CapX’s Editor offers his own take on what the Prime Minister should have said today.
We meet today in Manchester to remember the things that unite us – as a Conservative Party, but also as a country.
We remember the victims of the terrible attack here just months ago – the innocent people slain in the name of a brutal ideology. And their fellow victims in London, and all those who have suffered from the scourge of extremism and terrorism.
As a Government, our mission is to make this country more secure. To protect Britain and its citizens from enemies at home and abroad.
But security is not enough. We need to deliver prosperity, too. To make Britain the country that gives people – all its people – the opportunities that they need and deserve.
When I entered Downing Street, I promised to build a country that works for everyone. It is my great regret, and my great shame, that during the recent election campaign I failed to make that argument. I failed – we failed – to offer the voters the policies that offered real solutions to their problems.
Yet the election result in June should not obscure this party’s successes – nor its credentials for government. We have restored order to the public finances after the chaos in which they were left by Labour. We have helped the private sector to create millions of new jobs, making Britain the employment capital of Europe. A country that works for everyone is also a country in which everyone works – and today we are closer than for decades to reaching that goal.
Yet it is clear, not least from that election result in June, that we have not done enough. Too many people feel that they have not seen their wages rise. Too many people feel that the system is not working for them, that they are putting in the effort and not getting the rewards. Too many people – especially young people – feel like they will never have a home to call their own.
That is why, in June, 40 per cent of the British public felt able to vote for Jeremy Corbyn. The least qualified, least prepared and most dangerous leader the Labour Party has ever put forward. Dangerous not just to the business that create the jobs and wealth on which Britain depends. Or to the millions of ordinary Britons who will have to dig deep into their pockets to fund his backward-looking, outdated and frankly reckless programme of nationalisation and confiscation. But to the very people who support him – the disillusioned young people who support a man whose policies can bring them nothing but harm.
In his speech on Monday, Philip Hammond explained why a hard-Left Labour government would be so disastrous for this country. He talked of the days, back in the 1970s, when so many nationalised industries were run for the benefit not of their customers, but the trade unions. Of the fact that privatisation was not an abstract exercise in political theory, but a revolution that brought us all cheaper power, better trains, more reliable electricity, phones lines that were installed in a matter of days rather than months.
He also spoke, as have others on this platform, of the models that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell so admire. The Venezuela of Hugo Chavez. The Cuba of Fidel Castro. Labour is now led by men who, since the 1970s, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing – who cling to a socialist ideology that has, in country after country, been discarded and discredited and disproved.
Yet it is not enough just to talk about socialism and free markets. To invoke the word “Venezuela” as though it will terrify Britain’s young people into obedience.
We cannot just tell those young people that capitalism works. We need to show them. Because those in their teens, twenties and thirties are not raving socialists – despite what we saw in Brighton last week. They are rational consumers. And they know that the current system is given them a very bad deal.
They emerge from university weighed down with debt – and then watch the price of houses soar ever further out of reach.
This should not stand. People are happiest, healthiest and most prosperous when they have homes of their own. And the Conservatives are the party that understands this best.
Back in the 1980s, we gave six million Britons the chance to buy their own homes, under the Right to Buy scheme. It was the biggest transfer of property from the state to the public in a generation. And it was an extraordinary success. Suddenly, doors were painted, gardens were planted. People took pride in their homes because they were theirs.
But we also made a mistake. Under the original Right to Buy legislation, we reserved over half of the proceeds for councils, to build new homes. But that provision was abandoned.
To give young people the lives they deserve, we Conservatives need to be the party not just of home-owning, but house-building. Yes, we are helping people on to the ladder via the Help to Buy scheme. But that is pointless – actively harmful, even – if there are not enough houses for them to buy.
Sajid Javid has produced a White Paper on housing and planning reform which is currently going through Parliament. But the election in June was, among other things, a decisive verdict that these reforms are not enough.
I have therefore instructed Sajid to reopen that White Paper. Our target will not be to raise the number of new homes being built every year, but to double it. That is 300,000 new homes built every year.
It’s not impossible. We’ve done it before. And we will do it again.
We will do it by changing the planning rules, to make it easier to build, and harder to hoard land. We will do it by carrying out a full audit of all state-owned land, and making as much as possible of it open to development – with the profits invested in further housebuilding in future years.
We will do it by building new towns – one new community the size of Milton Keynes along each major motorway leading out of London. We will do it by opening the housing market to new suppliers, with new ways of working. We will do it by scrapping the ridiculous rules that prevent cities like London from recreating the Georgian terraces of Kensington or Knightsbridge. By focusing development on existing transport hubs. By protecting the green belt – guaranteeing to maintain or even increase its size – but focusing those protections on our most beautiful countryside, rather than arbitrarily following lines that were drawn more than 50 years ago.
We will do it by giving the Bank of England a mandate to specifically consider the effects of its decisions on the housing market, alongside its existing inflation target. And for those who still cannot get on to the housing ladder, we will reform the rules to ensure that tenants feel secure in their homes.
There will be many people who object. Many of them will be in this hall, or in my own constituency.
To them I say that I understand their fears. We will make sure that any new housing built is worthy of the communities where it is built.
But it cannot be right to put the interests of one generation over the interests of another – to divide our society between those who have won the housing lottery and those who never even get a ticket. A country that works for everyone is a country where everyone gets to return to their own home at the end of the day.
I am up for that fight. And if the Labour Party are serious about helping our young people, rather than just carping from the sidelines, I invite them to join us in coming up with solutions.
