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Westlake Legal Group > Culture and technology

Matt Hancock: With this One Nation Conservative Government in place, we can greet this New Year with excitement and optimism

Matt Hancock is Secretary of State for Health, and is MP for West Suffolk.

With the new decade beginning, we stand at the cusp of exciting developments which can change our country for the better. It’s our job now to make them happen and make Britain soar in the 2020s.

The end of 2019 saw the public vote for a strong majority Conservative Government, and gave us a mandate to get on to not only deliver Brexit but the people’s priorities. We have a duty to deliver on our commitments and use this opportunity with vigour.

For all the noise and political paralysis of the past few years, under the surface in many ways Britain has been doing well. For all the sneering, on any objective measure this last was the best decade to be alive. Life expectancy has increased. Your chance of beating cancer has risen faster than almost anywhere in Europe. The number of people in work is at its highest point, and there are more women in work than ever before. Thanks to radical reforms a decade ago, England rose up the international education rankings.

But whilst laudable, these achievements do not signify job done. In the campaign, some commentators feigned confusion that we can be both proud of our record and determined to do more – and sometimes do things differently. But this approach underpins the Conservative approach – to learn from the past, and build a better future.

The election showed that there is a yearning for this kind of One Nation Government to move this country forward, and crucially to do so across the whole country: in infrastructure, in connectivity, in creating the high pay high reward jobs of the future. Patriotic and proud of our country yet open and outward looking to the world.

In my own area of health and social care the next decade holds great challenges, and incredible promise.

Ultimately, our task is to ensure the NHS gets the support it needs to support people to stay healthy for longer, to give people more control over their own health through a smarter, more preventative focused approach. We must invest more – and we will. But it’s not just about the money, but also improving the way the health service is run and harnessing exciting new technology.

Take genome sequencing, as one of the technologies with the greatest potential. When we screen new-born children, we can identify health conditions they may have or be at risk of developing in childhood and later life. We can help them prevent those conditions, or in the case of many rare diseases we can save a harrowing, costly odyssey to find what is wrong. Why shouldn’t this sort of screening be available to all children, just like the heel-prick test is today?

Similarly at the other end of life, I’m inspired by the memory of my own grandmother to deliver our manifesto commitment to a national effort to gather the finest scientists and doctors in the world to find a cure for dementia.

And at the same time, let’s make good on growing research which shows we can treat early signs of dementia, not with more drugs, but through social prescribing – making use of non-medical services to help people manage their physical and mental health.

Not only is this approach better for our health, but it will help ease the pressures on our increasingly burdened NHS staff and hospitals. Just through the use of social prescribing, patients with long-term conditions attended 47 per cent fewer hospital appointments and made 38 per cent fewer visits to A&E. It’s an approach rooted in helping people take more responsibility for their own health – not just relying on the NHS to fix things when they go wrong.

I also know from my conversations with patients and staff that they are desperate for the improvements in technology. Better tech means better health and social care: it helps the elderly to live independently for longer; GPs able to see more patients; smarter e-rostering to help the NHS avoid inflated agency fees. Let’s use the amazing new technology all around us to help doctors do their jobs and help patients have more control. Combine all this with the exciting march of new technology in the NHS and the prospect of a Government giving the NHS, life sciences, and new technology their full backing, and the opportunities for breakthroughs in the way we discover and treat illnesses, are huge.

And of course, none of this is possible without the amazing people who work in the NHS. With the investment this Government will make in our workforce – including 50,000 more nurses, and 6,000 more GPs – we must grasp the opportunities to the create a more integrated NHS with a culture that maximises the potential of every single member of its staff. This change in working culture is vital and you’ll be hearing much more of it over the coming months.

We must build workplaces that our wonderful NHS staff can feel proud of. That’s about how well led our hospitals are, and it’s about the buildings themselves. The Prime Minister has famously committed to build 40 new hospitals over the next decade. But it’s not just about the new-builds. Our hospitals will be upgraded too through the Health Infrastructure Plan, with wards that are designed to speed up recovery and have the right equipment and technology, ensuring patients receive the right treatment at the right time.

There is so much to do. We have the mandate and the majority. Let’s make 2020 the year of progress and work now to set up a decade we can all be proud of.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ben Brittain: Get Brexit Done and innovate like Israel

Ben Brittain is a Policy and Data Analyst for a regional economic institute. 

The Conservatives were gifted their ‘stonking majority’ by deprived constituencies that are far removed from the growth and economic power of London. The UK is a tale of two economic nations – a wealthy and highly productive London and South-East, and everywhere else, where gross value added more resembles former communist states. It was in these former mining and industrial heartlands of the Midlands and the North where working-class people lent their vote to the Conservatives to ‘get Brexit done’.

The challenge for this new government is to make the economy one whole, bridging the productivity and wage gap between London and the periphery towns of city-regions. The government will want to reward the North and Midlands for their support at the polls. But getting Brexit done is only one step. The next is to embark on a long process of economic revival in these regions, drive agglomeration within cities through transport infrastructure and skills investment.

The Government has the opportunity to level-up productivity right across the whole UK. For that, we must not look not to Silicon Valley and seek to replicate it on the Tyne – but instead look to Israel.

Today, Israel is considered an innovation superpower, with more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any other country except the United States. The Israeli success in innovative industries, such as ICT, is based on an R&D-intensive, novel-product-based, export-oriented business model. One that the UK should adopt to create a post-Brexit, R&D-heavy, exporting economy.

Israel is a hot-bed of ground-breaking technology companies such as Waze and the autonomous driving company, Mobileye, which has been snapped up by Intel for $15.3 billion. These large dominant companies are an exporting successes, but large innovative companies have to start somewhere.

Israel’s success is driven by its impressive start-up culture, and this start-up friendly ecosystem is actively fuelling an innovation economy. Israel started more than 10,000 companies between 1999 and 2014, with 2.6 per cent of these start-ups creating revenues of more than $100 million. Their success is down to reform-oriented policy makers driving change in the public sector, embedding innovation, unafraid of the role of the state as a friend to free-markets and individuals that want to start an enterprise.

The UK needs to embed five elements within its future growth framework to drive innovation. These are: support for start-ups; a substantial growth in the training of scientists and engineers; empower research-oriented civic universities and drive commercialisation within universities, expand access to venture capital, and utilise the strength of government and big-data in regional industrial strategies. All of these interact with each other to drive the process from invention to innovation.

The UK has an unrivalled higher education system that is ready to plug-in to regional economies and drive sector specialisations. To achieve this, BEIS should restart the work of the Smart Specialisation Hub and bring it in-house, to further understand how productivity is evolving in regional firms. Businesses are best placed to lead in the identification of new opportunities for growth, and many regions are already developing highly-productive sector clusters, which should not be hindered by central government imposing their own industry preferences. Instead, local industrial strategies should identify current productivity strengths and seek to implement necessary supportive interventions and create the correct ecosystem for their growth.

