Priti Patel: We must reject the government’s nanny-state creep and embrace true Tory values
At this pivotal time in our country’s history, we desperately need clear Conservative vision and leadership to take us forward, says Priti Patel
We have to be honest. Bad headlines, concessions over Brexit, questions about leadership and a state of policy drift are taking their toll on the Conservative party. Our grassroots activists are feeling demotivated, our supporters feel nervous about the future and the public are not clear about what our party stands for. Since the General Election last year, the Conservative government has been failing to connect with the aspirations and values of the public.
The polls suggest we are still preferred to a hard-left opposition led by a man who sides with our enemies and talks Britain down, but we are not inspiring the public. Instead of being true to our DNA and backing freedom, enterprise and meritocracy, we have drifted into becoming a party that’s increasing tax, applying new regulations and intervening more in people’s lives.
The Conservative brand should promote opportunity, defence and security and offer choice to people in their daily lives. These are our values and when we apply them we are successful. We are always at our strongest when we are true to ourselves.
Instead aspirational policies that drive social mobility, help people succeed and improve life chances have fizzled out. Gone are the days of flagship policies giving millions the chance to own their own home, start their own business, become share owners, and offer choice in public services. Now we are showcasing taxes on coffee cups, bans on straws and dictating to people what they can and cannot eat.
At this pivotal time in our country’s history, with the opportunities of Brexit ahead of us and the threat of Soviet-style socialism from Corbyn and his fanatical band of supporters, our country desperately needs clear Conservative vision and leadership to take us forward. For every challenge and problem in our country today there is a Conservative solution; and government must start re-prioritising to win back public confidence.
Presently the so called “solutions” proposed to every problem by this government are always the same – more tax, more spending, more red tape, more burdens and barriers to individuals that made it harder for them to get on and succeed. We need to once again be the party of low taxes and small, but effective and relevant government.
Unfortunately, the government has given up on the notion that lower taxes incentivise work and investment. Instead of breaking promises on national insurance and clobbering the self-employed, we should be leading the nation in the debate about the future of income tax and national insurance. Starting by introducing genuine reforms and tax simplification and finally integrating income tax and national insurance. A single income tax will be simple, clear to understand and remove an entire layer of complexity, especially for small businesses and the self-employed. Tax accountants, lawyers and HMRC bureaucrats who prey on those not able to navigate this this tax minefield will complain; but for most people a single income tax is long overdue. We can then work to progressively lower the tax rate to allow more people to keep more of what they earn.
Being true to its values a Conservative government should be rewarding those who work hard and do the right thing, rather than penalising them with an incomprehensible and burdensome tax system.
The defence of the nation and safety of our citizens must be front and centre of what a Conservative government does. While Labour under Corbyn back our enemies and are soft on crime, we must offer the public a strong and robust commitment to back our Armed Forces and our police. In an uncertain world we need to invest in resources and training that address the new emerging and challenging threats to our people, communities and country in order to secure our place as a world class military and defence leader.
Domestically, to keep our streets safe, long term investment in the police and innovation in bringing services together that work to prevent crime, rehabilitate offenders and support victims are essential. Including reform of sentencing so judges and magistrates can send dangerous and persistent offenders to prison for lengthy spells to keep the public safe and give them the time to rehabilitate rather than going through the revolving door. Protecting people’s life, liberty and property is the state’s core function. As violent crime and domestic crime continue to plague our communities, stronger Police support and a zero-tolerance approach to these crimes would go some way to once again reassurance the public that the Conservative Party is the party of law and order.
Because we stand on the side of aspiration and opportunity, we should make the case for more choice in public services to improve quality and to turbo-charge social mobility. Why not expand grammar schools to give people from low income backgrounds more choice and opportunities while also backing choice with high standards in comprehensives, academies and free schools. It is about time the Conservative party stood up to the vested interests and naysayers whose shallow ideological beliefs hold back the potential of our children.
Families are struggling with the cost of living and in particular housing. But the long-term solutions are not found in socialist price controls, nationalisation and anti-market approaches. They cause costs to rise and quality to suffer. So our party must once again embrace fair and open competition to drive down prices, bring in new providers and offer the public better choices and quality.
Politics is about vision, leadership and transforming people’s lives. Our most successful generational leaders – Thatcher, Reagan and Churchill – rose to this challenge following periods where intellectual and political thinking were overshadowed by defeatist and managerial decline.
To be relevant and to win the battle of ideas in politics, the Conservative government must show itself to be Britain’s great liberating force; freeing families and businesses to succeed; opening up markets to more choice; and promoting aspiration, opportunity and meritocracy in all we do.
It’s time to reject the nanny-state big government creep that has infected this government and once again embrace our true Conservative values to inspire Britain and deliver a prosperous future.
Priti Patel is Conservative MP for Witham and a former international development secretary