13 July 2022

The British people have never needed their freedom more

By Steve Baker MP

This is the full text of Steve Baker’s speech at the relaunch of Conservative Way Forward

Two and a half years ago, the Conservative Party celebrated our biggest majority at an election since Margaret Thatcher. Millions of people across the country were inspired by our message of hope. And many placed their faith in us for the first time. But that faith is being sorely tested today.

The tax burden is at its highest for 70 years. We have inflation at its highest for 40 years, creating a cost of living crisis for people – something I’ve seen up close in Wycombe. And because of excessive state spending and money printing – or quantitative easing – the OBR is telling us that we face a default – a default – on the state’s age-related spending obligations in our lifetimes.

Conservatism, put simply, is about striving to pass a better future on to the next generation. Yet our current direction presents the very real and grave risk that the next generation will be the first to be worse off than their parents. The intergenerational spending gap is widening. And we seem perpetually unable to deliver the housing people need for the families they want. This isn’t the territory the Conservative Party should ever be on.

It is for the sake of all our futures, and especially the young, that we must have an honest conversation between my generation and the next about the path created for us by short-sighted politics and technocracy. And that’s why we’re all here today.

Not to squabble about who’s in, out, up or down in Westminster leader boards. But to unite, to think, and to decide our future direction as a party so that we can serve the country.

We are at a crossroads for our Party and for the country. Across a range of issues, the Conservative Party is in the wrong place and heading in the wrong direction, limiting our country’s potential and risking a Labour government.

So it is once again a time for choosing. Choosing between freedom or state control.

Now today is not a launch – it’s a relaunch, because CWF was originally established in 1991, to maintain the Conservative Party’s commitment to freedom. Conservative Way Forward was founded to defend and advance the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. Today, we are proud to stand by her enduring principles, just as we recognise Thatcherism was of its time. Forty years on – as history unrolls around us, with crises flowing one into another and deepening into the future – we need a new Conservative Way Forward.

For years my generation has been living beyond its means. Cheap credit and QE has helped the asset rich, and has severely hurt and left behind the young, the old and the poor. Every time the Government demands more of your money – that it hasn’t earned – and unnecessarily spends it, your own Government devalues your savings and the value of your labour. This is intolerable, and every right, rational and reasonable minded conservative would want to put a stop to it.

Take today’s cost of living crisis. It’s not people’s mortgages, rent, or fuel bills that are people’s biggest monthly outgoings. It’s their tax bill. It’s the cost of running today’s bloated state. My friends, I think you will all agree: omnipotent government is NOT working.

Does anyone here really believe that the troubles we face today arise because the Government has spent too little? Or because taxes are too low, or because we’ve run too many surpluses? Of course not.

Our present crises – in the UK and around the world – are not crises of a free society. They are everywhere crises of power – of too much political interference in our lives. The British people need their freedom back. They and the businesses that serve them need the freedom to dream, to invest, to create prosperity and jobs, and to plan for a future without excessive political meddling.

So I believe that everyone here today shares a common goal: a healthy society in which people are prosperous, happy and free.

As Conservatives, we all embrace and believe in community. But relationships are only high quality and virtuous when they’re free. There is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same as the state. Society is cooperation; it is community in action. We don’t live out our lives alone. We live out our lives in a rich tapestry of relationships of various kinds which are at their best and most virtuous when they are voluntary.

So conservatives don’t demand freedom for self-indulgence, but for service to others. Service at work – producing the goods and services which people value. Service at home, giving our love freely to family and friends. Service to others in civil society: in charities, clubs, churches, mosques and more.

So often in this great country of ours, people place service above themselves, valuing the sense of achievement and pride which comes from improving the lives of others in community and in our families. They don’t need the state to force them to do that.

A better future is clearly not going to come from regulating more, taxing more, running up more debt, or from coercing the public more. Instead it’s time for us to unleash the talents of the British people.

