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Westlake Legal Group > Social Mobility

Robert Halfon: Under our new leader, we must prize social justice above social mobility

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Compassionate Conservatism courses through the veins of this Party. I know – I speak to colleagues and members every day. From educational attainment to lack of in-work progression. From family breakdown to fragile social care. From addiction to defunct housing. These concerns, and many more that disproportionately affect society’s most disadvantaged individuals, are deeply troubling for us all.

We are the Party of high school standards and aspiration. The Party that introduced the National Living Wage, the Modern Slavery Act, the Pupil Premium. Compassionate Conservatives believe in a strong safety net, but also in a dynamic welfare system that is ambitious for individuals, rather than one that writes them off.

Our Party is the champion of free trade and enterprise – the engine of prosperity for us all. But, we also recognise the state’s vital role in helping disadvantaged individuals overcome adversity so that they, too, can prosper.

All too often, however, our concerns about the most disadvantaged are not reaching the light of day. According to a recent poll by the Centre for Social Justice, just five per cent of low-income voters think the Conservative Party is “compassionate”. 72 per cent say the Party is not concerned about people on low incomes. 52 per cent believe that we “don’t understand what it is like to struggle”. And 57 per cent say Conservatives “only care about the rich”. These are damning statistics, and do not reflect my colleagues’ natural sentiments.

Meanwhile, the Left hoovers up recognition, despite the mirage of its self-declared monopoly on compassion. Take its proposals on welfare, which focus more on parking people on benefits than on encouraging aspiration. Or Corbyn’s plan to scrap tuition fees; an enormously wasteful and regressive measure that would suck precious resources out of the pot – resources that could instead be used to support the most disadvantaged. Or Labour’s misconceived notion that helping poorer individuals can only be achieved by taking down the rich.

It is time Conservatives claim compassion as one of our own. However, we cannot do so until we are clearer about what we mean by this.

Equality of opportunity should be right at the heart of our thinking. The problem, however, is that this has become synonymous with social mobility – a term that has become increasingly fashionable but loses sight of the bigger picture. At its core, social mobility implies the capability to move up the ladder of opportunity. But it is not enough just to focus on this. There are swathes of people who are not even at the foot of the ladder in the first place; people who are so far removed from the mainstream that the idea of progression and self-fulfilment is a distant fog.

If we are serious about creating opportunity for all, Conservatives also need to have an answer for these individuals and can only do so by thinking about social justice. This means addressing all the personal circumstances in somebody’s life that are shackling his or her ability to enjoy the opportunities that exist in society. In addition, we must tackle the things that cause people to crash into poverty, rather than the symptoms: educational failure, worklessness, family breakdown, unmanageable debt, addiction, disability, exposure to crime, poor housing.

If we fail to grasp this, we will fail the Conservative Party’s moral heritage. We will also, almost certainly, demolish our prospects of a working majority in the next general election.

The Centre for Social Justice has calculated that over 1.4 million poorer voters live in the 100 most marginal seats in the country. And in every single one of those seats, these individuals exceed the majority of the standing MP, in many cases by a considerable margin. Put simply, the Conservative Party cannot win the next general election without winning the hearts and minds of society’s most disadvantaged individuals.

The next leader must deliver Brexit, arguably, the most daunting task faced by a post-war Prime Minister. And he must do so swiftly and decisively. But this cannot define his premiership. Brexit was a symptom of a much broader restlessness in our society: the marginalisation of large numbers of people from prosperity. The answer to that is a bold, assertive domestic agenda that has social justice right at its core.

Whatever the outcome of the leadership contest, the victor must stitch together the ripped fabric of our society. He must reach out to those who are stuck on the side lines of prosperity. And he must reignite the compassionate instincts that lie at the heart of this great Party.

To make a start, our future Government should transform the current Social Mobility Commission into a Social Justice Commission, embedded in the heart of Downing Street. They must address all the concerns I have outlined, and more, to make sure Government brings every single person to the ladder of opportunity, not matter who they are, where they come from, or what difficulties they face.

