If the Conservative Party wants to maintain and grow its support in the North, we need more free market policies, not fewer. We need more of the invisible hand of the free market, and less of the dead hand of the state.
There was a time when the Conservative Party was the party of free trade. That’s the reason I supported the party from an early age. It still pays lip service to it, but to all intents and purposes, there really isn’t a cigarette paper between the Conservative Party in 2017 and the Labour Party in the Blair years.
Peter Mandelson famously said that he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”. Many on the left saw this as the final straw – Labour had well and truly sold out and had embraced the free market, warts and all. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that all Labour did was maximise tax revenue so it could spend taxpayers’ money as fast as it came in (and then some more) to spend on pet projects and increase the client state.
Governments of all colours are like the average punter on a day’s outing to the races: they all think they can pick winners, but the reality is at the end of the day they leave much poorer than when they started.
This Conservative Government also thinks it can pick winners. Stuart Andrew’s article on this site last week proved it. He spoke of a few £billion here and a few £million there that the Government (taxpayers) will spend on projects to supposedly benefit the North. The Government has an “industrial strategy”. Those two words together send a shiver down my spine – and not in a good way.
Stuart rightly states that the “North was at the forefront of the country’s Industrial Revolution”. It was, and it was done without large injections of taxpayers’ money. Before anyone starts shouting that this was done at the expense of workers’ rights, and that health and safety wasn’t even a concept, I know all of that and I am not advocating going back to Victorian working practices.
Stuart went on to say that “with the Industrial Strategy it [the North] will lead the way in our Industrial future.” My question is: as the North was successful without constant Government interference, why can’t it be successful again without the need for an “industrial strategy”? Why can’t we just let the market do its job? The problem isn’t that the state doesn’t do enough – it’s that the state tries to do too much, which makes more people reliant on it and the economy less productive.
During the Thatcher years the Conservative Party was arguably at its zenith. Rolling back the state, not picking winners, and unleashing the potential of ordinary people was at the heart of its policies.
A few weeks ago I was at the UK launch of the Heritage Foundation’s ‘2017 Index of Economic Freedom’. This is an annual publication covering all countries in the world, apart from a few where the data is unreliable, and it proves every year that those countries with the most economic freedom are the most prosperous. The governments of those countries that don’t try to pick winners have higher incomes per capita.
So when I read that the Government has decided to create a £23 billion National Productivity Fund that will “deliver investment in transport projects, rolling out broadband and future 5G mobile technology as well as an investment framework to encourage both private and public sector investment in every region of the UK”, and that “Ministers have committed £4.7 billion in research and development funding by 2020-2021 as well as £170 million to set up Institutes of Technology to keep developing new ideas and industries and ensuring that future generations are equipped with the skills to develop them further”, I sigh.
Telecoms is a hugely profitable sector of the economy. There isn’t a reason on earth why those current companies in the marketplace, and new companies in the future, cannot provide broadband and 5G without taxpayers having to pay for it. If broadband coverage is poor in certain areas, ministers have sharp elbows to get the telecoms companies to improve. Telecoms is regulated, and the regulator has the power to demand improvements.
When I first bought a mobile phone over 23 years ago, I could never imagined how it would evolve. Mobile communications have evolved because of the free market. Of course we want a workforce equipped with the skills they need in order to find gainful employment, but who knows what those skills are going to be in ten years time. The market is nimble; Government is not.
Instead of doling out money as if we didn’t have a £1.7 trillion deficit, we need more of the invisible hand of the free market, and less of the dead hand of the state. That’s how we raise living standards and have more prosperity for all.