A culture of people, business and universities fully attuned to research and development is required, as is leveraging long-term private sector commitment. Regions should focus on what they are good at – such as the automotive industry in the West Midlands – prioritise research and innovation investment in a competitive environment, and implement policies that are strategic, based on a shared vision for regional innovation and development (such as the development of UK’s first Tesla-style battery gigafactory in the West Midlands which will build on current agglomeration).

Creating dynamic and innovative clusters in regions previously neglected and cut-off from London’s success will ensure the success of Brexit is the success of Wales, the North and the Midlands. If there are greater opportunities for high-skilled, well-paying work in innovative companies, focused on exporting, catalysed and fuelled by free-ports across the region, in industries such as space, AI, life-sciences, health and clean energy, then London will no longer suck the life out of those regions. More local residents will have better paid jobs, with more disposable income to spend in local high-streets, meaning the physicality of neglected towns in places such as Darlington and Walsall can be overcome.

The nation could be one economic success story; a real One Nation Toryism. To do that the Government will need to get Brexit done and Innovate like Israel.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Nick Hargrave: Wanted. A Too Difficult Department to help tackle intractable post-election problems.

Nick Hargrave is a former Downing Street special adviser, where he worked under both David Cameron and Theresa May. He now works at Portland, the communications consultancy.

There is always a tendency in politics to over-correct from the last big mistake. That is certainly the case in Conservative politics when it comes to the art of preparing manifestos.

It is commonly held that the 2017 Conservative Manifesto was a sub-optimal political product – where unpopular and untested policies were unleashed on an unsuspecting electorate. This, so the argument goes, is the reason why the Conservative Party blew a massive poll lead and Jeremy Corbyn came within a sniff of high office.

Learning from this experience, Tory staffers will be leaving nothing to chance this time. A robust political stress-testing operation will dominate the 2019 manifesto process. The signature policies will be focus-grouped within an inch of their life. Hardened and cynical characters from the party’s research department will draw up long lists of difficult questions; these attacks will in turn be tested in focus groups. Anything that goes down badly in Bishop Auckland and Crawley will be noted down in red pen. Safety first will be the overwhelming mantra of the day.

I would argue, however, that there is a danger in over-correcting too much. The 2017 manifesto in its totality was bad politics and an unforced error. However, commentators have over-simplified why it went down so badly. It was not just because the infamous social care policy – the so called ‘dementia tax’ – was unpopular.

Part of the problem with the social care debacle was that it came out of nowhere; difficult issues need time to breath and be socialised.

There is also a convincing argument that Theresa May’s weak and wobbly defence of the u-turn – ‘nothing has changed’ – did as much damage to her proposition at that election as the policy itself.

And it should not be forgotten either that a further deficiency of the 2017 manifesto was its lack of retail friendly, sunny measures to balance the more difficult choices the country faced.

Looking further back in history, there is good evidence that voters will back politicians advancing difficult arguments if they are convinced that they will be competent in their delivery and well-motivated in their values.

This is the test of leadership. Margaret Thatcher’s ambitious privatisations are held up nowadays as a vote-winning policy that spoke to a bracing desire for 1980s-style freedom. In reality, privatisation was more contested and controversial; IPSOS Mori found in 1989 that it was the third most unpopular policy of her tenure behind the poll tax and funding of the NHS. The Conservative commitment to continued deficit reduction in the successful 2015 campaign could be viewed through a similar prism.

At this election, I am not suggesting that the Conservative Party should deliberately court unpopularity. Nor, with a month to go, am I saying that it would be electorally wise to mic drop a wealth tax or breaking up the NHS into the national conversation.

But I am arguing that there is some limited space for radical candour with the electorate on the difficult choices facing the country in the 2020s. If the party fails to signpost these choices at all in its manifesto, then it will find it more difficult to govern than would otherwise be the case. The country will also be badly served given the importance of some of the decisions ahead.

Given the political realities, my preference would be for the manifesto to commit on its back page to a new unit in government under the responsibility of the First Secretary of State. If you wanted to capture attention you could call it the “The Too Difficult Department”. If you wanted to be sober, you could call it the Long-Term Challenges Unit working out of the Cabinet Office. There will already be civil servants whose job it is to think about these things; but it should be the defined responsibility of elected ministers.

The new creation would be founded with the overarching principle that there are some debates our country needs to have but are too controversial and politically explosive to move immediately. I can sort of see Boris Johnson making this case with a unique blend of gravity and humour.

This institution would not deliver any change over the course of five years. Its role would be to think and – more critically – communicate. It would be a focal point for these difficult debates to progress at a controlled pace; probably drawing in citizens’ assemblies to help it deliberate. The conclusion of those debates should in turn form the bedrock of the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the putative election in 2025. Too far in the future some might say – but politics is the art of the possible.

I would in turn isolate this down to five politically difficult issues:

  • How to fund public services given the pressures of an ageing society and ever-increasing consumer expectations. In the near term, the IFS estimate that the NHS will account for almost 40 per cent of all public spending by 2023/24. By the second half of the twenty-first century, the OBR estimate that our debt profile is likely to balloon to eye watering levels well beyond our GDP.
  • Whether increasing inequality of outcomes over the last 40 years – under successive governments – is tolerable or something that needs to be addressed. This is really what drove Brexit. Addressing this will be far less about our future relationship with the Customs Union and far more whether we are willing to have difficult conversations about the taxation of wealth and property.
  • Decarbonisation and whether we are really serious about transitioning to net-zero carbon emissions– which will probably have to involve road charging, eating less meat and linking environmental behaviour to corporate and personal tax rates.
  • The long-term view on automation and what needs to be done to make the most of its disruptive effects – including whether we should incentivise urbanisation in cities as an overriding policy priority.
  • Consideration of whether new global institutions where we pool our sovereignty are needed in order to tackle new macro challenges such as the impact of technology and tax avoidance.

Manifesto day for the Conservative Party should be primarily designed around the retail package it is offering voters for the next five years. But amongst the barrage of jam today and the promises of an easy life, I would suggest that there is both space and an imperative to look a little beyond. Voters are many things but they are not stupid. A manifesto commitment of a ‘Too Difficult Department’ is unlikely to win the next election for the Conservative Party. But it might just help it retain its reputation as the serious party of government in elections to come.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ryan Bourne: Greta Thunberg and Prince Harry are wrong. Our ingenuity is the earth’s ultimate resource.

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Spare a thought for Prince Harry. By all accounts he is finding it difficult to get out of bed in the mornings, due to “eco-anxiety.” The Sun reports from Botswana that he believes “everything is good in the world except for us humans.” He’s not the only one struggling. At the UN recently, Greta Thunberg was visibly shaken as she denounced the people who had stolen her dreams of a cooler world with “fairytales of eternal economic growth.”