The Commission should produce social justice impact assessments on domestic policy and legislative proposals. They should not only be a means by which negative effects are flagged but should be used to ensure that everything we Conservatives do is positively helping to improve the lives of those who need looking out for most.

As our Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said, delivering Brexit is about more than just leaving the EU. “The hard bit is yet to come. Because we’ve got to reflect why so many people voted the way that they did in the biggest democratic exercise this country has ever seen.”

What comes next is equally important, if not more so, and delivering social justice to all corners of our nation must be a focal part of it.

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 

Scott Mann: Why I am voting for Harper

Scott Mann is MP for North Cornwall.

We cannot afford to make the wrong decision in this leadership election.  We cannot shuffle around a few chairs at the top table and hope that everything will be ok.

We need new thinking and fresh ideas if we are to stand any chance of restoring credibility with our members and the voters at large. There have been many broken promises over the past three years and we need someone who can be trusted to lead.  Mark Harper is the candidate who can offer this.

The first and most vital thing our new leader will have to do is knuckle down and deliver Brexit.  Mark’s clear preference is to get a new deal.  However, both he and I agree that No Deal must not be ruled out, should we be faced with a choice between No Deal and No Brexit.

Mark’s plan to deliver Brexit is the most credible and realistic on offer.  It comes without the baggage of having sat around the Cabinet table during the past three years, going along with the decisions which have left us in the dire situation we face today.  He is also being straight with you – saying that his experience as Chief Whip tells him that those who say it is possible to leave the EU with a new deal by October 31st are setting out ideas which are simply not credible.

The first stage in his plan is to do something that Theresa May and her Cabinet have never actually managed to do – agree a unified negotiating position, and be disciplined enough to stick to collective responsibility afterwards.

Mark’s experience as a respected and effective Chief Whip also demonstrates how he would be able to properly consult the Parliamentary Party and listen to colleagues, not lecture them.  Yes, that will mean getting colleagues who have differing views about Europe into the same room to agree a collective position but, if anyone is up to that task, it’s Mark.

Instead of sanctioning the strategically disastrous talks with Jeremy Corbyn as those in the Cabinet have done, Mark has always been clear that the only way we are going to get a Brexit deal through is on Conservative and DUP votes with, maybe, just a handful of Labour votes on top.

What’s more, Mark’s plan involves doing something that it’s never clear that the current top team ever did – going back to Brussels to open real and transparent discussions to change the backstop.

The next part of his plan involves rebuilding strong relationships with both the Government and opposition in the Republic of Ireland, as well as both communities and all Parties in Northern Ireland.  As Mark saw firsthand when he was Immigration Minister, UK and Irish officials work incredibly closely to combat illegality at the present border, so by getting Stormont up and running, and having a better relationship with Dublin, we can make progress in a way that hasn’t been possible under our current leadership.

The third element of Mark’s Brexit plan would be to establish better relationships with our European partners – I believe Mark has the communication and diplomatic skills required for this task.

Only through this plan can we both change the backstop and protect the UK’s constitutional integrity.  That’s why I, as someone who campaigned for Brexit, and as someone who represents a part of the country that voted for Brexit, trust Mark to get us out of the EU.

However, our next leader doesn’t just have to deliver Brexit: he or she has to put us in a position where we can win the next general election and defeat Jeremy Corbyn, or whoever is leading the Labour Party at that point.

The first order of business would be to re-establish a proper, functioning Government.  All too often, we have seen Cabinet meetings leaking, members of the Government getting away with saying whatever they want and a back bench Parliamentary Party and the wider membership horrified at both a lack of discipline and lack of grip.

Having not been involved in this Government and being a former Chief Whip respected by colleagues across the Party, Mark is a candidate who is capable of transforming the Cabinet back into a serious, decision-making body.

Mark also agrees that our leader needs to be more accountable to the Parliamentary Party (as set out in Greg Hands’ excellent article here) and that colleagues of all shades of blue must be treated with the respect they deserve. We must remember that we are all one team.

