Over the next few weeks, members of the Conservative Party will choose the Party’s next leader and the country’s next Prime Minister.
By: Stewart Harper
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Follow Stewart on twitter: @stewharper
The fantastic Conservative Progress Conference on 21 June gave the opportunity for activists to hear from a wide variety of speakers, including one of the final two in the race, Jeremy Hunt, and a number of other current and former Cabinet ministers.
We – activists, and the media, and probably the country as a whole – have become so obsessed with the Brexit question, there is a danger of losing sight of the other most pressing questions that the new Party Leader must deal with if successful. For many of the electorate, the industrial strife of Britain under Wilson and Callaghan in the 1970s is the stuff of history, and their perceptions of the subsequent reforms under Thatcherism are inaccurately skewed.
So the Conference got me thinking. A new Conservative leader will need to put forward a positive example of what conservatives stand for – in values, but also in terms of practical actions. Four themes struck me from the speakers as to the biggest priorities:
Reviewing our investment in public services – when coming to power in 2010 the government was forced to take difficult decisions to cut spending in a number of ways, the new Prime Minister will face many (strong) calls to increase spending – on education, police numbers or on defence. These all have to be funded, so the Spending Review this year will be a huge test – which are the priorities, and how will they be funded.
Addressing Social Care – the Conservative Party deserve to be known as the ‘party of the NHS’ – having invested record levels of funding, and having looked after this national institution for the majority of its life. But now, with an increasingly elderly population, there is a real need to do the same for social care, and develop a system of funding that will last for at least a generation. Funding will likely need to be a balance between the state and the individual, but it must be done in a way that everyone knows and can plan with confidence.
Resolving the Housing problem – house building has grown considerably since 2010, but there is still a huge challenge that needs to be addressed. By reforming the legislation and removing the barriers (such as ‘land banking’ by developers), the Conservative Party can return itself to being the party of home owners. Reforming rental markets has already been a huge achievement over the last few years but there is more to do here too.
Building on environmental successes – reducing carbon emissions and reducing reliance on fossil fuels have been a significant achievement for this government, but the challenge is so great that we will need to go further. Many polls show that this is the most important issue for younger voters, so as well as being the right thing to do it can also be electorally beneficial.
But above all we need to be able to give a positive answer to the question “Why Vote Conservative?”. We can no longer assume that the arguments in favour of freedom, liberty and enterprise can be taken for granted – they will need to be restated and renewed for the fight ahead. Because the alternative is too awful to contemplate.