The Conservative Woman is independent of any political party. But we are not independent of the political process. We believe that fundamental changes are necessary to restore the health and civility of British society. We also believe that our political parties, with the partial exception of Ukip, are all in thrall to a stultifying left-liberal view of the world .
For the purposes of electioneering it suits the political class to highlight relatively minor differences of policy or attitude. But they fundamentally subscribe to the same relativist, non-judgemental creed. This was amply demonstrated in the leaders’ debate on ITV last week. With that in mind, TCW publishes its own manifesto – ten policies that would restore Britain’s historic tradition of freedom under the law.
1. Reduce the size of the State and set the family free
The modern British state is too big and getting bigger and more oppressive. It should be diminished for three interrelated reasons - it is inefficient, economically dangerous and socially destructive.
Total public spending in the UK is currently about £740 billion – three times the level in real terms of the late 1960s. It absorbs about 43 per cent of GDP, down from its peaks of 49 per cent in the late 1970s and 45 per cent in the financial crash of 2008/9. Under Conservative plans (more stringent than Labour) it is set to fall to 36 per cent of national output by the end of the decade (roughly the same level as under Tony Blair in 2000). By then total state spending will amount to about £800 billion. The State employs more than 5 million people, roughly one in five of the national workforce. The national debt has ballooned since the crash to £1.4 trillion and is not projected to start falling for a couple more years.
But all these are projections and assume steady growth and no economic shocks. They also presume a majority Conservative government. A minority Labour government propped up by the uber socialist SNP would be bound to spend, tax and borrow more. It is hard to believe it will get anywhere near George Osborne’s 36 per cent target, which itself depends on heroic welfare and departmental cuts over the next two years.
TCW believes it is time to take a long hard look at the size and scope of the State. It takes away nearly half the earnings of people once they pass the £42,385 higher rate threshold (a fairly modest salary in London and the South East), undermining the exercise of personal choice and responsibility. Despite the 1980s privatisations of industries such as energy and telecoms, the State still employs as many people today as a decade ago. The State must abandon its effective monopoly over the provision of services such as health and education.
2. Tax breaks to support marriage, motherhood and the single-earner family
Family breakdown is estimated to cost Britain £50 billion a year and we have among the highest rates of relationship breakdown, single living and single parenthood in the world. TCW believes that the family is the foundation stone of the good society and that a renewed effort must be made to rescue the family. This has to start with marriage on moral as well as pragmatic grounds. All the data suggest that married families are far more likely to stay together than cohabiting couples with children. Children brought up by both parents are immeasurably better off in terms of their physical and mental health and educational and economic outcomes. Children from our two million lone parents are far more at risk on all these counts.
The tax system must be reformed in line with other OECD countries that support and recognise the married family. The transferable tax break just introduced – worth a maximum of £212 a year only for basic rate taxpayers – is derisory and should be increased. At this level it does nothing to address the fact that marriage is dying out among the poorer social classes and is becoming the preserve of the rich. Church leaders, opinion-formers, media and show-biz figures and politicians need to make the case for marriage and acknowledge it is a social justice issue.
3. Ease the tax burden on Middle England and scrap expensive but futile carbon reduction targets
Slimming down the State - recognising that the State is an inefficient provider of services and a bad substitute for interpersonal dependency - is the only reliable route to lower taxes. But the income tax system needs to be rebalanced to ease the pressures on the middle classes, which are forcing mothers out to work whether they like it or not (and many don’t).
David Cameron has set the goal of raising the higher rate threshold to £50,000 a year by 2020. But this is feeble. If the 40p tax threshold had kept the value it had under Margaret Thatcher, it would stand at over £70,000 a year. When Nigel Lawson introduced the 40p band, it caught one in 20 workers. Today that figure is one in six and five million people pay the 40p rate or the higher 45p rate levied on earnings over £150,000 a year.