On domestic policy, Mark is right when he distils the values of the Conservative Party down into two elements – freedom and opportunity.

Mark believes that people should be in control over their own lives and that their hard work should be rewarded – and that includes keeping their taxes low. You don’t help people with the cost of living by putting their taxes up, and Mark will reduce the tax burden as we tackle the difficult policy questions that we face.

In the same vein, unlike other candidates, Mark will not be spending this leadership contest making lots of eye-catching but unfunded tax and spending commitments. The Conservative Party needs to retain the fiscal credibility it has spent the last nine years regaining and show it believes in sound money and living within your means. Taxpayers work hard to earn their money and politicians have a duty to spend it wisely.

When it comes to opportunity, Mark and I both believe in social mobility and are keen to see more people from our working class, state-schooled backgrounds have the chance to get the best possible start in life and fulfil their potential.

This not only means prioritising the needs of our schools, but also committing to further education and apprenticeships ahead of putting more taxpayers’ money into our already well-funded and successful university sector.

Finally, to touch on a dimension that is important to most colleagues, Mark is the only candidate in this contest who had to win their seat off another Party.  As someone who has done the same in North Cornwall and has seen what an effective election campaigner Mark is in my patch, I trust him to have our back, and make sure we can all keep our seats (and gain some more too).

Mark may be the underdog in this race, but it’s always the underdog that has the best fighting spirit. That spirit is what our Party and our country needs right now.

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

Penny Mordaunt: It’s time for servant leadership that will listen to the people

The author is Secretary of State for Defence, and is MP for Portsmouth North.

So the opening shots of a Conservative leadership contest have been fired against the backdrop of disastrous European election results. In both the Conservative and Labour parties, the post-mortems have begun. There’s general agreement that Brexit (or the lack of it) seems to be cause. But is that the whole story?

For while the main parties argue about Brexit, 25,000 desperately worried steelworkers across the country anxiously wait on news of their jobs. Last week, Panorama revealed how vulnerable disabled and autistic people at Whorlton Hall were being taunted and abused by carers. This was in much the same way as others had been eight years ago in a similar abuse case at Winterbourne View. Overseas, serious tensions are brewing as regional and global powers square off.

Set against this, the public now has to endure a parade of leadership candidates speaking to Westminster, from Westminster, about Westminster. Policy has given way to presentation. A game plan on Brexit, some animated soundbites, and a rallying cry to get better on social media and a fresh face seems to be all that’s required. Policies – or to be more accurate spending commitments – will be announced with little thought or consultation just for something plausible to say on a topic. Policy created in a vacuum never works: just look at the 2017 Conservative general election manifesto.

We’re facing a breakdown of public trust in our politics and our leadership. The compass is spinning, and across the political spectrum tactical presentation has replaced strategic policy. Some members of the same Party are not on speaking terms. One half is appalled at what the other voted for. The other half is appalled that we have not delivered Brexit yet. Others have left to form new political parties.

To blame this division solely on Brexit would be wrong. It was there previously, across many dimensions. It existed between urban and rural areas, men and women, high and low incomes and old and young. Brexit has tracked along these fault lines. The referendum, when it came, promised clarity at least on Europe – a clear mandate to leave. No wonder the British people are so dismayed at the last three years.

The disappointment about Brexit felt by the membership in the Conservative Party is echoed in that of the nation. The people haven’t lost faith in politics. They’ve lost faith in politicians who have lost faith in them. And they are calling for change.

The inadequacy of politics today goes beyond Brexit. It’s much more profound. And it requires Westminster and Whitehall to recognise that the world around them is changing, perhaps more rapidly than they realise.

The public are impatient for reform, yet legislation is achingly slow. We cannot regulate at the speed needed to enable British scientists and entrepreneurs to bring their inventions to market and to be based here. Nor right social wrongs, even when all are agreed it is the right thing to do, even when funding is there, even when the expertise is there, as has been the case with Winterbourne. Successive administrations have failed to facilitate benefits our citizens could have – access to new drugs and treatments. And governments have limited our ambition as a nation by what the Treasury alone can afford, resulting in pilots, roundtables, short-term grants and little real impact.

