton, the global managing partner of McKinsey. These are not just the ‘usual suspects’ by any means.
The problems that the Commission identifies are ones that conservatives have to acknowledge. The 2010s are forecast to be the weakest decade for average real earnings in 200 years. The UK is Europe’s most geographically unbalanced economy, with wide disparities between the nations and regions, with many once-thriving communities suffering economic decline. On investment, research and development (R&D), trade and productivity, the UK performs worse than most of our European neighbours, and has done for much of the last 40 years.
As the Commission notes, it is hard to say the UK economy has been performing well; for many people, it is not really working at all.
Delivering her first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Number 10, Theresa May vowed to fight the “burning injustices” of class and intergenerational inequalities. The Commission’s priorities, then, are also Conservative ones.
One of the trends the Commission notes is the growing wealth disparity between the rich and the poor, and the young and the old. Housing plays a large role in this. The huge growth in property values over recent years means that today’s young people, many of them priced out of the housing market, are set to be poorer than their parents. It is little wonder that young people are turning away from the Right when they find it so difficult to make their way in the world. As George Freeman said, it is difficult to get people to support capitalism when they have no prospect of owning capital.
The Commission makes the case for a stronger role for government in the economy in order to raise the UK’s investment and productivity rates. But the Government has already got there first: its new industrial strategy bears a striking resemblance to the Commission’s proposals. Yes, the Commission calls on the Government to promote greater equality. But it also believes government needs to open up competition and create more open markets. It notes, as many conservatives have pointed out, that many of our consumer sectors markets are now dominated by a small number of companies.
This is particularly true for the digital sector, where the market power of dominant companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon is particularly great. The Commission’s proposals to regulate such companies as if they were utilities will surely be of as much interest to those on the right as the left of the political spectrum.
The Commission’s call for ‘fundamental reform’ of the economy may sound naïve. But as its report notes, the last person to seek such reform – and to achieve it – was Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher was responding to Britain’s deep economic crisis in the 1970s, just as before her Clement Attlee’s post-war Keynesian reforms were a response to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The report’s argument that, ten years after the financial crash, we need change of this magnitude again, is surely not one that conservatives should dismiss.