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James Bartholomew: Theresa May is not a Conservative


Pretty well all of us have reason to be depressed now. First the Remainers were poleaxed by the result of the referendum. Now the Leavers are in the dumps because the new Prime Minister will be someone who does not actually agree with leaving and therefore cannot be trusted to do it properly. And as if that were not enough to send us to the bar, the garden or the golf course, according to taste, we find the next Prime Minister has got the political philosophy of home-made soup.

It consists of bits and pieces left over by miscellaneous popularity-seeking muddled politicians. These have been thrown into a blender and warmed up as if they were a heroic new vision.

Worker representatives on boards! Is she serious? Is she really throwing into the mix this crusty, dried out old bit of French ham? It is a bad idea that has done its miserable little bit to help the European Union become the slowest growing part of the advanced world. It is utterly anti-Conservative. It is an interference in private property rights. Shareholders are people who put up money to start a business or buy into it. It is their business, not anyone else’s.

And what is the certain result? Employees kept on despite the fact that a part of a business no longer makes sense. A misuse of resources. That is what causes low growth. And low growth hurts as all in the end, including the workers. This is such a stale of piece of gristle that even Gordon Brown did not touch it. Is this what the Conservative party has become? A vehicle for introducing left wing policies too meretricious even for Gordon Brown?

She also wants to “protect” British companies from foreign “asset strippers”. She wants to bring in the concept of “national champions”, showing blissful unawareness that the preservation of “national champions” has cost this country and many others fortunes of taxpayers’ money.  There was a time when the subsidy of British Steel was so big that it was a significant part of our national budget. To put it another way, poor British people were taxed to keep an uneconomic business going. This is another hoary old way to damage British economic growth.

Overall, it clear that Theresa May doesn’t much like capitalism. She does not grasp the fact that if Britain is to succeed as a nation it has to be truly open, capitalist, realist and wedded to low taxes and free trade. This is the only way that any country has managed fast growth. It is the only way that the poor get richer. That is what Margaret Thatcher believed. Theresa May is no Margaret Thatcher. She is the anti-Thatcher – a wet who, if she were in a Margaret Thatcher cabinet, would be consigned to some post where she could not do the economy any harm, like Culture Secretary.

Theresa May wants to plough ahead with HS2 because she apparently thinks it will boost economic growth. No. It will not. It will cause higher taxes,  which will reduce economic growth. Even those who argue it makes sense suggest it is a marginal case. But you know, I know and everyone in Britain knows that it will come in at three times its budget and consequently the economic case for it will be blown out of the window.

Mrs May, I am afraid to say, is not a Conservative. She is not a socialist, to be fair. But she is a statist – a believer that the government should do something about this, that, the other and everything else, even if all past experience tells us that its record of interference is riddled with serious, perverse, unintended consequences. Remember how massive council estate with sky-high blocks were going to be the answer? May would have been in favour of them. Hundreds of them have had to be blown up because they become so dangerous and horrible that people refused to go there.

Depressed? Yes, I am. This could have been a new, bold beginning.  I fear it is going to muddle-along, interfering, statist decline.

(Image: Chatham House)

James Bartholomew’s book The Welfare of Nations compares welfare states around the world to find the most successful ways of running a welfare state. It was listed by the Sunday Times as one of the five best political books of 2015. It is available on Amazon.  

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James Bartholomew
James Bartholomew
James Bartholomew is a journalist and author of The Welfare of Nations

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