In case it wasn’t clear before, more radical parts of the “green movement” hold a consistent preconception: that human beings and our innate desire for betterment are the problem where environmental issues are concerned. We are destroying the planet, devouring its finite resources through selfish fertility and consumption decisions, while pumping greenhouse gases into its atmosphere. “A plague on the earth,” is how David Attenborough once kindly described us.

The high priest of this worldview was Paul Ehrlich, who coined the oft-repeated assertion that “you can’t go on growing forever on a finite planet.” Prince Charles agrees. Earth simply can’t sustain us if more and more people aspire to Western consumption levels, he says. To save the planet therefore requires curbing population growth, rowing back substantially on consumption (so-called degrowth), or both. Little surprise then that contemporary climate change “solutions” from radical environmentalists include economically destructive, rapid carbon mitigation (“Bring on the recession!” as George Monbiot once said) or curbing global population growth.

Yet there’s a big problem here: Ehrlich and Prince Charles’ analysis was and is wrong. Population growth doesn’t “use up” the earth’s finite resources and economic growth possibilities are not finite. That’s because technologies and human ideas are not fixed. Resource constraint worriers ignore that humans adapt, dream up efficiencies, and change behaviours. As countries become much richer, they become better placed, and more willing to, care for the environment. Even on climate change, a classic “externality” problem, it is the same innovative spirit that drives economic progress that will deliver any transition or adaptation to a lower carbon economy and warmer world.

Consider the evidence. If growth in population or consumption were simply about running down scarce resources, we’d expect commodity prices to continuously rise with population or economic growth. Yet from 1980 to 2017, when the world’s population shot up by nearly 70 per cent, prices of a basket of 50 important commodities actually fell by an average of 36 per cent (or 65 per cent, if instead you consider the reduction in time an average human had to work to purchase them).

Population and consumption growth might put pressure on resource availability for any given level of technology or set of demands. But human innovation means, over time, we devise better ideas and forms of technology to access or convert those resources, or shift to other alternatives when prices rise. In the race between the human brain and resource scarcity, we are winning. As my colleague Marian Tupy has said: “the Earth’s atoms may be fixed, but the possible combinations of those atoms are infinite.”

As counterintuitive as it sounds, that same innovation means economic growth doesn’t necessitate more and more resource use either. Greens think of growth as about consuming “stuff.” And for good reason: during and after the industrial revolution, GDP growth really did go hand in hand with energy use growth. But in a service and high productivity world, production and value clearly arises from doing more with less too. The iPhone in your pocket has replaced a clock, diaries, calendars, letters, calculators, photo albums, large telephones, trips to the bank, compasses, a contact book, and much else. Think of all the resources saved! No wonder Ronald Reagan once said “there are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination and wonder.”

Again, the distinction between a static and dynamic world is crucial when considering the environmental impact of this. As Tim Harford explains, if we were all suddenly a fair bit poorer, we’d probably substitute a hat and coat for heating in our homes. But this doesn’t mean that if our incomes trebled over the next five decades, we’d crank up the heating and boil ourselves in our homes. In fact, as we’ve got richer over the last quarter of a century, total energy use per person has actually been falling in countries such as the US and UK, even beyond that accounted for by offshoring of manufacturing.

This is one good example of how economic growth helps shift us up the hierarchy of needs. As advanced countries have solved problems of food, warmth, and shelter, people can afford to worry more about the natural world around them more broadly too. Recent global growth has gone hand-in-hand with the forested area of the planet increasing since 1982 and a continuous fall in fertility, in part because wealthier people want to invest more in the “quality” of their children.

In this light, Prince Harry and Greta’s eco-anxiety is a clear sign of privilege. Neither is having to scramble to illegally chop trees for money to survive, overhunt wild animals as a source of a nutritious diet, or spend half their adult lives pregnant to ensure at least a couple of their kids survive. Many around the world aren’t so lucky, or comfortable enough to put the environment first. A UN poll of 10 million people around the globe showed far more worry about their educational opportunities or whether their kids are starving or dying from disease.

Once you understand this: what growth is, how it is driven by human innovation, and what consequences it has, you see how futile and damaging an “anti-human” approach to global climate change would be. Drastic mitigation would condemn much of humanity to poorer lives, making us worse environmental stewards in other regards and facing much worse consequences of any warming that occurs. Authoritarian population controls would backfire too, reducing the potential market and payoffs for innovators developing climate change remedies in everything from electric cars to solar panels.

No, the only sustainable, credible route to reducing carbon emissions and adapting to warming will come precisely from the sorts of innovation driving the “fairytales” Thunberg bemoans. Acknowledging this does not preclude modest, economically reasonable policies, such as R&D investments, or even a degree of carbon pricing, to speed up and incentivise innovation and entrepreneurship on low carbon climate solutions. What it does rule out is drastically rowing back on our activities, freedoms, or desires for children.

If Prince Harry is to regain his morning sprightliness, he’ll have to find more faith in economic growth and innovation to the challenges that face us. Human ingenuity, far from being a burden, is the world’s most important resource.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Adam Honeysett-Watts: After three years of gloom under May, it’s time for fun with Johnson

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector. 

Before this leadership election got underway, I wrote that the next leader must be able to tell the Tory story – of aspiration and opportunity – and identified Boris Johnson as the person best-positioned to do that.

Having previously supported David Cameron and then Theresa May, I like to think I back winners – at least, in terms of those who reach the top. That said, while the former will be remembered for rescuing the economy – while giving people the power to marry who they love and an overdue say on Europe – the latter, much to my disappointment, has no real legacy. Johnson should avoid repeating that mistake.

His final column for the Daily Telegraph, ‘Britain must fire-up its sense of mission’, was jam-packed with the kind of Merry England* (or Merry UK) optimism that we experienced during the Cricket World Cup and that the whole country needs right now: “They went to the Moon 50 years ago. Surely today we can solve the logistical issues of the Irish border”. Quite right.

You’ve guessed it, I’m chuffed that Conservative MPs, media and members supported Johnson’s bid to become our Prime Minister. I’m looking forward to May handing him the keys to Number Ten and him batting for us after three, long years of doom and gloom. Sure, optimism isn’t everything – but it can set the tone. A detailed vision must be articulated and executed by a sound team.

Whichever side you were on before the referendum (or are on now), in the short term, we need to redefine our purpose, move forward with our global partners, unite the UK – and defeat Corbynism.

Mid-term, we should invest further in our national security and technology, improving education and life chances and encouraging greater participation in culture and sport, as well as boosting home ownership. Plus the odd tax cut here and there would be well-advised.

However, we must not put off having debates – for fear of offending – about controlling immigration and legalising drugs, and about funding for health and social care, as well as protecting the environment, for these issues matter and will matter even more in the future.

