Lord Baker: Our next Prime Minister must show competence and integrity to overcome the challenges ahead
The next Prime Minister must make clear that the days of Boris Johnson are over - integrity has to return and competence shown.
The future owes Boris nothing and I hope he will not be sniping from the side lines. The government now needs to concentrate on helping the nation deal with inflation of 11 per cent, energy bills rising to £3,000 a year, and a recession in the coming months.
There should be a reset of policies. First, make Brexit work. We should not fall out with Europe by rejecting the Northern Ireland Protocol. Common-sense should tell you that it is barmy to enter a conflict which you cannot win.
Second, exports by our smaller companies to Europe have fallen away, so the government must help British exporters to overcome the administrative difficulties of sending their goods to Europe.
Third, the Tories lost the safe seats of North Shropshire and Tiverton by losing the support of farming communities. Instead of growing more crops and breeding animals, they have been asked to make the countryside more beautiful with bird and bee friendly crops. You only have to listen to Farming Today at 5:45am to hear the anxiety, anguish, and anger of farmers who are going to breed fewer chickens and sow less salad and vegetable crops. What is needed is the appointment of a dynamic leader, like Lord Woolton during the Second World War with his great “Dig for Victory” campaign.
The future owes Boris nothing and I hope he will not be sniping from the side lines
Four, there is a desperate need for more houses - we are simply not building enough. Boris’ promise to allow housing associations to sell off their homes will not result in one new house. In the 1960s, by a vote of the Conservative Party Conference, Harold Macmillan had to build 300,000 houses a year – to do that he appointed Ernie Marples, a man who had made his money building roads, to meet that target, and he did. We need the appointment of a professional to meet today’s pressing need for much more housing.
Fifth, we need to re-shape our education system to make it more responsive to the needs of our digital age. For 12 years schools have been saddled with a curriculum of eight purely academic subjects – exactly the same subjects as those followed in 1904. Youth unemployment is 9 per cent, but in the depressed areas of the North-East, West Midlands, and East London it can be as high as 20 per cent. Young people leaving school at 16 (now very few) and at 18 should have employability skills like data skills, problem-solving, oracy, having worked in teams, making and designing things with their hands and on computers, being creative, inventive and imaginative. The curriculum and GCSEs need to change and a dramatic improvement in skills training is urgently needed and that is a 5–10-year programme.
Sixth, give more help for the care of the vulnerable. Recruit more careworkers, even from overseas, pay them better, and stop the closure of care homes.
Seventh, tax. The country expects more help with the cost-of-living crisis and that should be focussed upon helping the poorest and most disadvantaged. When Margaret Thatcher cut taxes, she also cut government expenditure, but we cannot do that today as later this year government expenditure will have to increase to help the poorest. We must appreciate that GDP will only go up if more people buy a product or service – that is where growth comes from and a cut in personal taxes will not always promote that result.
This programme of government help will need sound planning, full implementation, and a determination to stick to it. Seven challenging tasks for our new Prime Minister.
Lord Baker is a Conservative peer.
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