Political leaders have failed to notice and failed to protect people from failed leadership elsewhere. Corporate leaders have stolen pensions, avoided tax, presided over the collapse of the financial system and sheltered money offshore. Spiritual and charity leaders have covered up sexual abuse. Tech giants who have used our personal information against us and failed to protect the vulnerable. So, it’s no surprise people feel let down by their leaders.

In recent times, our politics has sometimes failed to read – and therefore failed to lead – those it serves. There is little focus on the torn social fabric of the UK.

In our United Kingdom, you can get married or have a civil partnership or access particular healthcare solely dependent on your postcode. Is this how we planned that the massive benefits of devolution – national and local – would make the United Kingdom stronger?

Apart from a string of worthy reports, the major challenges for our country, from social care to social mobility, still largely reside under a thick layer of dust in the “too tough” in-tray. And the focus on the major challenges facing the world, and the inspiration for us all to tackle them, appears not to be driven by brave politicians but by Blue Planet film makers and schoolchildren.

People are so passionate about their country and their communities, and they want to positively affect the world around them. Their frustration comes from the fact that they want to help, they have solutions, ideas and enterprises, but we don’t listen. They want to be part of a team that is working towards the same goals. They want their nation to pull together to deliver on the issues they care about. Instead, we seem to be pulling things apart.

That is how it feels. And how it feels matters. It affects our ambition. It affects what we believe is possible. And it affects our direction as a nation. It must change, and it can change. To be a political leader now, when we need to restore trust, confidence and hope, will take more than the usual tired routine.

And so this leadership contest cannot mirror those of the past. It has to be more than a fight against competing factions. We must articulate national missions that we can all unite around. How do we ensure that every citizen can reach their full potential, access the best healthcare science has discovered, protect the environment, provide social care and living support, and a secure home for all? That is the only way everyone will be able to contribute, to get different sectors to work together and to get real long-term investment. We will only arrive at those missions and the means to deliver them by listening to and being guided by our citizens.

To unlock our nation’s potential requires a different kind of leadership. Britain needs some humility from its leaders, not just from the candidates in this contest, but from us all. We should trust the people with more than just Brexit. It’s time for some servant leadership.

And that starts with listening. So next week, I will host with some of my colleagues what could be the largest live consultation our party has ever undertaken. It will allow views to be expressed on the national missions and how we deliver on them.

If we come together, listen to each other, take on the challenges and embrace the opportunities of our times to enable all that our party and nation has to offer, then there will be nothing we cannot do. To lead, we must listen.

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

“The Conservative Party should stand up for all those who feel powerless in Britain today”- Gibb’s reformist speech

This is the full text of a speech delivered today by Nick Gibb, the schools minister, to the Social Market Foundation.

Thank you, James for that introduction. And thank you to the Social Market Foundation and Edelman for hosting and organising this morning’s event.

The SMF notes prominently on its website, “British politics is in flux”. Well, you can say that again. And after several years serving as a minister and very much sticking to my brief under two prime ministers, I wanted to take this opportunity to draw on my experience at the Department for Education and offer a wider perspective on some of the particular challenges that we face.

And by ‘we’, I mean several groups.

I mean the country…as we face up to testing times and seek to find ways to bring people together after years of rancour and division.

I mean the people who run businesses…as trust in business – and in the economic consensus that sustains it – continues to fall.

I mean the Conservative Party…now so consumed by Brexit that our great successes as a government over the past decade – and all the progress we have made as a country – has been forgotten.

And I mean politics as a whole…because what we know from Edelman’s own research is that trust in – and respect for – our political system is falling. And that creates the space for the populists, with their divisive rhetoric and easy solutions, to fill.