We should also avoid the temptation to ban political expression, alternative media and sugary foods, and celebrate instead free speech, press freedom and the right to choose.

Again, I look forward to Johnson peddling optimism and hope that people get behind him, because, ultimately, he will write our next chapter – and if we jump onboard and provide support, much more can be achieved by us all working together.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Chloe Westley: Pursuing happiness doesn’t guarantee finding it

Chloe Westley is the Campaign Manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

How would you measure happiness? Epicurus would say you can measure happiness by the absence of pain. Aristotle would argue that happiness was more to do with flourishing as a human being should, by pursuing virtues and obtaining a good character. Other philosophers, such as Kant, argue that happiness is not necessarily something worth chasing at all, as we’re not really capable of knowing what will or won’t make us happy. For me, happiness is time spent with children, dogs, and people that I love. Maybe that’s your definition of happiness too.

But it’s difficult to find a full proof definition of what happiness consists of, or how we should measure it. I’ve been pondering this question since I heard that New Zealand will now be adopting a ‘well-being’ budget that will measure progress based on the happiness of citizens as opposed to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Jacinda Ardern has pledged to make New Zealand a country where ‘“success is measured not only by the nation’s GDP but by better lives lived by its people.”

Well, yes, obviously. Nobody disagrees that the whole point of policy making – and indeed of politics – is to try and make people happy. (We’d be in serious trouble if monetary policy was driven by a desire to make things worse for people.) The prosperity of a population is always the consideration for policy makers. Labelling this a ‘well-being budget’ strikes me as simply a marketing gimmick to distract from the fact that, in New Zealand, Labour have failed on all of their major policy planks, and have ironically abandoned the previous Government’s social investment scheme, which was aimed at improving well being.

But the progressive world rejoiced, and hailed this as a step in the right direction. Many on the Left view economic growth as an overrated metric which distracts from the real problems that people face. The Prime Minister’s statement implies that there isn’t a connection between well being and economic prosperity, and that by focusing on economic growth instead of well being, people in New Zealand were suffering.

But far from making people miserable, economic growth is what lifts a country out of poverty and improves living standards. And whilst we do find it nearly impossible to find a universal definition of happiness, having your basic needs met as a human being is surely a prerequisite. I struggle to conceive of being as happy or fulfilled living in the Soviet Union and seeing family starve due to food shortages, or having to queue for hours to receive basic necessities in socialist Venezuela.

Whilst it’s true that ‘money can’t buy happiness’, it’s also the case that capitalism has radically improved our living standards and well being. In authoritarian countries in which the state has a monopoly on industry, progress comes to a halt. But when individuals are able to compete with each other for business, products and services are radically improved, as the greatest minds collaborate to invent even better ways of doing things.

Advancements driven by capitalism in healthcare and medicine have resulted in huge increases to life expectancy around the world. In the last 80 years, life expectancy has doubled in the United Kingdom, and child mortality rates are falling globally (sadly, Venezuela is an exception to this trend).

In less economically developed countries, child labour is more common, but in countries such as the UK, which have embraced capitalism, children are spending more time in education. If you’re looking for more evidence of how free markets and capitalism have improved our way of life, this article by my colleague Ben Ramanauskas goes into great detail.

Of course living longer is not necessarily an indicator of happiness. But if, like me, the thing that makes you happiest in this world is spending time with the people (and dogs!) you love, then living in a country with an advanced economy with longer life expectancy and better healthcare is of paramount importance, as well as the amount of leisure time you have available.

Technology has been both a blessing and a curse in that respect. Whilst automation has enabled us to spend less time on manual tasks, smart phones and email correspondence means that many of us are working more in our free time. I’d be interested to read a more detailed report on working habits as a result of recent technology. But looking at the general trends over the last 100 years, its estimated that the hours worked over the course of a lifetime in Britain have declined by an average of 41 per cent since 1856. Whilst this may differ across various professions, this means the average Brit has more time to spend with friends, family, and exploring non-work related interests.

It’s important to note that economic growth alone cannot provide the conditions for a flourishing society and happy population. For example, the rule of law, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and a respect for the rights of the individual have all contributed to the huge improvements to living standards in the Western world. But the reason we are living in relative paradise compared to other countries and to previous generations is because capitalism and trade have super-charged human progress and technology.

Whilst the Government is not solely responsible for your happiness, there is a role for policy makers to allow for the conditions which will best enable you to pursue your own happiness. If those who govern declare that economic growth is no longer a priority, and adopt an anti-growth, anti-business and interventionist agenda in the name of ‘promoting well-being’, then they may find they achieve the exact opposite of what they set out to do.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

George Freeman: Our new book. In which forty Tory MPs band together to help revive conservatism

George Freeman is the founder of the 2020 Conservatives Group, the Big Tent Ideas Festival and Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum. He is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

The Conservative Party is in a hole. We need to stop digging. And start thinking seriously about the real causes of the EU referendum result, the grievances it spoke to – and set out a plan to honour that referendum result by leaving the European Union and setting out a bold programme of domestic reforms.

The EU referendum was a massive vote to reject the political status quo and embrace radical, small c conservative reform. The 17.4 million Labour, Conservative and unaligned voters who voted Leave were voting for radical change. The genius of the Leave campaign was its call to “take back control”. It spoke powerfully to huge swathes of the country feeling marginalised by a potent mix of globalisation, post-Crash austerity, an influx of low paid labour from Eastern Europe, the decline of traditional market towns and high streets, fear of economic marginalisation from automation and the gig economy and a deepening despair at a sense of injustice at the gap between the “unaccountable elites” and the ordinary citizen.

Brexit spoke to – and has enshrined – the principle divide in Britain which is no longer between Left or Right, or North and South, but between those with comfortable lives and those on the margin.

This is hardly surprising. After eight years in office overseeing painful local public spending cuts, in the wake of the £700billon bank bailout, MPs expenses scandal and Blair’s dishonest Iraq war dossier which have entrenched a sense of Parliament dangerously detached from the people it serves, the Brexit referendum was a roar for reform. A number of us had been warning David Cameron and George Osborne it was coming.

Handled properly it could – and should – have been a catalyst for that most difficult of political challenges: renewal in office. But Cameron misjudged the mood and treated Leavers with contempt. Theresa May misjudged the mood as a mandate for a toxic combination of hardline anti-business UKIP rhetoric and bureaucratic Brexit bungling.

Now we choose a new leader in the teeth of a deepening public anger and pressure – whipped up by Farage and Banks – the Dick Dastardly and Mutley of British politics – to embrace the “kamikaze” approach of an anti-business No Deal Brexit.

Get this wrong, and we risk the destruction of the Conservative Party for a generation: losing our professional, business, metropolitan and liberal supporters to the Liberal Democrats, our Leave supporters to the Brexit Party and those who just want competence in office to stay at home in despair.

