The Right must continue to make the case for real reform – by Edward Leigh MP

portrait-edwardleighIn all the furore over Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, the voice of the moderate right has had little chance to express itself.

The first truth is that the Labour government itself has given a tremendous boost to the BNP with its immigration policies. The careful controls such as the Primary Purpose Rule which had controlled immigration under successive Conservative Governments were torn up. There has in the last twelve years been an unprecedented wave in immigration of over 2 million people. One report I read this week suggests that in the not too distant future our population will reach 77 million.

A cap is needed now on immigration.

In case anyone thinks there is something racist in this I would argue that the uncontrolled eastern European has long been a problem, much as I love Poles and their work ethos.

Even the Conservative asylum policies, designed to admit small numbers of political refugees, were a problem. Within the last twelve years these rules have been abused.

The second boost to far-right parties has been a general sense of hopelessness engendered by our increasingly rule based, regulation driven, politically correct society. We should remember that Britishness is primarily about freedom from the state. We are the only country in Europe never to have been a police state or had one imposed on us. Again a new Conservative government must have the sort of bonfire of controls that the Conservative government of 1951 initiated.

The third boost to the extremist policies has been the moral relativism of mainstream liberal thinking. Politicians are frightened of proclaiming an ideal because it may not be attainable by everybody or because they themselves fall short of it. An obvious example is marriage. It may be difficult for people to commit themselves to each other for life, to bring up children, but that does not mean it is wrong or that in acknowledging the fact we are attacking alternative lifestyles.

The fourth boost for the far-right, and most difficult to talk about, has been the squeamishness of mainstream politicians in dealing with Muslim extremism, not just the terrorist but the cultural variety. I make no secret of my admiration for Britain’s Jewish community. Muslims should learn from their example. Jewish people here have kept their religion, (if they want, of the liberal or orthodox variety) they have kept their identity, but they have chosen to integrate. They have become more British than the British; they have contributed enormously to Britain’s cultural, intellectual and business strength.

I admire Islam, its spirituality and its values. But Muslims who choose to settle here, and they are most welcome, must see themselves primarily as loyal Britons, not just in the sense of citizenship but cultural sense as well.

The last boost for extremist parties has been the lack of radical intellectual vigour in the mainstream ones. There are too few back-benchers on the opposition party and too little encouragement given to radical ideas which appeal to the party loyalist. I recently attended a Conservative county wide dinner. I was the only Conservative MP there. This doesn’t matter much, but what the party should be worried about is that there were only 40 people there. There were 2,000 journalists at the party conference but only 1,500 delegates. To break through you need ideas coming up from below. You must inspire your activists.

Back-bench MPs and MEPs who come up with new ideas should be encouraged. I am not saying that the leadership should adopt all there policies, just that we need a debate about them.

Let me give a few examples. First, localism. If we really believe in this should local authorities not be given the tax licensing powers, for instance through local sales tax being set free from central government.

In the education world we must trust the professionals. Schools really should be set free. Heads should be entirely free to set the curriculum, hire and fire staff and select and expel pupils as they wish, as happens so successfully in the private sector. Parents should be able to able to buy into the private education sector with a discount equivalent to the cost of state education. I say this by the way as a parent of a child in a comprehensive school.

The NHS is not a religion. People who have contributed all their lives as tax-payers should be able to top-up NHS care with private care or private medicines if the NHS can’t provide them with what they need. Pensioners should be allowed to claim tax relief for private health insurance (the policy of previous Conservative governments) and this should be extended as circumstances permit. I say all this as someone who has to rely exclusively for himself and his family on the NHS. At present I can afford nothing else.

We must continue to be explicit about the state of the public finances, acknowledge the need for cuts in the public sector and unveil efficiency programmes. Much progress has been made in this respect. For a long time people like me, who argued for breaking free of Labours spending plans, were called dangerous extremists who would cost us the next election; who says that now?

And of course when we take power we need a referendum on our relationship with Europe and ensuring our national sovereignty.

And so the list goes on. We need radical ideas from the grass roots. We need of course to capture the middle ground but politics needs to be fun as well!

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