We must not grind miserably into the future trying to meet unaffordable spending by expecting young people to pay for it with higher taxes on their work. Or by continuing to allow state land use planning and cheap credit to lift decent family homes out of young people’s reach. We should all be encouraging and freeing young people to dream – of their first home, a successful career, and a more prosperous life – as we all once did.

My friends, we all know what we stand for. We know exactly what we want to achieve. It’s time to unleash a renaissance of entrepreneurialism so that the British people can dream again.

We’ve got to get the exhausting politically motivated campaigns out of our lives, stop tearing ourselves apart by condemning and cancelling each other’s views, and get on with creating wealth and serving each other. We must rediscover tolerance – where we respect our disagreements and have mutual respect for one another.

Let’s live in peace together, celebrate each other’s successes, our differences, our culture and history, listen to and learn from each other and have mutual respect for one another. Let’s unite to make the UK the most attractive and competitive place for investment in the world by reducing regulation, cutting state control over the economy and our lives, and by breaking down the barriers to private entrepreneurship. Let’s unite to reduce state spending and debt so that we can lower taxes and the cost of living for everyone, giving people a greater a say over where their money goes, and for businesses so that they can reinvest and grow.

Individuals and families know best how to spend their own money, not Whitehall. I encourage you all to take away this truly excellent paper by Julian Jessop, which outlines a tax cutting charter to ease the cost of living crisis we find ourselves in today.

Let’s unite to get power under control and make government more effective. The first rule of government – when considering major state interventions – must be to do no harm. Think of the untold consequences on people’s health and well-being caused by the decision to lock down the country and shut down our economy, without any attempt at serious cost-benefit analysis or reforming the way expert advice is provided to ministers. Scarce resources – provided by the hardworking taxpayer – must be directed with a laser like focus, to do the most good using an open and transparent framework.

CWF will be a policy clearing house and campaigning hub for our supporters. We will create a movement for a freer, happier and more prosperous society which people want to be a part of.

This organisation – of MPs and supporters, working with friends in the policy world, will redefine the territory on which the Conservative Party operates to one of conservatism – to one of freedom. Founded on virtue and responsibility, liberty and concern for community, and pride in this our great nation.

And CWF will support ministers. We want them to go in the direction so many of them have always professed: in the direction of freedom. So we will create a movement to make that possible, to make that irresistible.

But let’s make no mistake about the alternatives. For those of us who know serious attempts at socialism – the organisation of society by decree – have always led to poverty, misery and failure, there is only one political party which can form a government worth having. It is our party – the Conservative party.

The Labour party is never going to rise to the challenges of the generation ahead. Today’s Labour is still riven with strife as they seek to shake off the influence of extreme, politically-motivated groups of one kind or another, instead of standing for the mainstream of opinion among those of us who just want to get on with our lives. The Labour party will always believe that it knows better than the British people.

Friends, let’s be clear. This country can only become still more prosperous and successful under Conservative Governments. Only the Conservative party can form a government that will improve the lives of hardworking British people.

But it’s time to rediscover who we are, and why people put their faith in us. That will require Conservatives all over the country to rediscover firm principle grounded in the wisdom of the years, practically applied in a steadfast direction, however hard the road ahead may be.

This venue, the Churchill War Rooms, reminds us that this country has faced greater difficulties than our own. It reminds us that in such circumstances, the British people always rise to the moment with strength and fortitude. It reminds us of the importance of ideas and leadership when times are tough. We have nothing to fear from the enduring wisdom of the British people. And the British people have never needed their freedom more than they need it today.

Conservatives must now lead with humility and fierce resolve, making the case for policies that solve the real, practical difficulties in people’s lives, in a way that prioritises freedom and responsibility.

So today I am encouraging Conservative Party members and the wider public to join us as we begin to create a new movement for prosperity through freedom and to make it attractive to everyone.

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Steve Baker is MP for Wycombe.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.