If we are to avoid gifting a broken Brexit Britain to Jeremy Corbyn, John Mcdonnell and Len McClusky, the next Conservative leader has to do three things:

  • Deliver an EU Withdrawal which a majority of moderate mainstream British voters in the centre ground can support
  • Embark on some bold domestic reforms to tackle the legitimate grievances which fuelled the Referendum vote
  • Restore some grip, vision, inspiration and unity to a divided country and Party.

The scale of the revolt against the status quo demands bold reform. Not the technocratic tinkering and endless self-congratulatory initiative-launching of Ministers looking busy on Instragram, but real reform.

This is a 1975, 1945, 1905 moment of profound disruption. The old order will be replaced by a new order. The only question is who will shape it? Can the Conservative Party make this a moment of bold and inspiring renewal in the same way that Mrs Thatcher and Keith Joseph did in 1975, Attlee, Churchill, Beveridge and Butler did in 1945, and Churchill and the Liberals did in 1905 to see of socialism by creating pensions and national insurance?

Too often, we forget that the great institutions we cherish as permanent were once mere ideas – whether the NHS, the BBC, the London Docklands, universal suffrage, the Right to Buy or the privatisation of the old state industries. They were bold ideas which reshaped a whole generation and quickly became permanent fixtures.

When was the last time any modern politician had an idea on the scale of any of these? We now face a genuine battle of ideas with a resurgent hard left and we need urgently to rediscover the power of political imagination.

So what would a bold programme of Conservative reform look like today? In our book Britain Beyond Brexit: a New Conservative Vision for a New Generation, published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, I and forty MPs from all sides of the party – Leave and Remain, North and South, left and right, urban and rural – have set out a collection of pieces to frame that programme.

Our book sets out a range of policy proposals across six defining themes we believe must be at the centre of a coherent and compelling narrative for the New Conservatism: identity, opportunity, enterprise, social justice, security and citizenship.

Of course, many may ask: is the Conservative Party capable of that task, amid the seemingly endless and deepening divisions of the Brexit civil war?

The successes and failures of a post-Brexit new conservatism will be based on understanding the profound societal, economic and technological changes coming at us. Not how we return to the old dividing lines of the 1980s or 1950s, but how we address the profound challenges of our age: issues such as globalisation, digitalisation, genetic engineering, sustainable development, religious extremism and the traumatic rupture of the crash and its legacy on our public finances.

We have got to be brave enough to tackle the big issues of the day. Low and fragile growth. A fragmented health and care system. Structural deficit. Intergenerational unfairness. Deepening anxiety, disillusionment and despair. Rising pressure on weary public servants in creaking public services. Stubborn ghettos of low aspiration and deprivation. Housing unaffordability, homelessness and small town decline. Sluggish infrastructure. Bad planning.

For our elderly – and the families and community of carers who look after them, we need a fair system of funding and providing elderly care. For the young, the urgent priority is addressing housing and the wider issue of economic disenfranchisement. Put simply, we’ve built an economy where the principal mechanism for building economic security – owning a home – is getting beyond the reach of all but the most privileged. Is it any wonder that a whole generation of millennial voters – with little or no chance of acquiring a house or any capital – are seduced by the rhetoric of anti-capitalism?

We face a genuinely historic challenge: are we going to make Brexit a moment of catalytic renewal of conservatism and our nation? Or a moment of annihilation by a new alignment of a new generation of voters?

To avoid a decade of decline in a post-Brexit Britain run by Corbyn, we urgently need a new conservatism for a new generation.

I hope our book will help light the way.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Bob Seely: Saving Britain billions. Ideas for the contenders in this leadership contest.

Bob Seely is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for the Isle of Wight.

Throughout this coming week, the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership launch their campaigns in earnest.

Whoever wins faces a massive challenge. Not only do we have to deliver Brexit – and until we do Britons won’t listen to us on anything else – but we also need to introduce a raft of domestic and foreign policies to renew us in office.

We badly need new ideas and new projects , some of which will need new cash. We also need to cut taxes. To help with the coming battle for ideas, and to support Liz Truss’ work on the spending review, here below are ideas to save between £50-100 billion. That figure doesn’t include the £39bn from a nodeal Brexit.

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First, some basic facts. Government spending made up 38.5 per cent of GDP in 2017-2018. Departmental budgets set by spending review (DEL) amounted to £358.4 billion in 2017-2018, but the total departmental expenditure, including spending which is difficult to predict, manage or forecast (AME) was £812.9 billion in 2017-2018. Of that, £734.9bn was spent on services.

So where could we save money?

High speed rail

First, scrap the planned High Speed Rail link – HS2 – and save £50-100 billion. HS2 initially cost £33.4 billion, then rose to £42.6 billionIt is now costed at £56 billion. One government-commissioned estimate suggests it could total a breath-taking £403 million per mile. The Institute of Economic Affairs estimates the real cost to be £80 billion, and even that may be too little.

Terry Morgan, former chair of HS2 Ltd, told the Lords “everybody has their own guesstimate” of cost and “nobody knows, actually, the number”. Doug Thornton, HS2’s former Land and Property Director, has said the valuation of properties along the route was “enormously wrong”The National Audit Office found that the estimated net cost to acquire land and property for Phase One was £1,120 million in 2012 (2011 prices) ,but £4,316 million was budgeted at the 2015 spending review (2015 prices). Every honest review has considered it bad return for the taxpayer. The Lords’ respected Economic Affairs Committee has suggested delaying HS2. Let’s bite the bullet and bin this white elephant.

As with all the ideas here, the money could be better used by giving it back to taxpayers in the form of tax cuts, or supporting local and regional infrastructure projects to counter London’s domination of infrastructure spending, or to right the injustice faced by female pensioners – the so-called WASPI women. Alternatively, the next Conservative Government could pledge to ensure fibretopremises broadband nationwide to deliver near unlimited broadband speeds.

The farce of HS2 highlights a wider issue; UK public projects cost much more than in other countries – construction cost per mile of HS2 maybe as much as nine times that of its French equivalentMegaprojects run over-budget and over-time – time after time.

Cost overruns for the Channel Tunnel were 80 percent and for the National Health Service IT System up to 700 percent. The Scottish Parliament was estimated to cost between £10 and £40 million. It cost £414 million and was delivered three years late. An excellent study by the Taxpayers Alliance found that 57 per cent of over 300 public schemes overran by an average of 33.7 per centAnother study in 2009 found total net overrun on 240 projects was more than £19 billion. Even by Government standards, these are eye-watering sums. Running public projects to time and budget would allow us to slash taxes and still leave billions for education, policing or defence.