Housing is one of the great long-term national challenges that we, as Conservatives, must confront if we are to prove to voters – of all ages – that we can indeed offer them a better life. But there are many others.
Consider the NHS. I am proud to say that this Conservative government has, despite all the fiscal difficulties that this country has faced, not only protected the budget of the health service but increased it. As Jeremy Hunt announced yesterday, we are training thousands of new nurses.
But it is also true that the NHS is starting to creak under the strain. Not of “Tory cuts”, because there have not been any. But simply of demographic change. More and more people are living longer. And more and more people are developing more complex diseases.
Thanks to the work of its dedicated staff, the NHS is coping – just. But I do not want the NHS to just cope. I want it to be what we in Britain have always wanted it to be – the best healthcare service in the world, delivering world-class care free at the point of use, now and always.
Over the years, the structure of the NHS has become convoluted and contorted. Instead of doctors and nurses, patients and hospitals, GPs and surgeons, it has a blizzard of agencies and contractors and regulators. Our health reforms in the last parliament attempted to address this – but I have to admit that in some respects, they simply made matters worse.
We have made more money available to the NHS. But the time for bodge jobs and short-term fixes is past. That is why we are establishing a new Royal Commission to explore how to set our healthcare system on a sustainable footing not for the coming years, but the coming decades. And it will have a mandate not merely to look at the delivery of care, but how we pay for it.
The NHS is, and will remain, free at the point of use. But the Commission will be asked to explore how we can get more money into the system. Not through raising taxes, which are already at their highest levels in decades. But – for example – by the use of social insurance, or top-up payments, so that those who want more than the basic quality of care, or treatments that are not medically essential, can pay for the care of those who are less fortunate.
And the Commission will not just cover the NHS. I have learned, to my cost, that voters are touchy about the topic of social care. To say the least.
But the truth is that there is no fix for our health care system that does not also cover social care. Because it is the blocked pipeline between the two that is at the heart of so many of the NHS’s problems.
That is why the Commission will also have a mandate to consider the social care system – and to recommend ways of getting more money into that system, to give people the dignity they deserve at the end of their lives, while protecting the homes they have worked so hard to buy.
Again, if the Labour Party is serious about making Britain a better place, I invite them to join in by suggesting constructive solutions – rather than their current offering of empty slogans.
The third great challenge that I wish to talk about is, of course, Brexit.
In June 2016, the British people voted – narrowly but decisively – to take back control. Take back control of our laws. Of our borders. Of our ability to sign new trade deals with nations all round the world – and in doing so, enrich the British people.
There are, in this hall, people who voted both for Leave and Remain. The same is true around the Cabinet table. And as you may have heard, we have certainly had our disagreements.
But where we are united is in our determination to make Brexit a success. Not just because we have been charged with that responsibility by the British people. But because, as I outlined in my recent speech in Florence, it gives us the opportunity to build that better Britain. To build a country that really does work for everyone.
Our approach to Brexit is simple. We want to maximise Britain’s opportunities. We want the closest possible relationship with our European partners. We want goods to flow unhindered from Bratislava to Belfast. We want the financial assets of the City of London to be at the service of other nations, to enable them to invest in their economies and guard against uncertainties. We want London to remain the start-up capital of Europe, developing world-beating companies whose products enhance the lives of people across the continent.
But we also want to build a global Britain. As Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson outlined so eloquently yesterday, free trade is at the heart of Britain’s prosperity – and of its future.
It may be bewildering to Mr Corbyn. But there is nothing as moral as a free market. Every day, millions of Britons put their trust in the fact that they will be able to buy asparagus from South America, lamb from New Zealand, gas from Norway. And the people of those countries, in turn, buy cheese from Somerset, whisky from the Highlands, pottery from the factories of Stoke-on-Trent.
This web of exchange, this great system of trade and cooperation, does not make us weak. It makes us stronger and richer than we ever have been.
Our Brexit strategy, in other words, is not an exercise in empty pride. It is not about closing ourselves up to the world, but opening up to it. About taking back control of those regulations and rules that keep us from growing and innovating – but keeping in place those that protect our workers and secure our people.
That is why I have outlined my ambition for Britain and Europe to sign the closest possible agreement, and set out a framework for future cooperation that ensures we can keep trading freely and seamlessly over the years and decades to come.
And is it also why I am making a unilateral guarantee to those Europeans who have come to Britain that they will keep all the rights and privileges and protections that they currently possess – and that those rights will be enshrined in British law.
Jeremy Corbyn talks to Britain of a better future – of a socialist dream.
We in this party know how easily such dreams turn into nightmares.
We in the Conservative Party have a dream too. A dream of a country that is free and prosperous. That offers opportunity to all its people. That really does work for everyone, from the richest to the poorest, the youngest to the oldest.
But we are not just dreamers. We are doers. We are the party with concrete plans to address the great challenges – and great opportunities – that this country faces. We are the party that will not just make the case that free markets have made the world a healthier, happier and more prosperous place, but will develop the concrete policies for them to do so in future.
A country where people have more of their own money to keep. Where they have good jobs, and good wages. Where they have the homes they need, and the healthcare to support them throughout their lives. Where competition works throughout our economy to deliver for consumers, not for those firms who manipulate the rules or monopolise the markets, with government’s encouragement and assistance.
While Labour dreams, we will act. And we will act to make Britain a country that prospers not just today, but for decades to come.