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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Tees Valley"

Richard Holden: Elections 2) Will more bricks fall from the Red Wall this May?

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

The Golden Lion, St John’s Chapel

The first electoral challenge for the Conservative Party after the Prime Minister’s stunning victory in December comes in the local elections this May. These aren’t natural ‘Conservative defence councils’, since they are mostly made up of core metropolitan areas or unitary authorities that are Labour controlled.

We must also remember that we’re now some years into Conservative-led Government. However, Boris Johnson’s win with a majority of 80 is a very different outcome to the one which gave us David Cameron’s Coalition with the Liberal Democrats from 2010-15.

Some areas up for election this time cover parts of the so-called “Red Wall” – so they’ll give a signal as to whether Conservatives are building the foundations of a new “Blue Wall” on the base of those new MPs or, alternately, if Labour will be able to rebuild from their strong local authority control in these areas. For both parties, they will give a signal as to where the fight might be in future years up to election 2024.

My “Bricks Picks” are the following:

Bury Council

Andy Burnham is all but guaranteed to be back as Greater Manchester’s Mayor. But within the conurbation lie more Conservative Parliamentary seats than for quarter of a century.

During last year’s election, we gained both Bury Parliamentary seats from Labour by wafer-thin majorities of just 402 and 105. With only a third of the council up this year, it’s not possible for Conservatives to win the council overall, but it is possible for us to gain seats and for Labour to go backwards.

If Labour lost this council to NOC, or even a handful of key wards, then it would be a disastrous night for whoever their new leader is. That’s unlikely, but the ‘Bury Brick’ of the former Red Wall is the one to watch.

West Midlands

Why are they all called “Andy?”  Andy Street has been doing a cracking job locally. With Labour requiring just a 0.5 per cent swing, the party may believe that it will just make it over the line.

However, Andy has put the mayorality on the map, so he has an outside chance of victory. A win for the Conservatives here would be a massive achievement, and would continue to allow us to claim a major metropolitan conurbation as theirs.

Dudley Council

Until relatively recently Dudley, also under the West Midlands combined authority, has been solidly Labour. The swing to the Conservatives in Dudley North during the election campaign was one of the largest in Britain (the former local Labour MP Ian Austin backed local Conservatives due to Labour’s anti-semitism).

His personal support clearly helped in a Parliamentary election against Jeremy Corbyn, but that won’t be the case come May. At council level, Dudley is currently NOC – if it is taken by either Labour or Conservatives the victor will chalk it up as a significant success.

Tees Valley

Ben Houchen was probably the biggest surprise of local election night 2017 winning with a first round of just 39.5 per cent on a 21.3 per cent turnout.

His victory is now seen as a catalyst for much of the progress across the North East that Conservatives made in 2019. He has capitalised by delivering on some of his bold promises, such as nationalising the airport in Tees Valley (which is restarting soon and new routes are being announced regularly) and promising to bring steelmaking back since its mothballing by SSI, with a new electric arc due to come in.

Given the previous low turnout and tight result this is definitely a contest Labour can win. Indeed, it’s one that they should never have lost in the first place but, Ben has worked hard locally and delivered. If Labour don’t manage to wrestle back control her, then their new leader will face some very serious questions within a month of being elected.

Durham PCC

So far out that I hesitate to include it. Back in 2016, Labour’s Ron Hogg smashed it locally with a first-round victory of almost 51,000 votes (63.8 per cent) of the vote to the Conservatives share of under 19,000 (23.6 per cent).

However, the general election saw a tiny majority win by the Conservatives across the PCC area. Labour selected a new candidate, following the sad death of Hogg, late last year, and Conservatives will be shortly doing the same.

Perhaps this should be a foregone conclusion of a Labour victory but it will definitely be interesting to see if the Conservatives manage to pick up vote share significantly or even, at a stretch, manage to take the vote to a second round – or if the previous Labour landslide results end up being reflected again.