That is what we are witnessing today. Populism is on the march. It threatens to upend not just our political system, but so many of the old certainties on which we have come to rely. And it’s on the march for a simple reason: because mainstream politicians have not done enough to listen – let alone respond – to the priorities and concerns of the people who pay our salaries and give us our jobs.

But my conviction this morning is this: it is not too late to turn things around.

For if there is one thing my time at the Department for Education has taught me it is that if you do the hard work nothing is impossible. If you approach each challenge with what Martin Luther King described as the “fierce urgency of now”, change can happen. And a clearly articulated vision, the drive to make it happen, and the determination to see it through can yield extraordinary results.

That is why I believe so passionately in the capacity of politics and politicians to make a difference – to change lives for the better, which is what we all set out to do. Because I have seen it happen. And it is why I recoil when I hear politicians attacking the political process in this country. There will always be disagreements between parties and politicians. But I believe that politics is a noble calling; that people enter a life in politics with good intent; and that politics at its best can provide the forum in which we settle our differences, overcome divisions, and find the compromises that allow us to all move forward together.

Clearly, this may sound like a romantic view given where we are today.

It is widely accepted that we are in the midst of a political crisis, the like of which few of us has experienced before.

We are witnessing a clash between the twin forces of direct and representative democracy which has unbalanced our system of government and thrown it into a tailspin.

But this clash between the two forms of democracy is – like the issue of Brexit itself – about something even more profound. It is about power. And where we believe power should lie.

As much as anything, Brexit is an argument that says power should reside at the level of the nation-state – not at a supranational level where institutions are often unaccountable and typically all too remote.

The vote to embrace Brexit and to leave the EU was partly about the issue of where political power should lie, but it was also driven in large part by people who felt utterly powerless themselves in the face of macro political, economic and social forces over which they had too little control, or none at all. In other words, Brexit was and is about the assertion of power at every level.

And the determination to deliver Brexit is driven by a simple belief: that power should ultimately lie with the people of this country – not with any other body, group or organisation.

In 2016 Parliament and the Government were explicit: the decision whether to leave or not leave the European Union would be decided by the referendum. The people’s decision was final. That is why so many MPs have set aside their own concerns, or have been prepared to compromise by accepting a deal that they think is imperfect, in order to deliver the will of the people. Because ultimately, in a democracy, the people are sovereign. They are the masters. And government is their servant.

It is to the Prime Minister’s eternal credit that she has never once forgotten this fact. Despite all the difficulties, she has always been determined to deliver the will of the people: because she knows that to fail to do so will only reinforce the sense of powerlessness that drove so much of the Brexit vote and risk opening the doors of our democracy to populism.

The crisis of capitalism

Yet, this is where we are today: confronted by the very real prospect of the rise of a narrow-minded and nasty populism of the right led by Nigel Farage or Tommy Robinson and a romantic but equally nasty brand of populist socialism on the left led by Jeremy Corbyn. A man who seeks to create and exploit perceived imbalances of power; who attacks and demeans the media – and encourages his supporters to do the same; who despises our allies while refusing to condemn the actions of our foes; who uses the language and the rhetoric of the populist as he seeks to set one against the other.

Yet who, despite this, continues to command a loyal following among younger voters and managed to attract substantial number of their votes at the last general election just two years ago to put him on the brink of Number 10. And we Conservatives must not kid ourselves that Corbyn’s brand of socialism is so-outdated and extreme that it will not be attractive to those of all backgrounds and economic circumstances who nevertheless feel ignored by our current polity or whose concerns have been left unaddressed.

This fact was brought home to me recently during a trip to the theatre.

The musical Hadestown is a love story, but it carries a deeply political – and undeniably left-wing – message. It denounces the values of capitalism while venerating the ideals of a socialist society.

And as I watched it being performed, I became aware of a remarkable phenomenon. I looked around me. The theatre was full of what would best be described as middle-class young people. Intelligent professionals. The future of this country. Full of idealism and hope. The kind of people who cheered Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury and gave him their vote two years ago. And they cheered again at Hadestown.

