Moving Forward as Party and Country after the Pandemic

Sooner or later, we will escape from the Covid-19 pandemic and it will fall to the Conservative Government to not merely rebuild the United Kingdom that once was, but to make a start on building the country of the future.

For good or ill we are no longer the society into which I was born and grew up before the advent of social media and large-scale immigration.

I see the need for reform in many areas including education, police, our health service, transport infrastructure, welfare and counter poverty policy.

Had Boris Johnson not already merged the Overseas Aid Department into the Foreign and Colonial Office, I would have included that on my list too.

It is now clear that many of the changes instituted since the Second World War were in precisely the wrong direction.

The Blairite target of 50% of school leavers to attend university prompted the growth of poor quality universities charging young undergraduates hefty fees to gain sub-standard degrees in subjects of neither intellectual nor commercial value, such as “media studies”.

What is now needed is the closure of such institutions and the establishment of high grade schools of technology, akin to the German model. They should offer training in technical skills ranging from low-technology subjects such as bricklaying and carpentry to the high-tech of computer-based technologies.

As in so many spheres, the digital world has enlarged the field of criminal activity with the “Mr Biggs” of crime often working from overseas, whilst poverty amongst immigrant communities has enlarged the potential market for drugs. The “Bobby on the Beat” is up against low level criminality such as doorstep drinking and his colleagues face armed gang warfare.

Clearly there is an urgent need for more police, but also more of those officers need to be of higher quality and skills. The Police College at Hendon should be the equivalent of the Army’s Sandhurst, training the men and women who will be leaders at all levels. Those coming into the service as officers on the beat should be akin to the Army’s non-commissioned ranks.

When the first post war Government of Clement Attlee created the National Health Service (NHS), it was thought its costs would fall as the scourges of malnutrition and such conditions as heart and lung disease were eradicated. Sadly, obesity has replaced malnutrition.

New techniques and medications have overcome many kinds of heart, lung and blood conditions which were once untreatable and often fatal, widening the scope for intervention and inflating the costs of treatment.

Even had the management of the NHS been vastly better than it has over the last half century, its costs would have increased as the scope for medical intervention has increased.

In fact the cost of administration above the level of hospitals and clinics has needlessly increased without adding value to patient care.

In some instances charitable bodies can make substantial contributions. In my own experience of working in a charity supporting a leading orthopaedic hospital, the charity provided an outstanding orthotic centre facility and a world class centre of research into musculo-skeletal disorders.

Railways were invented here in Britain. Before the Second World War the four great companies, London Midland and Scottish (LMS); London and North Eastern (LNER); Great Western (GWR) and Southern (SR) were as good as any in the world. However, by 1945 after five years of intensive use and little or no capital investment they were nationalised by the Labour Government.

That Government faced enormous demands for public expenditure and the railways’ needs gave way to those of the NHS, housing, pensions and welfare.

Prime Minister Major botched de-nationalisation by separating ownership of the tracks and the trains, making matters worse. Whether in the state or private sector, track and trains must be in the same hands or the owners of the track will neglect investment in tracks and signalling and make profits by raising prices to the train operators.

There are no ready fixes for the problems of poverty, but education has a key role.

Crime and welfare are easier ways to increase an individual’s low income as our schools have left many young people so ignorant that they are prey to false ideas pedalled by fantasists and demagogues. For example, that inoculations against measles, mumps, influenza (and potentially Covid-19) are harmful.

As the United Kingdom regains its status as an independent nation state, the nationalist fringe in Scotland seeks severance from the remainder of the Kingdom, with scant consideration of the consequences for the Scots of a border separating them from the rest of the economy of the United Kingdom, nor any plan for Scotland’s relationship with the European Union.

The preservation of the Union must be a major priority of Government. That will require clear exposition of the perils which beset mini states which a separated Scotland would be.

What currency would it use – what would be the costs of defence and diplomatic representation? Or would the Scottish Nationalists seek membership of the European Union – and thus lose their independence again?

Better by far that all of us in this Kingdom should strengthen our bonds with the old Commonwealth nations of Canada, Australia and New Zealand with whom we all - Scots, English, Ulstermen and women and Welsh have so much in common.

Lord Norman Tebbit for Conservative Progress