9 May 2018

The dead hand of the state – not capitalism – has failed young people

By Jack Powell and Matt Gillow

As members of the Conservative Party under the age of 50, we are a rare breed. We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been asked why we vote Conservative — and not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, who are “clearly so much better for young people”.

Often, when confronted with this question, we refer to our belief in a small state, free markets and individual liberty. Yet, arguably, these are not the true values of today’s Conservative Party.

Despite seeing last week’s local campaigns — predicated on low-tax messages — help stem the Corbyn surge, nationally our party offers little in the way of inspiration or hope. Our message seems to be: “vote for us because we’re not Corbyn”.  To truly win over the young, we need to offer something in which people can believe and be inspired — an optimistic platform centred around freedom.

The problem with the modern Conservative Party is that it is too quick to acquiesce to Labour. Like Jeremy Corbyn, the Conservatives under Theresa May are quite able to talk about the problems they believe the country faces, but their answer is always the same: if only government had more power and could create a new “scheme”, we would all be okay. That is the problem with the cautious conservatism espoused at the top — it lacks vision.

May’s Conservatives have decided that we should take lessons from Corbyn in our response, that we should shift to the left, admit defeat and concede our principles. Far from it. As last week’s successful low-tax messages show, we must stick to our guns and prove exactly why socialism is a relic from the past, rather than a solution for the future. A return to economic liberalism and individualism can rescue the party from its current stagnation.

Many party members, including the two of us, are not “small-c” conservatives —we are not truly conservative in the philosophical sense, only in that we are members of the Conservative Party. Philosophically, we self-identify as classical liberals. We believe that individuals should be able to live as they choose, as long as they do not impinge on another’s liberty.

This is the philosophy by which, in their day to day lives, most young people live. They are not by nature One-Nation Conservatives, or necessarily in favour of Labour’s socialism — though of course there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model.  Liz Truss, the surprising darling of the free-market grassroots, aptly described young people as “Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating, freedom fighters”.

Unlike small-c conservatives, we are fundamentally at ease with modern Britain and the social and economic freedoms it brings. Indeed, Truss is absolutely right: young people are thriving in the gig economy. Britain’s version of Silicon Valley is flourishing.

Sure, young people may feel hard done by at the hands of older generations, but the system that has failed them is not capitalism. The system that has led to many of the country’s ills is statism — the belief that the government’s role should be active and interventionist in the economy and on moral issues. Yet, we know that interventionism strangles the very soul of wealth creation in an enterprise economy.

And it is wealth creation that is the fundamental tool for progress, it is what powers a dynamic and creative economy, it is what has led to the brilliant technological changes our world has experienced in the last couple of decades, and it is what pays for the social services that we, and particularly the poor, rely on. The best machine to alleviate poverty and encourage economic progress is the free market.

Instead of capping energy prices, government should ensure proper competition in the energy market. Instead of taking the socialist approach, government should continue with — and the Conservative Party should return to — the pro-competition reforms in education seen under Michael Gove. Instead of maintaining the disastrous and counterproductive “war on drugs”, government should pursue drug legalisation. Instead of pursuing an economically illiterate cap on immigration, government should embrace immigration for making us freer, richer and more dynamic.

The most important area to focus on is housing. Too many people are currently left at the mercy of renting from the state or private landlords for their entire lives, rather than the dignity they could achieve with property ownership. It is time for the Conservative Party to be radical and progressive, and scrap our archaic planning laws. If we allocated just 3.7 per cent of London’s greenbelt to housing, one million homes could be built across London. Magnify that to the entire country, and the number of affordable homes would shoot up.

The “NIMBY” crowd would object — those who already own their own homes and never struggled to do so — but as people live into their 90s and 100s, we will find ourselves with fewer and fewer homes. Either we abandon the principle of property ownership, or we make a bold decision to extend that dignity to younger generations. The housing crisis would be solved and we would renew faith in the free-market system for a generation. The current cautious approach isn’t getting the Prime Minister anywhere and it certainly isn’t delivering positive policy for the majority of the country.

These policy clashes represent the major battle in British politics. That of the collective — the state — versus the individual. Who knows how to spend your money better? Take the recent Resolution Foundation paper which recommended giving all 25-year-olds a £10,000 payout in order to put a deposit on a house, pay off tuition fees, or start a business.

This effectively says to young people; “these are your problems, this is how you can sort them out and this is how you should spend your money”. Whatever happened to the fail-safe, remarkably simple principle of cutting tax to let people keep more of their own money, and accepting that the free market, even in education and health, drives up standards?

This is the positive message of capitalism and freedom that the Conservative Party needs to make — not wither away from — especially when we are faced with the spectre of Corbyn’s socialism. In the past, Margaret Thatcher showed that giving individuals more freedom and power over their own lives results in both economic and electoral success.

Whether some of our fellow party members like it or not, there are moments in every society where the status quo is abolished and something radical is swept in. Unless, we up our game and offer a vision of freedom alongside a radical set of policies, we are doomed to be relegated to the sidelines for a decade of socialism.

Jack Powell is Editor-in-Chief of 1828 (a new political opinion website dedicated to liberty), a student at KCL and a Conservative activist. Matt Gillow is student at Leeds University and a local coordinator for the TaxPayers' Alliance.