It was a revealing moment for me. Because those young people were essentially cheering the destruction of an economic and social system that has done so much more to advance their goals and values than any other the world has ever known.

The capitalist system has done more than any other to lift the poorest out of poverty, to open the world up to exploration, to inspire the inventions that have transformed the ways in which we connect and talk, expand our knowledge, broaden our horizons. It’s a system that has helped us treat diseases that were otherwise regarded as death sentences; that has supported the expansion of freedom where previously repression and dictatorship reigned; that is developing technology to help tackle climate change. And let us remember that it is a system that quite simply helps us to fund the lifestyles we want and the public services we rely on. That helps us to lead the good life we want for ourselves and others.

No other economic or social system comes close to being able to make the claims that capitalism can make. And yet here we are, in 2019, with an audience of intelligent and informed young people cheering its destruction and replacement with something we know to be much worse: systems that crush the spirit of those with an enterprising bent. Socialist systems that always end in one-party states, with freedoms smashed by the jackboot of the secret police. It happened right across Eastern Europe until 1989 and it is happening in Venezuela and North Korea today. Which is why we should worry when a generation of young people seem oblivious to its horrors.

A host of recent studies have shown a creeping tendency for young people in the West to think that democracy – the very thing we so often take for granted – may not necessarily be the best or most viable form of government. One such study from January 2017 found that a quarter of the young people surveyed agreed that “choosing leaders through free elections is unimportant”.

Given the near unimaginable sacrifice of countless people in the past and in some other parts of the world today, it should come as a profound shock that so many could be so blasé about such fundamental liberties.

The causes of that crisis

This is a political crisis. And it goes to the heart of the crisis of capitalism too as the two things so often go hand in hand.

But if we step back, it is not hard to discern the roots of the crisis. For the evidence is all around. And we – moderate, mainstream politicians – must accept our share of responsibility.

Yes, the capitalist system has lifted people out of poverty and generated millions of new jobs, but it has also created a world in which the average pay ratio between a FTSE 100 CEO in the UK and their employee is 145 to 1. To me and to many, that just doesn’t seem fair.

Yes, the wealth created by the capitalist system has extended educational opportunities and helped to increase our collective knowledge, but it has also fostered a system in which a university vice-chancellor can earn £450,000 a year while students leave university plagued by debts as they start out on their working lives. That just doesn’t seem fair.

Yes, the globalised capitalist system may have broken down borders and fostered a more connected world, but it has also allowed big corporations like Google, Amazon and Facebook to make huge profits and use outdated double tax treaties designed for a mercantilist era to undermine the spirit of taxation that says you should pay your fair share. That just doesn’t seem fair.

Yes, the capitalist system has benefited many – but it is far from perfect. There will always be those who try to exploit it and so Government has a crucial role to play to enforce the rules, to change them where necessary, and so to maintain public consent. Over the last few decades, Labour and Conservative governments have been guilty of ignoring the steady scream of dissatisfaction, anger and powerlessness that is now overwhelming our political system. So it is essential – both for the defence of capitalism as the best system to govern our economic and social life, but also for the future of the Conservative Party as we face up to the threats of populists like Jeremy Corbyn – to seek to swing the balance of power back in favour of those who too often feel powerless in the face of the big economic and social forces that hold sway.

A party that stands with the powerless

And that means embracing the zeal of the revolutionary and adopting the fierce urgency of now, as we seek to take up the mantle of change.

The starting point is to be clear that the Conservative Party should stand up for all those who feel powerless in Britain today. It should stand for all those who feel they have too little control. It should stand up for the weak and stand up to the strong. It should be the party for all those who feel their voice is unheard as they go about their lives in modern Britain.

We must talk with passion and conviction about the everyday problems of modern life. We need answers to the challenges parents face with the rising costs of child care and the concerns confronting the children of elderly parents navigating their needs for social care. We need answers to the difficulties of would-be first-time house buyers. We need to take action, and be seen to take action, to deal with this generation’s greatest challenge: the devastating impact of climate change.

