by Sir Edward Leigh MP
Conservative MPs about to decide on the leadership of the party – and the nation – will consider character, the national interest, electability, and myriad other factors. Putting aside the personalities involved, it’s worth thinking for at least a moment about what policies we want the next premier to promote. I’d like to offer a few suggestions that range from the theoretical to the specific, and from the pragmatic to the principled.
It’s obvious the European Union is the biggest issue that needs tackling – and soon. Simply put, whatever specific set of conditions we manage to negotiate it is obvious that two will meet the bare minimum: ending our formal membership of the European Union and regaining control over the UK’s border. If these two conditions remain unfulfilled it could have a disastrous effect on the legitimacy of our parliamentary system in the eyes of the governed.
Stay calm: a trade deal in goods and services is achievable. Serve your notice, then negotiate. We know that if a deal is not struck tariffs are coming down across the globe anyway and the World Trade Organisation rules are acceptable. Governments and companies act in their own interest. If you have a huge trade deficit with someone — as we do with the EU – it is in their interest to negotiate continuing favourable access. The German automotive industry is already making placating noises – hardly surprising given how many of their cars we buy.
We cannot remain in the Single Market which in reality is a single regulatory regime. If you accept the Norwegian model you accept free movement of people and the Single Market regulations. The old pre-Common Market EFTA model remodelled for a new age is the right approach. Control of one’s borders is a red line. Anything else would be a betrayal of the millions of people who voted to Leave. We must also maximise our trading potential with North America and then see what bilateral accords we can come to with other emerging and developed markets.
Managing the domestic economy, we should scrap the top rate of 45p. Moving towards a much flatter tax system and simplifying our monstrously enormous tax code would help small- and medium-sized enterprises while giving us a competitive advantage on the global stage. The budget process is also in dire need of reform, so that MPs actually know what they are voting on and can actually debate the specifics of ever mercurial government spending.
In education, we need to continue empowering both parents and school heads and governors. A voucher system (combined with a ban on additional top-up fees) should be introduced gradually by starting in reception year and moving upwards each year, lessening the dead weight cost. State schools need full freedom over selection and exclusion of pupils and hiring and firing of staff.
Our justice system needs to be rethought from the ground up. We need to look into community service and other alternatives for those receiving prison sentences of less than two years. Rehabilitation needs to be an absolute priority so that our prisons don’t just become training schools inducting those who’ve made mistakes into a life of crime.
Infrastructure is in dire need of attention. Scrap the costly and mismanaged HS2 and let’s devote more funding to commuter services and the rural branch lines that can unleash potential across the county. To relieve pressure on London, we need to complete the East-West Rail Link by reopening the full length of the Varsity Line between Oxford and Cambridge as well as connecting to Stansted. Allow Heathrow, Stansted, and Gatwick to each have an extra runway, while accelerating the dualling, bypass, and roadbuilding schemes across the country.
The NHS needs to remain free at the point of delivery for hospital treatment, but we should look into funding it properly by allowing affordable charges for non-hospital treatment. We need to have a frank and open debate about how we are going to meet the challenge of caring for an aging population and how this will be funded. Pensioners with private medical insurance do relieve the NHS burden and it’s unfair that they are taxed on the income used to fund this – such was our policy even during the Major government.
The rollout of the Universal Credit much continue, and we need to get the DWP budget under control by freezing and if necessary reducing benefits for future – not present – claimants.
Scotland needs full fiscal autonomy with tax raising and spending powers, scrapping the Barnett formula which unfairly ties funding in Scotland to the priorities of English voters. The obsession with forcing elected mayors on counties needs to end too. If powers and funding are to be devolved, give them to existing authorities.
Britain’s place in the world would be much strengthened by increasing the size of the Royal Navy, particularly with frigates but also coastal and border patrol craft. We must move away from the discredited Blairite liberal imperialist foreign policy that has caused turmoil in the Middle East which only reverberates throughout the world. We should prioritise peaceful transition and work with existing governments in destroying the totalitarian death cult of Da’esh – even if this means coordinating our efforts with loathsome and deplorable regimes like Assad. It was worth palling with evil Stalin to defeat the much worse Hitler.
The 0.7 per cent requirement for DFID funding is well-intentioned but economically illiterate. The global needs change every year with the fluctuations of wars and national disasters. We should identify our priorities in order to determine what needs to be spent and what we can afford. We have been one of the most generous countries in terms of foreign aid and we should maintain this tradition with effective aid that has observable results, not just throwing arbitrary sums at the problem.
It’s obvious from the Referendum campaign that immigration is of deep concern to our people, and ending blanket free movement with the EU will help. Overall, we need to tailor a points-based system that will allow us to let in to this country the talent and experience we want.
Britons want a country that is alive and open to the whole world, but in which the stability of our institutions and infrastructure is guarded and in which governments are held to account. Leaving the EU will put power back in the hands of voters, but it also means we politicians will have to up our game and make difficult decisions again. I hope the next Prime Minister – whomever he or she may be – will take note.