If it’s the former it will give the Conservatives heart for the local elections next year on Durham County Council. If the latter, Labour will feel very confident of retaining overall control of this county that’s been under Labour total control at local government level since 1919.

– – – – – – – – – –

These local elections may not ultimately matter at all: Ed Miliband did well in local elections, but failed in 2015. But given the demographic changes in voting patterns, you might expect to see at least a modicum of underlying trend movement if the 2019 result is based on more than ‘borrowed votes.’

There have been some grumblings about CCHQ moving slowly to recognise the new political reality, with resources and support for different parts of the country.

However, with Amanda Milling now in place, alongside Ben Elliott, it’s clear to me that at the top the Party gets the next stage. It’s now a matter of ensuring those resources and that support is cascaded down across the country to help build the foundations of future successes.

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

Antony Mullen: Why Sunderland is backing Newcastle to be the new home of CCHQ

Antony Mullen is the Chairman of the Sunderland Conservatives and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on Sunderland City Council.

The rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle is best understood nowadays in footballing terms, but it has also been traced back to the English Civil War (in which Newcastle supported the Crown while Sunderland sided with Cromwell).

But in the debate about the relocation of CCHQ, there is no conflict: Sunderland is backing Newcastle.

With Number Ten actively in search of a new location which boasts good train links, a nearby university with leading maths and physics departments, and somewhere that is “well placed in political terms”, the Sunderland Conservatives are keen to highlight that our Tyne and Wear neighbour does not simply meet the criteria, but easily exceeds them.

Newcastle’s Central Station is well connected, with direct lines to cities across the country (including frequent and reliable services to both London and Edinburgh). The local Tyne and Wear Metro system operates throughout the city and connects it to the rest of Tyneside, as well as to Gateshead and Sunderland. The metro also runs to Newcastle Airport, which provides a further means of quickly getting from north to south.

On the university front, the city is home to two respected higher education institutions. Newcastle University, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, is a prime example of a truly civic university, engaging the local community in its activities and drawing in huge crowds for its Insights Public Lectures series. Newcastle’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics – which is in the UK top 10 for research impact – addresses the (perhaps unusual) requirement that the new Conservative HQ must have nearby maths and physics departments.

In addition, Northumbria University is also located in the heart of the city while Durham University, which is just 20 minutes away by train, also has excellent Physics and Mathematical Sciences departments.

As well as having high-ranking universities and transport connections across the country, Newcastle boasts a rich cultural heritage, outstanding architecture, a famous nightlife, and incredibly friendly people.

Despite this, though, the strongest case for Newcastle relates to the final requirement set out by Number Ten – that the new venue should be “well placed in political terms”.

An office in the centre of Newcastle would bring the party machine closer – geographically and culturally – to our new supporters in Blyth Valley, North West Durham, Bishop Auckland, Redcar, Sedgefield, and Darlington. Moving as far north as Newcastle would show those voters who recently turned to the Conservatives, feeling betrayed by Labour, that we are with them for the long term, not just the parliamentary term.

Indeed, to move the party’s head office to Newcastle would be to park our tanks firmly on Labour’s lawn. Their northern headquarters, Labour Central, is also based in Newcastle. Having ours there too would not only show that we are serious about keeping our new north east seats, but that we intend to take those that Labour just held on to, like Sunderland Central and Wansbeck, at the next election.

If that wasn’t reason enough, a Newcastle-based campaign HQ would have a front-row seat when it comes to other important elections, like fighting to keep control of Northumberland County Council and the Tees Valley mayoralty.

Yet coming to the North East would not simply be an opportunity to enjoy what the region offers, but a chance to recognise what it cannot offer.