A combination of a decent married couples allowance and the restoration of the historic value of the 40p threshold would take some of the heat off Middle England. It would also go some way to introducing a level playing field for the taxation of the family. The political class (all parties) compete to dole out childcare tax breaks while doing nothing for mothers (and sometimes fathers) who want to stay at home and bring up their small children rather than subject them to the rigours of daycare. But the single-earner family is crucified, getting virtually no help bar the miserly married couple’s allowance.
The decision to scrap child benefit for couples where one partner earns more than £60,000 a year has made a bad situation even worse. No wonder than only one in ten mothers stays at home with her children. You have to be very rich or very poor to make such a choice. Independent research has established that the British tax system ( which taxes people independently rather than as households) is harsher on the single-earner family than virtually anywhere on the planet (Mexico is worse). A fully transferable tax allowance (worth about £2,000 a year at current rates) and the restoration of child benefit to the middle classes would be a start. But a return to the taxation of household income, not individuals, would be better, along with the return of child tax allowances and tax allowances for people looking after dependent relatives.
The Conservatives should rethink their policy of raising tax allowances at the bottom of the income scale and narrowing the tax base. They are creating more and more “free-riders” inclined to vote for higher spending (Labour) safe in the knowledge that they won’t have to pay for it. They should also rethink the tax credit system inherited from Labour, which has trapped four fifths of all families in a ‘tax and credit churn’ and which depresses aspiration.
Unachievable carbon reduction targets, requiring the closure of most fossil fuel power plants and their replacement by so-called renewable energy, will cause energy shortages in the next decade. The total cost of carbon reduction targets is over £1 trillion. They are forcing up bills for families and industry and costing jobs and prosperity. They should be scrapped and energy generation should focus on combined heat and power plants, fracking of shale gas and small-scale nuclear reactors.
4. Introduce a conscience clause to protect the expression of religious belief
Freedom of expression and freedom of worship, under the law, is another foundation stone of our society. Yet, as the feminist-inspired secularist political correctness of our times has come to fill the vacuum left by the ebbing of Christianity, it finds itself under siege. Scarcely a day passes without the moronic and brutal Twitter lynch mob decrying some poor individual for racism or for some spurious phobia because they have dared to challenge one of the taboos of our age.
At present, we have the bizarre spectacle of a bakery in Northern Ireland being prosecuted in a civil action by a state agency for refusing to bake a cake with a slogan promoting gay marriage. In other cases, people who have opposed gay marriage have lost their jobs or been disciplined at work. In the British Airways cross case, Nadia Eweida lost her discrimination claim in the British courts but was vindicated in the European Court of Justice.
More recently, Christian schools have been penalised for allegedly failing to promote gay rights or give a platform to other religions. More generally, people know that they have to be careful about what they say, write or tweet, especially at work. The Equality Act may outlaw discrimination on the grounds of race, sexual orientation or religion, but it increasingly seems to becoming an injunction to promote minority causes.
The law needs to be changed to insert a clear conscience clause, meaning that people cannot be persecuted (as in the Ashers case) for expressing their genuinely held religious or other beliefs or acting on those beliefs. Bizarrely, while freedom of expression is legislated against, multicultural orthodoxies are imposed that threaten both democracy and the rule of the law.
5. Restore grammar schools and teach about Britain’s unique contribution to civilisation
Labour and Conservative governments have sought to break the local authority stranglehold over schools by creating academies, independent of the local council, run by heads and educational trusts and funded directly by central government. More recently, the Tories have taken this process a stage further by creating free schools, which can be set up by local groups and are funded centrally. But such freedoms, apparently seeking to replicate the autonomy of the independent sector, are greatly constrained. The fundamental freedom – freedom to select and compete – is still denied.
The surviving 163 grammar schools, which escaped the Left’s cull of excellence in state education in the 1960s and 1970s, remain, while being effectively forbidden from increasing in number. David Cameron has ruled out the creation of new grammars despite extensive opinion polling demonstrating public support. Only the private sector can select pupils on the grounds of academic ability. TCW believes that this freedom should be extended to academies and free schools. Only then will parents enjoy genuine choice and only then will schools be able to replicate the success of the private sector by enjoying similar freedoms.
