The news that Ukip is fielding only 377 candidates in the General Election could be a game changer for the possible outcome on 8th June, particularly as the seats left uncontested by the Party are in many places where the Conservative is committed to Brexit and is a close second to a pro-Remain sitting MP. Analysists predict this move alone could give the Conservatives an additional 29 seats in the new House of Commons.
Labour set out quite disastrously, but quite clearly, a number of major policy objectives in their already much derided manifesto of political suicide, but not much more needs to be said on that subject because it’s irrelevant what Jeremy Corbyn says he would do if he were to be Prime Minister when the polls close: quite simply there is no longer any last vestige of hope, not a snowball in Hell’s chance of Labour winning the General Election. The British electorate have not taken leave of their senses and do not want to return to the dark ages of the 1970s’ industrial disputes, three-day week, power cuts, and union baron control of government.
The question to be addressed must be to what purpose, to deliver what major policy objectives, should Theresa May deploy her significant parliamentary majority if she is given one? This would be a once in a generation opportunity to bring about a paradigm shift in one or more area of national or international policy. Yes, Brexit will be delivered, but that is already agreed and the process is underway. That, in part, is what is underpinning the truly remarkable Conservative revival. But, what is it that could be addressed, that is screaming out to be addressed, by those who care about our economy and public services, and the aspirations of our younger generations?
First, we need freer markets. Markets which are unencumbered by high taxes, high import tariffs, burdensome regulation, and less state control. Such free markets are the true generators of wealth for our nation and we should set businesses and those who invest in them free from the shackles that have for decades hindered their performance in international markets. This will be ever more crucial as we move towards our exit from the European Union. Yet, whilst we see ministers rightly touring the world to set out the bones of new trade agreements, we have yet to see a real commitment by Government to stop trying to micro-manage the decisions of others.
A solid Conservative majority in the Commons could give Mrs May the impetus and encouragement to bring about such a sea-change and to make Britain the surging economy and major trading force that it has been and could become once again. Sadly, however, this is unlikely to happen, too entrenched has the high tax, high regulation, high intervention mentality become.
Second, we could, at last, face up to the fact that our National Health Service is not fit for purpose in the 21st century, 17 years of which have already passed. The recent cyber attack has shown how ancient and incompetent its computer and data handlings system are, but the same goes for many of its buildings, the bureaucratic way it operates, and the dominance of local health authorities by district general hospitals.
These legacy problems are exacerbated, of course, by the changing demographics of our society, changes which have been predicted for decades with absolute certainty. We are an ageing society in which the elderly are living longer, but often with increasingly complex needs for medical and social care. These people don’t belong in hospital, but there is a perverse incentive on hospitals to keep them there. These people belong in their own homes, receiving home visits, community services, and trips to a local clinic whilst being monitored if necessary by telecare over the internet. All this has been possible for many years.
Why hasn’t it happened? It hasn’t happened because the political will has not been there to have a mature conversation with the electorate to point out that our healthcare system is one of the most expensive in Europe and yet delivers some of the worst possible outcomes. A Conservative Government with a sizeable majority could move rapidly to put legal force behind the drive for Sustainability Transformation Partnerships through which local health and social care services are shaken up to free value from underused land and buildings, to reconfigure the way services are delivered so that access is closer to home and move convenient for patients, leaving emergency beds free in the large hospitals for those who really need them.
This demographic trend delivers not only increased demand from the older section of society, but also places an increasing burden on younger workers who find themselves paying higher taxes as birth rates decline, whilst seeing the price of home ownership rise way beyond their reach. We need more affordable housing, better skills training, and a whole new approach to get taxes down so that the young can share in the wealth of our nation without being taxed and burdened with student debt into poverty.
If the Conservatives under Theresa May seize the national narrative they can make the case more than adequately for a wholesale reform of the National Health Service and adult social care; they can deliver on affordable housing, they can reduce burdens on business, they can boost our status as an international trading nation, they can up-skill the young, and they can avoid Brexit being the only subject in town, a subject of which, frankly, voters are a bit bored already: they voted for that, they want it delivered, but there are other problems facing society that need addressing and the Conservatives need to identify those issues and set out clearly, and radically, how they will be addressed.
This article first appeared in The Catholic Universe of 19th May 2017.
Cllr Chris Whitehouse KCSG is Chairman of Westminster’s leading political consultancy, www.whitehouseconsulting.co.uk, Secretary of the Catholic Legislators’ Network, a Trustee of the Right To Life Charitable Trust, and a Member of the Isle of Wight Council (Cons. Newport West).