My Association was not able to suggest our own city as the new CCHQ location because it fell at the first hurdle. Sunderland is not very well connected to the rest of the country by rail. While there are direct services to York and London, Sunderland’s residents must travel to Newcastle to get trains to other northern cities. To travel from Sunderland to neighbouring Durham by rail isn’t an option: instead, an hour or more on a bus will get you to the centre of Durham, but two or more buses are required to travel elsewhere within the county. This is just a snapshot of how badly the North East, like other part of the north more generally, needs further transport investment.

Moving CCHQ to the North East would not just be a tokenistic gesture, but a commitment that the Conservative Party will live with and share in the problems that so many of us outside London face. Our proposal is both an invitation and a challenge: come and enjoy all that we have to offer – including the rail links and world-leading physics research – but take the opportunity to address what some north east towns and cities sadly lack.

The case for Newcastle is clear: it is close to the seats we must retain to keep our substantial majority at the next election and relocating here would highlight the party’s commitment to our new supporters in the region. Choosing Manchester or Birmingham, which both already enjoy hosting Conservative Party Conference biennially, would be a (predictable) step in the right direction, but choosing Newcastle would be a bolder move still.

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

Ben Houchen: Freeports are a key priority for the North

Ben Houchen is the Mayor of the Tees Valley.

Many of Labour’s northern heartland constituencies have fallen. Their fiefdoms in Teesside and County Durham now have Conservative MPs, in many cases for the first time ever. Boris Johnson rules supreme with the backing of voters no other Conservative leader could have hoped to attract. However, their ongoing support cannot and should not be taken for granted.

The Prime Minister has it in his power to reverse decades of economic decline and give some of the most deprived communities the power to lift themselves out of poverty. With the stroke of a pen, he can restore the pride that only comes from being in charge of your own destiny and prosperity and he can do it without needing to spend huge sums of taxpayers’ money.

You might ask how, and the answer is simple, Freeports. Not the bonded warehouse zones the EU like to dress up as freeports on the continent, but fully-fledged Free Trade Zones that will restore the energy and urgency of trade and industry in left-behind areas.

Throughout his leadership campaign and the recent General Election, the Prime Minister rightly touted Freeports as a benefit of Brexit and a reason to vote Tory, and he was right. Since I started to campaign for a Freeport on the Tees two years ago I have found the idea has genuine support across the political spectrum. Even traditional Labour voters, at least those in my region, can see the benefits. I’ve spent the past year and a half putting it together with trade experts, top economists, the ports sector, and businesses large and small.

Thousands of proper manufacturing jobs, the skilled roles people want, as well as billions of pounds of extra economic activity. All delivered without costing the taxpayer, or indeed the Treasury, a penny. All in the nation’s former industrial heartlands and all done without any legislation that compromises employment and environmental protection.

In the Tees Valley region, in the newly Conservative constituency of Redcar, where the majority voted enthusiastically for Brexit, and perhaps cautiously for Boris, lies the best location for a Freeport in the UK, maybe even anywhere. The former SSI steelworks, now under the control of the South Tees Development Corporation could become home to 32,000 Freeport jobs and add £2 billion to my region’s GVA.

The town’s new Tory MP, Jacob Young, an enthusiastic Brexiteer, backs my calls for a Freeport. It was a key plank of his election campaign, and enjoys the support of all of the Tees Valley’s five Conservative parliamentarians.

I’d be a fool to think the first time Conservative voters that have transformed the political landscape of the North are now committed free marketeers, but in backing the Prime Minister and his promise of Freeports, they have given their support for an economically liberal policy that could benefit them in a big way.

Creating these low tax zones, when importing and exporting are made easy, it wouldn’t just mean new jobs, it would make two very important things clear. Firstly, that Boris and the Conservatives are committed to the North in the long term, and voting for us means voting for a better life. To have any chance of retaining any of the new blue seats in the former Labour heartlands he needs demonstrable proof of this.

Secondly, but just as importantly, a Freeports in Teesside would be a powerful symbol that Brexit Britain is open for business in a way that hasn’t been seen for decades.