Overseas aid

Second, reallocate the 0.7 percent legally defined amount that the UK needs to spend on overseas aid. Many traditional Labour and Conservative voters alike are losing faith with this figure.

Why? Because we now spend more on overseas aid than we do on policing. To keep public support for overseas aid, which is important, and to integrate our overseas policy, we need to change the definition of aid to give us more flexibility in how we spend, as I outlined in a Henry Jackson Society study six months ago.

We should continue and even increase the basic lifesaving and humanitarian development aid that we are rightly proud of. But there are other elements of the £14.5 billion aid bill that we can re-allocate to provide much-needed support to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office(FCO), Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Department for International Trade (DIT). The DfID money should fund:

  • The BBC World Service TV and Radio, tasking it with becoming the global broadcaster of integrity to counter the propaganda output of authoritarian states such as Russia and China.
  • Minstry of Defence peacekeeping operation.
  • Some of the Department of International Trade’s work, especially where that trade represents a moral as well as economic good, such as providing new and greener technologies for developing nations.

Whilst the above doesn’t offer money back to the Treasury, ieffectively gives a spending boost of £85 million to the FCO, £269 million to our Armed Forces and tens of millions to our trade missionswithout having to raise taxes or borrowing. In addition, £254 million for the World Service that comes from the licence fee can be returned to taxpayers or reinvested in the service.

Health and social care

Third, integrate health and social care with local government. This has a potential for big efficiency savings, allowing money to frontline services rather than bureaucracy.

Attempts to make this idea work so far have floundered. The Better Care Fund was intended to save £511 million for departments and partners in the first year. It failedNevertheless, the idea is a valid, one and the council in my constituency of the Isle of Wight is hoping to win Government support to set up a pilot scheme.

In an increasingly complex world integration, be it in overseasspending, or public servicesintegration is key to efficiency and delivery. Artificial Intelligence, tele-medicine and better use of big data will support this, especially in more isolated communities such as the Island.

Cut corporation tax

Fourth, cut tax to raise more in revenue. The principle is a sound one – we cut top rate tax in the 1980s and dramatically increased the tax take.

Slash rates of corporation tax to 12.5 per cent.  Britain has been willing to give the fiscal firepower to “pull every lever we’ve got” a no-deal BrexitDown from 28 per cent in 2008, Corporation tax will soon be set at 17 per cent, the lowest in the G20 – yet receipts have never been higher at £56.2 billion. Lower corporation tax would increase the demand for labour, which in turn raises wages and increases consumption.

Winter fuel payments

Fitth, there are more difficult areas to cover. For example means test winter fuel payments would not be popular but could save £2 billion a year. Despite being estimated to cost £1,967 million in 2018/19, these were described by the Work and Pensions Committee (114.) as a “blunt instrument” which “gives a cash payment to many households do not need it”.

According to the Social Market Foundation, pensioners, who are by far the wealthiest age group in society, “are likely to save rather than spend the value of the windfall. It asked: “Why should older, wealthier pensioners receive more money than poorer, younger ones?”

An estimate for 2012-13 stated if payments were only made to those in receipt of pension credit, expenditure would only be £600 million in 2012-13 (to nearest £100 million). Surely it is better to spend the money on increasing the basic state pension, or increasing the amount that poorer pensioners receive, than giving it to those need is less.

Street and motorway lighting

Next, there are smaller but no less valuable schemes that we could champion. For example, do we need to keep streetlighting on overnight in rural areasThere’s no link between having lights off or dimmed and an increase in crime. Do motorways lights have to be on throughout the night? On the Isle of Wightwe can vary our lighting from a central point. That has the potential to save tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum.

Roadside verges

Next, why don’t we cut roadside verges less. They represent a natural habitat for wildlife, but often the way they are cut today during flowering season kills wildflowers and replaces them with thick grass which need more cutting. There are parts of verges, in roundabouts, on curves, which will need very regular cutting, but if we adopted verge cutting to encourage wildflowers and pollinators such as bees, we would beautify roadsides AND save moneyDorset saved £93,000 by ‘greening’ their verge cutting, and Monmouthshire County Council estimates it has saved £35,000 annually from reducing verge mowing. For councils’ up and down the country, every little helps, especially if it has an environmental and quality of life benefit.

Legalising cannabis

Sixth, there are other potential tax streams which have not been examined. Should we examine legalising cannabis, for example, especially weaker strains of it, not only to raise tax but also for reasons linked to mental health and crime reduction.

Colorado, with a population of under six million, raised $247 million in 2017 alone from marijuana tax. One of the most comprehensive studies into legalisation estimates that between £397 million and £871 millio, could be raised annually. A US-style system here could generate up to £2.26 billion a year from tax and fees.

n addition, there is money saved. The Taxpayers Alliance estimates that by legalising cannabis, the UK could save at least £891.7 million a year in reduced spending by police, prisons, courts and the NHS through pain relief treatments. Do we need a Royal Commission on this subject? Should we be treating cannabis, especially in mild form, as yet another sin tax, like smoking and alcohol?

Doing things better

Seventh, we need to do simple things better. There are more prosaic aspects of best practice, such as procurement.

Procurement amounts to around one third of public spending in the UK. In 2016/2017, the UK public sector spent an estimated £355 billion with external suppliers. Efficiencies, such as buying common goods and services on behalf of the whole government, saved £255 million through the Crown Commercial Service and £879 million through specialist commercial expertise.

We need a systematic method of driving procurement best practise across all of Government, from paperclips to tanks, and supporting new, smaller entrants into a market dominated by bigger players who too often bid, take their cut and sub-contract.

Finally, by leaving the EU we will have more power over procurement, buying locally as far as free markets allow. Some organisations believe that EU regulation costs the UK as much as £33.3 billion per year, potentially moreBy taking a common sense attitude to regulation post Brexit, we could save Britain billions.

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These ideas are just a start. Ensuring a Conservative Government after the next General Election requires two things. First, we must deliver on Brexit, second, we need to produce ideas and policies that renew in office.

This is a contribution to the debate. Let’s see what the candidates offer in the week ahead. I wish them well.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alan Mak: Conservatism 4.0 – Four freedoms should define the Conservatives in the digital age

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founding Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

A century after the invention of steam-powered machines in the mid-18th Century, the world’s industrial landscape changed again. The 1870s saw the emergence of new sources of energy – electricity, gas, and oil – heralding the start of a new industrial revolution.

This meant disruption in traditional factories and an upheaval in working conditions. For the first time there was automation in urban workplaces, rather than just a displacement of rural jobs.

It was at this crossroads in our country’s history that Benjamin Disraeli was finally able to articulate his vision for One Nation Conservatism that he had advocated for much of his political career, aiming to unite factory owners and factory workers behind one political message.

His Government achieved domestic reforms that still resonate in the modern context: a Factory Act to protect workers, relaxation of bank loans to give credit to the masses, and the first rights for workers to sue employers in the civil courts.