I believe that there is much for us to learn from the approach we have taken with education over the past few years. We have broken the stranglehold of Local Authorities and shifted the power to parents and pupils. The academies and free schools programme has revolutionised educational provision in this country partly because those schools know they have to be more responsive to local parental demands. We have introduced greater competition, given parents and pupils an element of control – and outcomes have been transformed.

We have successfully taken on the education establishment and changed the way that reading is taught, pushing our country up the international league tables for reading. We have transformed maths teaching both at primary and secondary, reformed our GCSEs, removed thousands of worthless qualifications that the poorest in society were being duped into taking. Grammar, punctuation and spelling are now being taught as never before and we’re testing to ensure children know their times tables.

There is a great deal more to do. Sometimes I feel as if we’ve only just begun when you consider the fact that in Nottingham, which is the 8th most deprived area in the Indices of Multiple Deprivation, 80 per cent of secondary schools are rated good or outstanding compared to just 50 per cent in prosperous Hertsmere, 243rd most deprived out of 326 local authority districts in that same index.

In other words if it is possible for schools to be good or outstanding in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the country, why can’t it be so in all areas of disadvantage? And if it is possible in some areas of disadvantage, why are there some prosperous areas with too many underperforming schools and poor standards?

Why is it that one state school in east London, Brampton Manor Academy, recently reported that 41 of its students have received offers from Oxford and Cambridge but, although the DfE does not centrally collate information on university offers, looking at the 2017 destination tables, there were no students with an Oxbridge destination from Blaby, Bassetlaw, Braintree, Broxborne, Broadlands (in Norfolk), to name just the local authorities beginning with a B; and none from Chorley, Corby, Castlepoint, – you see where this is going! Overall, there were 45 out of 323 local authority districts with KS5 students without a single student with an Oxford or Cambridge sustained destination. A good education is the fundamental building block for a good life. Ensuring that every child attends a good school must be central to the Conservative Party’s mission to stand for the powerless, ensuring the success of our reforms, the opportunities they represent, is spread to every corner of the country.

So there is more to do in Education, but with vision, drive and determination we have already come so far. And it is this spirit – this revolutionary zeal that has informed our education reforms – which we Conservatives must apply across the full realm of political life as we seek to tip the balance of power in favour of the hardworking people of Britain.

There are some who argue that the anger in our political discord is also driven by the pace of social reform that we have seen over the last two decades. Some seem to relish the kind of culture wars that dominate debate between many Democrats and Republicans in the United States.

I am, unashamedly, a socially liberal Conservative. How could I not be? My life has been completed by legislation introduced by Tony Blair and David Cameron to recognise same sex relationships. Having always believed that marriage and family were the cornerstone of a strong, free and happy society, being able to marry as a gay man was the greatest moment of my life. And what have I discovered since? That my joy has been shared by so many of the people I work with every day, by members of the Bognor Regis and Littlehampton Conservative Association, by constituents who I meet at my surgery, at community coffee mornings, in local businesses, out on the street. I simply don’t buy the argument that the British are a moralistic, disapproving and mean-spirited people.

We are a nation that embraces change, gets on with it, and doesn’t worry too much about what other people do unless it gets in the way of their lives. We laugh at, rather than obsess about, what goes on in the bedroom: we are the nation of ‘Carry On’ and ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’. Innuendo is a national pass time. Isn’t it, Mrs?

What people do worry about is a feeling that change is being imposed and they are unable to express a view. That an elite in Westminster has little interest in or knowledge of how change can impact everyday life. Where concerns about immigration are dismissed or ignored, where people feel talked down to, where long held values can become out of fashion overnight, it is hardly surprising that a sense of powerlessness grows.

Tackling this sense of powerlessness over the actions of vested interests – whether in the political class or in large economic corporations – offers a way forward for the Conservative Party.

Let us think, for example, of the role that big tech plays in our lives today – and of the way in which the behaviour of the big tech companies has damaged the reputation of capitalism as a whole.