So Prime Minister, at the risk of reheating a tired cliché, we’ve got an oven-ready plan for freeports that we have been talking to you about for months. Bang it on gas mark six and it will be ready in time for the budget. You will see the results almost immediately and it will be a clear signal to the former Labour voters of Redcar that Boris and the Conservatives can deliver for them. Let’s get this done and transform towns like Redcar.

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

Robert Oliver: Building local credibility was crucial to the Conservative success in the north east

Cllr Robert Oliver is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Sunderland City Council. He is on the Candidates List but did not stand in the General Election last week.

There is no doubt that the results across the North East were nothing short of spectacular for the Conservative Party, with blue territory expanding way beyond what was held up until to 1992. The Labour vote fell by 13 per cent across the region as seats that had not returned a Conservative member before, such as Blyth Valley, or Bishop Auckland, were snatched from Labour’s grasp. The star performer must be Jacob Young who turned Redcar into ‘Bluecar’ on a whopping 15 per cent swing in the same seat where Vera Baird was ousted on the biggest swing in 2010.

Valiant losers included Nick Oliver in Jarrow, where 10,000 votes came off Labour’s Kate Osborne who had churned stomachs with her liking of a post with a gun to Theresa May’s head. To be fair, a handful of Labour candidates had objected to her selection but it is the darker side of the party that holds the whip-hand in the North East, with the sensible cast aside. Of the former, the demise of Laura Pidcock, and the near-demise of Ian Lavery, were symbolic: their firebrand hatred of “Tories”, and their constant dredging up of ‘the pits’ wearing thin.

Listening to Corbyn protege, Laura Pidcock, for two long years, has been painful and pointless with one wag telling me that, “If I want to be harangued, I can ‘phone my mother-in-law!”.

Catherine McKinnell, the winner in Newcastle North for Labour, summed up the night by describing the results as “nothing short of disastrous for Labour in the North East”.

It was no surprise that so many of the gains came in the south of the region where Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen, is proving that Conservatives in power can make things happen. His success gives the lie to tired accusations that ‘Tories don’t care about the North East’ and proves that when in office, we, not Labour, make life better for local people.

In Sunderland too a record £2 billion investment since 2010 – symbolised by the Northern Spire Bridge – is also prompting some to think again and give the Conservatives a chance. There, the three seats narrowed to 3,000 majorities, in a city where Labour skated home by 20,000 in 1997, but is now seen as not listening to the people they serve. Campaigning for a ‘People’s Vote’ in a city where 62 per cent had backed withdrawal from the EU did much damage locally as did baseless claims that people had changed their minds.

Whilst Corbyn and Brexit are accepted as the key reasons for the breaching of the ‘red wall’ there are other factors which played into the hands of the resurgent North East Conservatives.

From conversations on the doorstep in Sunderland Central, it was clear that suspicion of the Labour leader went beyond the personal to the fundamental question of competence. This was particularly true on the cost of the manifesto promises described to me by a Labour Party member as ‘lollipops for all’ though he was not the only one who saw through it.

Labour candidates desperately distanced themselves from their leader, with David Miliband in the region winking at the voters that if only they held their noses, this time change would come. Many saw through the fraud of Labour candidates pretending that they were ‘Labour but not Corbyn’ or a ‘Labour Government’ as if the leader would be subservient to the dissenters.

As the night unfolded, the defeated took their revenge, with Phil Wilson, who lost Tony Blair’s Sedgefield seat, saying the leadership had gone down like a “lead balloon on the doorstep”. Some of the Labour MPs in the region had been saved by the Corbyn surge in 2017 and had then expressed gratitude through gritted teeth, but two years is a long time in politics.

Of the Conservative candidates, those selected early – many of whom, like Paul Howell in Sedgefield, were local councillors – were able to get themselves known in their seats.

