This is an edited version of the introduction and executive summary of the ConservativeHome manifesto.
A hundred years ago, only ten per cent of us owned our homes and most families relied on jobs that paid survival wages only. Yet, over the course of the 20th century, a downtrodden working class blossomed into a mass middle class with property, prospects and a stake in the future.
Crucially, this was a transformation that ordinary working people achieved for themselves – succeeding as individuals, families and communities, not as an impersonal collective bound to the state. Instead of the socialist society that the left had predicted and planned for us, we developed as a free society in which individual effort was recognised and rewarded.
However, fourteen years into a new century, and on the eve of a general election, we have to ask ourselves if this is still the case. Is everyone who does the right thing – working to provide for themselves and their families – getting a full share in the benefits of economic growth? Or is it just a minority who can look forward to a brighter future?
Homes. Jobs. Savings.
Politicians like to deal in abstract words like ‘aspiration’ and ‘opportunity’, but there’s nothing vague about the building blocks of a free society – either you have them in your life or you don’t. And there are three that matter most of all:
This is what all the talk about opportunity comes down to: Homes. Jobs. Savings.
The previous century was a time of remarkable progress on all three fronts – and without it the freedoms we take for granted today would not exist. But we have to face up to the facts:
The foundations of the mass middle class are crumbling. The great historical trends that transformed our economy, our society and our politics are in danger of going into reverse.
The threat to the future
There’s no clearer sign of this than the diminishing hope that our children will have bigger and better opportunities than we did. Whether on homes, jobs or savings, the trend away from opportunity is hurting young people more than anyone (see chapters one, two and three).
Conservatives must recognise the urgency of the situation. The current Government has steered Britain out of the worst recession since the war, but ordinary working people must have a direct stake in the recovery. If the only way that they can gain from economic growth is through the tax- and-spending powers of the state then the outlook for conservatism in the 21st century is a grim one.
The future for a free economy and a free society depends upon the ability of Britons to prosper by their own efforts, making their own decisions, exercising their own judgment. All that is at risk if the only road to advancement runs through the state.
The Conservative vision of a property-owning democracy hangs in the balance.
It is not enough to recognise the seriousness of the challenges we face as a nation. We also need a way forward. This is the purpose of our manifesto – a policy programme to restore opportunity and rebuild the foundations of a growing and prosperous mass middle class.
A focused manifesto
This isn’t a conventional manifesto. It doesn’t cover a complete A to Z of policy areas. We concentrate on the issues that matter most to our agenda. We lead with three main chapters on homes, jobs and savings. These are supported by two further chapters on money and power – i.e. the economic and political reforms required to make change happen.
Policies to make a real difference
“If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change” – unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury right now. The threats to our property-owning democracy are too grave to limit ourselves to minor policy adjustments and electoral gimmicks. This manifesto is about changing the rules of the system so that it works for and not against the interests of ordinary working people.
A long-term agenda
It took twenty years to halt the rise of the mass middle class. It will take another twenty years to fully undo the damage. Therefore this isn’t just a manifesto for the next election, it is a rallying cry for conservatism in the 21st century.
Our manifesto for ordinary working people sets out a programme of reforms designed to support home ownership, full employment and savings for all. Across five chapters we explore the challenges and propose the policies we believe are required in response – here are ten of them:
(1) Ownership first – Britain doesn’t just need more homes, it also needs better, more affordable homes. A building boom that sucks in cheap money looking for a quick return will not deliver affordability. We must therefore freeze out the property speculators with an ownership first condition on the development of new housing. Councils would be given the power to reserve the sale of new homes to those intending to live in them.
(2) New Garden Cities for the 21st century – The piecemeal approach to building new homes has failed. We need a vision for the development of strategically located areas like the Thames Estuary. Therefore we propose the creation of Garden City Corporations, empowered to clear the obstacles to large-scale regeneration. Existing residents would have a direct financial stake through the allocation of shares in each corporation – and the closer the impact of new development, the more shares they’d get.
(3) Scrap HS2 to create a Northern infrastructure Fund – The battle for Britain’s future prosperity will be won or lost in its cities beyond London. HS2 is yet another London-centric mega-project that won’t even reach the North until the 2030s and won’t reach key cities like Liverpool at all. We would scrap HS2 and re-direct the planned public investment in its entirety to a Northern Infrastructure Fund under the control of elected mayors from across the region.
(4) A new deal on immigration – Britain must regain full control of its borders, repatriating power over immigration policy from the European Union. With this renewed freedom, the existing immigration targets would be replaced by a points-based system emphasising the skills needed for economic growth. New migrants would be required to purchase their own health and welfare insurance cover – and access to public services would have to be earned.
(5) A fair share of pensions tax relief – Upfront tax relief on pensions is worth between £20 and £30 billion a year, but this disproportionately benefits the wealthiest savers. A fairer allocation of this vast amount of money is needed to provide ordinary working people with a greater incentive to save. The highest rates of relief should go to savings made from the lowest incomes.
(6) Hands-on financial education – As a country, we must rebuild our savings culture – and the best place to start is with the young. We therefore propose that funding should be allocated to endow every school with the seed capital for an investment portfolio. This would form the centre- piece of a hands-on programme of financial education. Dividends would be paid out to every pupil – providing they passed a financial literacy test and paid the money into a personal savings account opened as part of the test.
(7) Higher National Insurance thresholds – National Insurance Contributions are a direct tax on jobs. To boost job creation and the earning power of ordinary working people, we would make NICs our top tax-cutting priority. We would begin by eliminating employee and employer contributions for all under-25s on the minimum wage – extending the tax cut up the age range and income scale as resources allow.
(8) A UK Sovereign Wealth Fund – Countries like Norway have set up sovereign wealth funds – allowing them to save as a nation, not just as individuals. In Britain, however, successive governments have squandered ‘windfall’ revenues instead of investing them for the future. We therefore propose the creation of a UK Sovereign Wealth Fund, mutually-owned by all British citizens and into which all new windfall revenues would be paid.
(9) Devo-Max for all the home nations – Whatever the result of the Scottish referendum, is is clear that the existing relationship between Westminster and the four home nations cannot be sustained. We propose devolved national governments for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – each with its own First Minister. The English Government and First Minister would be chosen by MPs for English constituencies.
(10) Direct Democracy, including internet voting – Merely electing our MPs and councillors every four or five years and hoping for the best is not good enough. There should be a genuine right of recall. Work should begin on the introduction of electronic voting. The passing of a referendum bill should be made a non-negotiable condition for Conservative participation in any future Coalition Government.