I wasn’t born a Conservative. I come from a long line of staunch Labour voters who formed my early view of the world. At university, I threw myself into a whirlwind of left-wing causes (they had better parties). The first few times I voted it was for the Greens or Labour.
If someone had said to me then that I would one day be a Conservative MP, I’d wouldn’t have believed them. And yet, three months ago, I was elected the MP for Redditch. What changed in those intervening years?
The short answer is that I saw first hand what it means to be a capitalist. I started a business with my husband and lived through the challenges and failures that every entrepreneur faces.
And I witnessed the sacrifices that other business founders, leaders and entrepreneurs make to get their startups off the ground. I saw how they jeopardised their own livelihoods and that of their families, to create jobs for others. And how much they give back both to
their communities and to their employees.
In this way, I saw compassionate capitalism in action. And it laid the foundations for my political epiphany. I realised socialism is only interested in dividing up the pie. But it has nothing to say nothing about how the pie is created. And when you’re in the business of pie creation, what you really care about is a government that understands how to help create more pie. Conservatism has always been about creating more pie.
And Conservative values and policies are the only ones that set people free to follow the dream of starting their own business.
Why is it that the word entrepreneur is something we are OK with, but capitalist isn’t? And why is that some on the left can say “capitalism doesn’t work” – and increasing numbers of people believe it?
Are they really saying that this system – the single most effective way of lifting people out of poverty and establishing the prosperity that underpins good government around the world – is broken?
Are they actually saying that capitalists – in other words, entrepreneurs, who power the businesses that are the job-creating engine of this country, providing families up and down the UK with financial security and futures, are immoral? And that it’s impossible to be a
capitalist and have a moral compass?
I don’t recognise myself, my family, or the thousands of others in my business community in Birmingham in this caricature. In my two and a half decades in business before I entered Parliament, much of it spent as an HR Director, I witnessed only a handful of rogue
The vast majority care about their people like they’re family. They treat them well, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense. They invest in people’s training and development. They let them work flexibly when needed, they support them above and beyond what regulation demands. They pay their taxes, ploughing millions into the Exchequer so that society can build schools and hospitals.
And as well as this, they raise huge sums of money for myriad charitable causes. A millennium ago, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides said that the highest form of charity is to create a job. He was right.
The founder risks everything they have because they have a dream. If they make it, they create life-changing jobs, dignity and futures for their employees. It is an exquisite balance of incentives that works for employer, employee and society.
And it makes people happy, enabling them to contribute and fulfil their human potential. Of course, we are living in times with disgusting and shocking abuses of capitalism. And Conservatives must continue the progress made in tackling this. We have never and will never condone rogue employers, immoral global tax avoiding corporates, monopolistic practises and outrageous executive pay ratios.
We must do much more to ensure that everyone has access to the capital and the opportunities that have enabled me, and entrepreneurs like me, to start businesses.
And at the same time we must not let the Left whip up more support for the narrative that questions businesses’ right to make a profit from their activity. So I don’t regret my earlier political activity which has given me an appreciation of a wide range of views of the world. But I did not need it to learn about compassion.
For Conservatism to stay relevant, it must hold fast to its support for the brave person who risks their security for a dream: the entrepreneur, the compassionate capitalist.
If we don’t support them, who will? The socialists and the prophets of my youth certainly won’t. Capitalism does work, its compassionate and we must support it, fearlessly.