As in Scotland, where Ruth Davison presented the party as the Scottish Conservatives with local candidates and local concerns, so here, successful candidates were rooted in their seats. This was a crucial response to lingering images of the party as Southern-based and a defence of privilege and wealth with candidates having lived through austerity since 2010.

For those last nine years, the Labour Party in the North East has done little but complain and blame ‘Tories’ often about issues they could have dealt with during their 13 years in power. Opposing the benefits cap was a big mistake in a region where the maximum amount  in benefits is greater than the median wage for those who have to go out and do a day’s work.

So what needs to be done to ensure a genuine and lasting Conservative revival in the north east, rather than a handful of one-term Tories vulnerable to a resurgent Labour Party?

At the Sunderland count, Julie Elliott, now in a marginal seat, said voters had told her they would come back when her party was once more a  “sensible centre-Left party”. But times are changing, with tribal loyalties weakened and attitudes hardening, and Labour dominance is diluted by devolution, academisation of schools, and trade union decline. Devolution, in particular, has thrown down the gauntlet, with the Labour Party no longer able to blame others as they take on responsibility for regeneration through directly elected mayors.

Places like Consett, in North West Durham, have moved on, with the site of the steel works now a smart housing estate alongside a mammoth Tesco – and many of the people have changed too. Some see the Labour Party as more suited to the dinner tables of Islington than the streets of Consett and here lies an opportunity for the North East Conservatives to move into that space.

But only a successful Conservative Government, that delivers investment to left-behind towns, and improves the public services that more depend on here, will really turn the North East blue.

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

Ben Houchen: The Conservatives are the party of towns

Ben Houchen is the Mayor of the Tees Valley.

If the Conservative Party is to have a chance at taking the Parliamentary seats it needs to win in the North it must become the party of towns. Unlocking the potential of the whole north means empowering the 53 per cent of people that don’t live in cities.

The lack of focus on towns, from Blackpool to Billingham, is far from being exclusively a Tory issue. Some of our major media outlets are under the impression that the North begins in Manchester and ends in Leeds.

Indeed, as important as plans are to improve rail connectivity between cities in the North, these don’t feel like an investment in people far removed from the urban centres.

Similar to the focus on cities, is the focus on poverty. The image of large swathes of the north as a post-industrial wasteland filled with abandoned Victorian terraces isn’t just wrong and offensive. It’s actively dangerous. Yes we have our problems and we have a long way to go before we catch up with London and the South East, but we have vast areas of prosperity and productivity that are vastly misrepresented by these tired stereotypes.

It can’t, however, be concealed that many provincial towns are shadows of what they once were. There isn’t one overarching reason for this, but the post-war consensus, 1960s planners, and decade after decade of Labour councillors willing to manage decline have all played their part. As civic pride drained away, so did the Conservative Party’s chances, but perhaps all that can change.

The polls show Boris Johnson is riding high, which puts us in an ideal position to win some Labour seats that Jeremy Corbyn has all but abandoned across the North. Now that Brexit has changed the nation’s political reality and seats gained from the Lib Dems in 2015 may well go back to them, plus a similar situation with some gains from the SNP in Scotland, the Conservatives must make the effort in the towns of the North.

Nobody expects our new Prime Minister to lead our party into the looming general election with the hubris of 2017. He knows just how hard a fight it will be. He has, however, made a good start when it comes to changing attitudes to the Conservatives in the North’s towns. The £3.6 billion towns fund will inject up to £25 million into 100 transformative projects focused on long-term renewal.

The impending election aside, turning around attitudes towards Tories in the towns will require more than just money. People are sick of hearing about the next big scheme to turn things around; they’ve heard it all before, over and over again. A sustainable base in the North outside of the safely blue shires means delivering.

This doesn’t just mean delivering cash, anyone can do that. It means giving towns and rural areas the power and responsibility to turn around their own fortunes.

As the Mayor of a region that has decided to take control of its own destiny through devolution; one that has turned its back on deprivation and the downward course successive generations of local Labour politicians set it on; I know that we can change things in the North’s towns – and simultaneously change attitudes towards us at the same time.