TCW believes higher education should be rebalanced with universities restricted to the academically able while vocational and practical courses are expanded.
But more needs to be done. The left-liberal domination of the classroom needs to be broken. The curriculum and exam system needs to change to permit the teaching of a conservative view of the world. It should be a requirement that children be taught a thorough, balanced and chronological view of the landmark events and personalities of their nation’s history and the unique contribution Britain has made to civilisation.
Leftist condemnation of the British Empire should be eradicated and young people should be encouraged to take pride in their country and the way it has pioneered and advanced democracy, freedom and the rule of law – and not been afraid to stand alone against tyranny. Riddled with liberal guilt, too many of our schools and universities are turning out a generation of poorly educated young people in hock to fads, such as climate change alarmism and uncomprehending of the beliefs and attitudes that have created the free society. In the wishy-washy debate about “British values” far more attention should be paid to teaching our country’s proud history and the way it brought justice to the world – a justice now under severe threat from Islamic fanaticism.
Christian ethics and morals need to be returned to their once central place in the education system - removing in time the need for PHSE teaching or sex education. This requires radical reform of teacher training institutions and courses as well as a readiness to take on the power of the teacher unions.
6. Give people vouchers to purchase health care and education
The State used to own and run car factories, shipyards, railways, telecommunications, steelworks, airlines, and coal mines, gas works and power plants – and much more. All that has gone but the State still employs more than five million people. It proved itself useless at running manufacturing plants but that has not stopped it pursuing its hunger for control and ownership. (The least said about the now defunct Soviet Union, which insisted on total control of the economy, the better).
Today the State spends £743 billion or about £30,000 per household. The big ticket items (health £141 billion; welfare (benefits and pensions) £232 billion; and education £99 billion) account for two thirds of total public spending. These are huge amounts of money. The question is are we getting value for money? That was definitely not the case with the former nationalised industries. Everything they did was done badly. So why should we expect the State to do any better with so-called public services? Imagine that the Mid-Staffs crisis, which claimed up to 1200 lives, had happened under private management.
We need to break the state monopoly over health and education. Britain is virtually the only country in the world to insist that only the State can deliver health care for all but the rich. Vouchers, which would enable patients and parents to spend their cash allocation on hospitals and schools of their choice are one way to create a variety of providers – charities, private companies and publicly owned hospitals - and encourage more personal responsibility for health.
Tax breaks for those who opt out of state services are a simpler option that would again ensure a wider choice of schools, hospitals and clinics. Competition among these providers would drive up standards, ensure greater transparency in the notoriously secretive NHS, and reduce the risk of another Mid Staffs horror show.
7. Scrap the BBC licence fee and break up the state broadcaster
The BBC has a guaranteed income, enforced by the threat of court action against non-payers of the licence fee, of £4 billion a year.Its existence means the Corporation unnaturally swamps the sector and stifles innovation. Not surprisingly, given its dominantposition, it is comfortably the main source of news in the UK. Not surprisingly, given its public sector ethos, it is driven by left-liberal values. These pervade its output from comedy and drama to news and current affairs. It is effectively a Guardian newspaper of the airwaves. But unlike The Guardian it has guaranteed huge resources and a quasi-official place in public life.
It is overwhelmingly led and staffed by people who adhere to its ruling leftist philosophy and the BBC has become a self-perpetuating progressive elite. Reform of such an institution is impossible by definition. The only solution is to break it up, requiring the vast majority of its output to take its chances in the marketplace funded by advertising and subscription. A small public service element, such as Radio 4 and Radio 3, should be retained as a taxpayer-funded service and subject to the most rigorous interpretation of the rules requiring impartiality.