In less than a decade it was Disraeli’s ‘One Nation’ Conservatism that made the greatest advances in adapting the Party’s policies to the Second Industrial Revolution, swifter than any previous government had been in the 100 years since the First Industrial Revolution.

The lesson that Disraeli gives us modern Conservatives is that we must be bold. In the digital age we should not be afraid to once again re-shape Conservatism, and be radical in response to some of the novel challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, just as we have in the past.

As a Party, and as a country, we need to find solutions to issues such as the market dominance of a small number of tech firms; the ethical questions posed by advances in science and medicine; and changes in workplaces where robots and AI-powered machines will become pervasive.

We also need new messages to fight back against populism and appeal to parts of the electorate that feel they have not had the opportunity to share in the success of our growing economy.

Just as Disraeli enacted his One Nation vision, our next Prime Minister has to help Britain get to the future first by embracing technology to deliver prosperity. Whilst new policies will be needed in response to a dizzying array of new technologies, and a much-changed societal and economic landscape across Britain, four freedoms – four guiding principles – should define our Conservative approach to governing in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (‘4IR’).

1) Economic Freedom

Key to success in any industrial revolution is ensuring continued economic growth. Every government, including future Conservative administrations, should always work to raise living standards, create jobs, and spread the benefits of globalisation, of which the 4IR is just the latest and fastest phase.

We need to ensure the UK remains a country where businesses thrive. The success of the ‘Big Bang’ in the 1980s was due to Thatcher’s willingness to deregulate and allow innovation to flourish, and we must adopt the same approach to innovation in the 4IR.

We need to have world-class digital infrastructure, as important today as the canals and viaducts of previous industrial revolutions. The groundwork has already begun – we have started to build regional tech hubs, and the roll-out of full fibre broadband and 5G is underway – but this coverage needs to be comprehensive across the country and delivered more rapidly.

Our competitors certainly aren’t wasting time. For example, Singapore has developed a clear strategy to take advantage of the 4IR leveraging open cross-border data flows, 22 transnational free trade agreements, and a strong ethos of policymaking in collaboration with the private sector, all whilst building one of the most tech-savvy workforces on the planet.

Conservatism 4.0 should prioritise the key infrastructure and skills necessary to give our people and businesses the freedom to flourish in the new economy. There is no reason why Britain should fall behind given everything we have going for us.

2) Personal Freedom

Whilst Singapore enjoys undisputed economic success, the country is listed by the Economist Intelligence Unit as a flawed democracy. In pursuing rapid economic growth in the 4IR, we must not allow technology to be used as a tool to erode our cherished freedoms and democracy, nurtured over hundreds of years.

With artificial intelligence and growing inter-connectivity through the Internet of Things, protecting our personal freedoms is key and the second important principle underpinning Conservatism 4.0.

Smart speakers are now recording in our homes and apps track our every movement. In the wrong hands, this information could damage or endanger people – so we must be on the side of the consumer and the citizen when it comes to protecting this data.

We should be delivering a smart state – not big government. A willingness to intervene to prevent social breakdowns is legitimate, but as a Party we should recognise that as far as possible people should be free to make their own choices.

The internet, initially seen as a place to share knowledge free from government control, is becoming ever more closely scrutinised. We need to be clear to what extent the Government can and should be regulating our online lives – and it is a debate that has be conducted in the open.

A new generation of tech-savvy politicians will bring fresh ideas and thoughts to that debate. But ultimately, we should be cautious about curtailing free-speech and content online. China’s online oversight of its citizens’ private lives would never be tolerated in this country. But we need to recognise the power that new technology can have in the hands of big tech firms or over-mighty governments. Our Data Protection Act, passed last year, was a positive reform that gave power back to the consumer.

Just as the White Paper on Online Harms has opened up discussion on what content should be available online, a debate has to take place in other similar areas too. But any future Conservative legislation should always place weight on individual liberty and freedom if we are to make Conservatism 4.0 work in the digital world.

3) Innovation Freedom

Conservatives should always be the Party that backs innovation and favours new technologies. We must be dynamic and digital – and unlike Labour, we shouldn’t tax robots or ban popular disruptive services such as Uber.

We should be focused on creating the most pro-tech business environment in the world, and that means being unafraid of cutting corporation tax to make our country investment-friendly whilst giving our home-grown talent a positive tax environment in which to succeed. With our world-leading universities we can create more world-leading British tech-firms in the coming decade, replicating the entrepreneurial spirit that exists in Silicon Valley.

To be on the side of the entrepreneur we need protection for innovators that fail first time round. In America, tech entrepreneurs can wear failure as a badge of pride. Here they might be less well celebrated for their efforts.

Conservatism 4.0 has to be about creating an environment where innovators are given space to flourish – and that includes the right tax environment, regulations that allow innovation and experimentation, and a more supportive culture for those that take a risk. Freedom to innovate for companies and individuals is key to Conservatism 4.0’s ambition for more entrepreneurs and more new businesses.

4) Democratic Freedom

Democracy should always be our most treasured freedom. But in the digital age, we need to think about how we can renew and engage citizens in the democratic process.

Across the world we see the power of technology propelling populists on both the left and right, often focusing their attention on people who feel disenfranchised from politics and ignored by incumbent decision-makers.

Conservatism 4.0 should be about giving people more opportunities to engage with those in power through technology. But to truly renew our democracy for the 4IR, citizens must be free to use technology to engage more deeply with the political process.

In Spain, one of Madrid’s most successful projects is the Decide Madrid platform. It allows residents to propose, support and vote on policies for the city. So far more than €260m has been allocated to over 800 projects, from new nurseries to solar panels on city buildings.

Meanwhile in Taiwan, there is a digital system in place to bring together citizens and government to collaborate on legislation relating to new technologies. Issues such as the regulation of drones, Uber, the online sale of alcohol and revenge porn have all been debated.

While not every issue is suitable for these kinds of projects, digital platforms can be used to enhance our democracy especially when considering local issues or the challenges faced by technology.

Democracy is a freedom we should never relinquish. But in order to ensure it isn’t assailed by populists we need to look to technology – not as a problem, but as a way to enhance and invigorate democracy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

In the same way that Disraeli set out a compelling and unifying political brand that refused to differentiate between classes, Conservatism 4.0 is about bringing together a country much changed by technology based on four freedoms that benefit everyone. Businesses free to trade and disrupt existing markets, citizens free to live their private lives, innovators free to develop new ideas, and democracy renewed by citizens free to participate more meaningfully.

By adapting Conservatism for the Fourth Industrial Revolution our Party can maintain its ability to govern for the whole country, acting as an antidote to populists that want to throw-up barriers to the world and socialists that believe in a state-controlled economy.