We need to show the world that there is more to the North than just Manchester and poverty, that we are here for the long haul, and that we are serious about turning around our communities. I know dozens of Conservative politicians and thousands of activists across the Tees Valley, Yorkshire, the North West, and even further afield, have always been ready to do their bit. Now I am hopeful that our Government is up to the challenge too.

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

Ben Houchen: Which candidate will show leadership on free ports?

Ben Houchen is the Mayor of the Tees Valley.

Free Ports, Free Trade Zones to give them their proper name, are fast becoming one of the hottest issues of the Conservative Leadership Contest. In fact, of all of the policy ideas being floated by candidates, they could be seen as the litmus test of their commitment to Brexit.

Free Ports exist around the world and take a slightly different form depending on where they are. From South Carolina to Singapore, and from Dubai to Dalian, economic growth, trade and job creation are supercharged by creating areas inside a country’s national borders, which fall outside of its customs border.

Hard financial incentives like tax breaks, tariff inversion, and R&D funding are combined with measures like simplified planning, expedited customs processed and express visas to make these zones extremely attractive to business. They have been used to create growth in previously undeveloped areas, but in post-Brexit Britain they can be used to turn around the fortunes of our least competitive regions.

Since the idea of creating Free Zones when we leave the EU was first mooted by Rishi Sunak, the MP for Richmond whose North Yorkshire constituency borders my Tees Valley Region, they have caused great excitement in pro-Brexit and pro-market circles, and all the disdain you would expect from the Left.

While Conservatives, some of the more sensible Labourites and even Scottish Nationalists have got behind the idea, seeing the jobs and growth it can yield, some individuals who would like to see the economy operated as an arm of the Government have trotted out the same old, tried and tested anti-trade tropes.

Free Ports are about creating areas where manufacturing will flourish, particularly in industries like renewables and chemicals, where British companies need a level playing field with foreign competitors. They would mean thousands of well-paid jobs, all of which protect our world-leading employment rights. Plus, even when you take into account the cost of tax breaks, the Treasury would make a net gain.

Not quite the dens of tax avoidance and warehouses full of stolen art that the left would have you believe Free Zones area. Some have even gone so far as to suggest they would endanger worker’s safety and environmental protections. The proposal I have presented to both candidates sets out, clearly, a system of economic regeneration for use in a developed country, not the dystopian vision certain parties have tried to create

My policy ‘white paper’ offers our next Prime Minister one of the tools they need to rebalance the UK’s economy and let some of the poorest regions stand on their own two feet. It isn’t right for proud people, people who make things, to have to rely on London and the south east to subsidise their public services, and it is laughable to think wonks in Westminster will have the answer to this.

Free Zones are a policy developed in the North for the North, and other regions that haven’t experienced the growth London has. My proposal suggests up to six possible sites across the UK, which could create 70,000 jobs and add £4 billion to the economy.

As the Mayor of the Tees Valley, you would expect me to put my region first, but this policy really comes into its own on a national scale. However, the idea of a pilot Free Zone on Teesside makes sense for two reasons, it would have the largest positive economic impact of such area in the UK, and thanks to the South Tees Development Corporation we have a secure site, next to a port, where work can start tomorrow.

I have made no secret of my support for Boris Johnson in this contest, because I believe he has the positive global vision that post-Brexit Britain needs, and he’s not just saying this, he really believes it. I have also made no attempt to hide my admiration for Jeremy Hunt, whose service in the Cabinet has been exemplary.

Free Zones, as well as being a huge opportunity for Britain, can pay dividends for both candidates. By unequivocally backing a policy of Free Ports, with a pilot Zone in Teesside, Boris can take a step towards realising his vision for Brexit, while Jeremy can remove any doubts about his commitment to leaving.

You can read my full policy proposal here.

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.

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