We embrace all the advantages of new technologies. We share details of our lives with family and friends. We click a button and have almost anything we want delivered to our door. A question that once involved a trip to the library can now be answered by a simple tap on a screen that we all keep in our pockets. As an Education Minister and as a citizen of course I welcome that. And of course, none of it would have happened if we didn’t live in capitalist, democratic societies.

But at the same time, elements of the tech revolution have gone too far. They have produced new concentrations of power. Supranational companies that see themselves as alternatives to the nation-state. Organisations and corporations that think they can’t be controlled.

Now, because the capitalist system still works, these big tech companies may soon have had their day. New start-ups are emerging to take on the behemoths with better, more people friendly alternatives.

Again, this simply wouldn’t happen under a socialist economic system of command and control.

So, we need to support these endeavours. But in the meantime, we need to take action too.

That means having the courage to regulate where we need to regulate. It means enacting policies that disrupt these concentrations of power. And it means ensuring that these companies are paying their fair share of tax.

There is nothing un-Conservative about this. Capitalism does work best when least fettered by rules and regulations that can crush innovation and stifle enterprise. But the free market has always relied on rules and the rule of law for it to function. It relies on the state to provide security, infrastructure, enforcement of contracts, title to land and the protection of intellectual property.

We need to make sure those rules and regulations are fit and proper for the challenges of the 21st century, as Teddy Roosevelt did to tackle the concentrations of power at the start of the 20th century.

But ‘Big Tech’ has become a common target. What about other areas where the balance of power has become inverted and has grown out of all control? Where can – and must – politicians act?

Utility companies who use confusing, complicated policies and tariffs to bewilder and exploit consumers. Who know that they can get away with it because our lives are busy and therefore they have effective power and control. A Conservative Party that stands up for the powerless shouldn’t stand by and let people be exploited by these multinational corporations. There’s nothing un-Conservative about that. We need to show the will and desire to tackle these monopolies of power and give people more control.

Insurance companies who ramp up premiums on the unwary and loyal, hoping we won’t notice or will be too busy to care. Hoping that the busy lives we lead will mean we acquiesce too easily.

Bosses exploiting their workers. Creaming off vast profits while cultivating or tolerating a culture of bullying and intimidation further down the chain. We should be angry at such people and such companies. The unpleasant and unacceptable face of capitalism of today.

Investment banks foisting investments they know to be worthless on unsuspecting savers in their retail division.

Estate agents promising higher valuations to home owners in exchange for higher commissions knowing full well the ultimate sale price would be less.

House builders, increasingly dominated by just a handful of companies, building homes of questionable design and resulting in thousands of complaints about poor construction, while making ‘super profits’ that the free market is meant to be designed to compete away.

Banks which are supposed to provide capital for new businesses and young people wanting homes but which are caught deliberately driving small business to the wall and which refuse young people mortgages because of their own malpractice in the past – denying a generation entry to property ownership, the foundation of a capitalist system. Is it any wonder that a musical rendition of a non-capitalist society sounds so appealing to that generation?

An agenda for a bold renewal of Conservatism

It should be our task as a party to act with urgency to correct these abuses and address these injustices, driven by a determination to speak out for the powerless at all times. It must be our mission to restore trust in the political system and in politics as a noble calling; something that with vision, drive and determination can change lives for the better.

To do so is not to validate Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. It is to thwart them. For if we fail to do so – if we fail to address the very real areas in which the capitalist system is failing – a long period of left-wing, socialist government is surely on its way. And it won’t be long before the cheers fade and the idealism is at an end.

This is an insight as old as Conservatism itself. Change to conserve has always been our mantra. Make change where the system is failing to preserve faith in the whole. As Burke put it “A state without the means of some change, is without the means of its own conservation”.

So let us harness that insight and embrace this agenda for a bold renewal of Conservatism. Safeguarding and shaping the future by addressing the challenges of today.

A party for the powerless with a revolutionary zeal to pick up the mantle of change.

Determined to take on vested interests and monopolies of power.

Determined to stand with the people every step of the way.

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