Conservatives have always believed in freedom, and by adapting our approach for the new social and economic landscape shaped by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we can make it our rallying cry for continued electoral success in the digital age.

This article is the last in a three-part series explaining why adapting to a society and economy shaped by technology is key.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alan Mak: Conservatism 4.0 – We must ensure that no-one is left behind by the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founding Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Stanley Baldwin said the Conservative Party stood for “real England” – a Party defined by voluntary organisations and Christian patriotism, little platoons and big national causes.

His Conservative Party of the 1920s faced an upstart opposition in a Labour Party that had usurped the Liberals to become the second party of British politics. Outlining the growing threat from Labour, Baldwin described them as being for a nation of class divisions and over-mighty trade unions.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has come full circle and is once again challenging the success and legitimacy of our free-market economy.

A century on from Baldwin, and despite being the natural party of government, our Party has often struggled to break out from its vote base of shire counties and market towns. It’s over 30 years since we won a majority of over 21 at a general election.

But there are signs of change. Our electoral success in recent years has been driven by securing more votes in Labour’s industrial heartlands. Dudley, Mansfield, Copeland and Teesside have all elected Conservatives in recent years, whilst the West Midlands and Tees Valley have elected Conservative Mayors on a region-wide basis.

This Conservative momentum in areas once dominated by trade unions and the Old Left shows that our message of hope, personal freedom and low taxation can re-define our path to a majority.

Yet our progress in these Labour heartlands is not concrete and shouldn’t be taken for granted. A pro-Leave electorate that has trusted another party for so long will be looking to the Conservatives to not only deliver Brexit, but ensure they are not left behind by the next big technological revolution either. As I said in yesterday’s article, this commitment must be a central tenant of Conservatism 4.0 – Conservative ideology for the Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR].

The last time our country went through a technological revolution we had a strong leader with a firm ideology. The computing revolution of the 1980s powered Britain to economic success – and political success for Thatcherism. Through deregulation and an unwavering belief in the free market, the City of London prospered from the Big Bang, and our economy was transformed into a services-based powerhouse. From the stuttering, strike-crippled, state-dominated closed market that Thatcher inherited, the foundations were laid for rapid economic growth and the business-friendly, pro-innovation environment we enjoy today.

Our next Leader will also find themselves at an inflection point. They will have to harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as artificial intelligence, big data and automation change our economy and society beyond recognition – and ensure that every community and region benefits from the wealth that it creates. Whilst Margaret Thatcher’s transformation of Britain’s economy for the better is undeniable, there are mining and industrial communities who felt they were left behind as other parts of the country raced ahead. To win a majority at future elections, today’s Conservatives need to attract working class and northern votes, so we cannot allow the positive impact of the 4IR to be absent from any region or for its benefits to be inaccessible to any social group.

The 4IR will radically change how we work, regardless of sector or industry. Instead of dockers and miners being at risk of automation, in the near future it will be call centre operators, lorry drivers and factory workers. With a path to electoral victory that increasingly runs through industrial towns, every factory closure or job lost to robots without alternatives emerging, will make a majority harder to achieve for our next leader.

That’s the reason why, whilst we still have an opportunity to shape the 4IR, our policies must be focussed on creating an Opportunity Society centred around social mobility powered by lifelong learning, high-quality education and skills training for everyone at every stage of their lives. Our Opportunity Society must be more than just a short-term policy objective. It has to be an integral part of the future of capitalism and a key part of Conservatism 4.0.

As robots slowly replace human workers, many on the radical-left are arguing for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a minimum wage paid by the Government to every citizen regardless of their productive capacity. Every single country that has trialled UBI – from Kenya to Finland – has found it expensive and ineffective. Research by the International Labour Office has estimated that average costs would be equivalent to 20-30 per cent of GDP in most countries. In Britain, this would be more than double the annual budget of the NHS, yet John McDonell says a Corbyn-led Labour Govnement would trial it. These are just two of the reasons why we Conservatives should reject UBI as the solution to growing automation in the 4IR.

The truth is work has always paid, and work for humans will always exist. Work drives our economy, multiplies and makes the world richer. It takes people out of poverty and gives them purpose, and this will continue to be the case in the 4IR. In fact, many more new jobs are likely to be created than are lost to robots because the technology of the 4IR will drive economic growth, which in turn will create new and more interesting jobs, especially in new tech sectors such as advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, precision medicines and AI-powered creative industries.

Not enough is made of our job creation miracle since 2010, which has seen our economy put on three million new jobs. As we enjoy the lowest unemployment rates since the 1970s, we need to re-emphasise the value of work and the benefits to be derived from a good job. A UBI would be defeatist, signifying that humans had ceased to be useful in a world of machines, and be the antithesis of social mobility – there would be no need to work hard to move upwards on the income and living standards scale if we are all paid to stay at the same level. A UBI would also stall our economy through either crippling debt on the public purse or new taxes imposed on innovation. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed Robot Tax would simply mean a left behind country – a nation that fails to attract foreign investment and which becomes known for its anti-innovation approach to technology.

Instead, true devolution must be at the heart of delivering an Opportunity Society and making sure no community or individual is left behind. Our next Prime Minister must invest in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine so regional economic growth is put in the hands of regional leaders. The benefits of the 4IR, from new start-ups to overseas investment, must be enjoyed beyond the “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge. As Juergen Maier who led the Government’s Made Smarter Review, argued, it’s about creating an “innovation climate” in regions such as the North.

We cannot expect the heavy industries of the past to return, but instead our focus should be on ensuring the new technologies of the future are exploited in every area of the country to create new jobs and rising skills levels in every community. The Liverpool City Region understand this, and have already taken the initiative. They have launched LCR 4.0, an ambitious plan to support manufacturing and advanced engineering organisations in the region by funding practical support to transform businesses through digital innovation. By helping traditional manufacturers upgrade their technology, they enable firms to stay in business and keep their workers employed by becoming more productive. Conservatism 4.0 should support more initiatives like this.

Moving towards a system of local business rates retention will also encourage further investment in skills and business support from local authorities as they reap the rewards of encouraging local growth. There should also be more scope for local taxation and decentralisation as a central tenet of Conservatism 4.0 to empower local areas to evaluate their workforces and set-up true long-term strategies for delivering local economic growth, building on the work of existing Local Enterprise Partnerships and new Local Industrial Strategies.

Conservatism has always evolved and must do so again as we enter a new technological age by putting social mobility and reginal devolution centre stage. They are the two key building blocks to ensuring that every community and region can benefit from technology-driven economic growth. While Thatcherism delivered for the Third Industrial Revolution, we need a new brand of Conservatism to build an Opportunity Society for the Fourth. My final article in this series, published tomorrow, will set out the four principles that should guide us as we re-calibrate Conservatism in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This article is the second in a three-part series explaining why adapting to a society and economy shaped by technology is key.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com