The BBC World Service, once a bastion of British culture and impartiality, has now become the broadcasting arm of the Guardianista aid agenda, and is dominated by the same militant world-government values as the EU, Greenpeace and Oxfam. It should be forced to go back to what it once was - or also be scrapped.
8. Press ahead with welfare reform to reduce the bills and restore self-respect to the jobless
Welfare reform has been one of the few success stories of the Coalition government. In cash terms, spending on working age benefits is twice the level of 2001, up from £57 billion to £115 billion. But as a percentage of national output, the figures are not so bad, up from just under 6 per cent to about 6.5 per cent with a peak of 7.5 per cent in 2010. Over this Parliament measures to incentivise work, move people off sickness benefits into work, and cap total benefit payouts have curbed a previously inexorable rise in welfare spending. A further £12 billion of cuts to the welfare budget are projected for the next Parliament if the Conservatives form the government.
TCW believes that for the able-bodied, a life on welfare should not be an option and that young people should not be allowed to go from school to the dole – as David Cameron has pledged. Welfare reform, designed to ensure that training and work are available for all who need it, must continue. Governments must work towards the restoration of the contributory principle that Beveridge based the system on. It must pull back from off benefits to first-time lone parents, including privileged access to housing.
9. Quit the EU, regain control of immigration and strengthen our defences
Britain faces an existential choice. Does it want to be ruled by a foreign power or does it want independence? It has spent 40 years slowly transferring national powers to an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels dedicated to “ever closer union”. But while some powers have been transferred, over fishing, farming, employment rights, human rights, and trade, others, others, notably the decision to retain the pound, have been retained in Whitehall.
Nonetheless, the direction of travel is clear. In the wake of the Eurozone crisis, plans for a federal European superstate may be on hold but ultimately the need to integrate fiscal as well as monetary policy will force political union. Instinctively, Britain knows it cannot go down the path to a full-blown United State of Europe, the enduring dream of the Eurocrats running the Brussels Commission.
But for the UK, it is immigration that is forcing the issue with total annual migration to the UK running at 600,000 and net immigration at 300,000 – which amounts to 3 million people in a decade: a huge burden on housing, education and other public services and a threat to the living standards of the indigenous population, especially the low skilled. Roughly half of this is from EU countries. But under free movement of labour within the EU, Britain is powerless to stop the influx. TCW believes that Britain should withdraw from the EU, establish a free trade relationship with its former partners, and reclaim control of its borders and its wider destiny in the world.
After the foreign adventures of the Blair years, Britain has turned inwards, pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan and steering clear of the bloody conflicts of the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe. At the same time, as it strives to maintain spending on domestic services such as health and education, it is running down its armed forces to dangerously low levels. The commitment to spend at least 2 per cent of national output on defence should be honoured. More generally, working with allies such as the United States, Britain should again become a force for order and stability in the world.
10. Curb the Nanny State
You would have thought that with wars and terrorist insurgencies raging across the Middle East, parts of Africa and Eastern Europe, a deficit of £90 billion and debts of £1.4 trillion, low productivity, 2 million unemployed, and indifferent health and education standards, the UK Government would have enough on its plate. Far from it. The busybodies of Whitehall and Westminster never sleep. The more responsibilities the State takes over from the family, the more the ‘problems’ it discovers to instruct and regulate us on.
Smoking in public places has been banned, tobacco on sale in shops must be hidden, the branding of cigarette packs will shortly disappear and food and alcohol manufacturers are next in line. Pressure from the health lobby is growing for warnings about sugar, fat and alcohol content on the labels of everyday items. The urge to meddle, interfere and, above all regulate, is relentless, yet national health problems like obesity get worse. Bureaucracy is rampant.
It seems as if the smaller Britain becomes on the world stage, the bigger become the ambitions of the small-minded politicians and officials who rule the minutiae of the land. The issue is as much cultural as political. Perhaps if Britain turned outwards to the world and not increasingly inwards to Europe, petty and irritating interference might wane.