An article from The Spectator said Theresa May’s vision of conservatism is a ‘third way’ between the rising tide of nationalism and declining support for globalisation. The article said she is attempting to tame the forces of nationalism by accepting the need to withdraw from the European Union whilst boosting international support for globalisation, by promoting free trade deals with other countries and persuading Donald Trump to support NATO.
There is certainly a lot of merit behind this argument. It helps clarify the Prime Minister’s global policy, yet it was written prior to the impeding general election dawning upon us. Calling an election was a masterstroke of genius, because if she wins, the Tory leader will be elected on a fresh mandate and free from the imprisonment of David Cameron’s manifesto. Should the Tories return to power on June 8th with an anticipated landslide, what else would be included in May’s vision of conservatism, apart from Brexit and the opportunities it will present to this country?
Rather like Cameron’s brand of modern conservatism, domestically it will no doubt attempt to blend together the need for austerity and a return to traditional conservatism, but expect more emphasis on the latter. Since being appointed as Prime Minister, May has flirted with the idea of reintroducing grammar schools. Yet this policy was not included in the 2015 manifesto, so she has had to tackle opposition from her backbenchers and the House of Lords over these plans. With a fresh mandate that includes this measure and a whooping majority of over 100, she will face few obstacles from those who oppose her.
With Brexit being a central plank in her manifesto, expect a return to traditional conservative values of patriotism. If May returns to power with a landslide, it will be much easier for her to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, which has seen the European Court of Human Rights attempt to stifle decisions Westminster has made on certain matters in the past, like prisoners’ voting rights in 2005. If she succeeds in repealing the Human Rights Act and replaces it with a British Bill of Rights that allows the Supreme Court to have a final say on matters of appeal, this would consolidate her brand of traditional, patriotic conservatism that has faith in British institutions.
However, her return to patriotic values might be the essential ingredient required to stem the flow of Scottish nationalism rising in Holyrood. If May can balance creating a post-Brexit British identity that restores people’s faith in traditional institutions free from Brussels’ control whilst managing to persuade Scotland that its best interests are served being in the United Kingdom, she would have secured an historic opportunity many past prime ministers would be envious of.
It is clear people’s sense of feeling British has been damaged in recent years by a lack of pride in British institutions. Support for the monarchy remains high, but trust in Westminster has been damaged by the expenses scandal of 2009, the erosion of our laws by Brussels and the introduction of devolution in the late 90s. Another unique British institution, the NHS is on its knees. Brexit has restored a sense of confidence to this country in taking control of its destiny, but that newly-found self-belief could evaporate if the institutions we are left behind with when we leave the EU are no better than the ones in Europe Brexiteers hate so much. Under a May government, the Prime Minister will no doubt continue her plans to introduce an elected House of Lords to restore people’s trust in Parliament by holding this body to account through elections.
But where she needs to be more bold is with NHS reform. It is clear the NHS will not remain free to the point of use forever. If she can introduce a German-style healthcare system to this country, she would have truly saved this institution whilst ensuring the poor do not pay for their healthcare. She would have freed the health service from public money that fails to provide adequate funding.
Cameron’s government was dogged by its abysmal failure to keep immigration levels to the tens of thousands, despite knowing this would never be achievable whilst Britain is not allowed to prohibit the free movement of workers from the EU. The reality of Brexit has clearly dawned upon Mrs May and it is clear a free trade deal will not be achieved before April 2019, the date of our EU exit. This means Westminster will not be able to fully control immigration until that free trade deal has been signed. So we should expect a lot of noise from an elected May government about regaining full control over immigration, but not being able to implement a points-based system until after the next general election. It will be interesting to see what the new Conservative Party manifesto will say about immigration, but there should not be a commitment to reduce it to the tens of thousands. Instead, there should be a promise to legislate for a method of controlling immigration from outside and inside the EU post-Brexit, because, who knows, we may still leave the EU with a free trade deal signed by April 2019, which gives her three years to create a points-based system. Cameron and Osborne promised to control immigration to silence the Tory right-wing, but under a May government ushered into power by a referendum where immigration was the central issue, we will witness the return of this traditional Tory value of being tough on immigration.
Although Brexit has become the current Government’s main priority, there is still a significant budget deficit to tackle and an exploding national debt to pay off. This is where May will remain true to the Cameron agenda. The need for austerity will remain to help balance the books. Increased wealth cannot be brought into this country until Britain is free to trade with countries other than the shrinking EU bloc.
All of Cameron’s achievements like increasing the personal allowance, introducing new apprenticeships, reforming schools, the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and the Localism Act 2011 will be preserved, maybe even further encouraged, under a May government.
The Conservative leader has recently stated she believes her party to be the one of low taxation. But this is the area where Mrs May could seize the most political capital. To create an economy like that of Singapore’s once we leave the EU of low taxation and light regulation will encourage investment from companies abroad. Let us hope she is true to her word about keeping taxes low, because that will create a sense of confidence in post-Brexit Britain needed in its upcoming negotiations with the EU.
When she became Prime Minister, she said her concern was for the just about managing (JAM) families, the ones left behind by globalisation and free markets. Just because these people voted for Brexit in huge numbers does not mean the Tory leader should discourage further free market reforms. At a time of economic uncertainty, the markets should be more trusted to provide people of all backgrounds with prosperity, not government.
It is noble she wants to introduce a radical house-building programme to create one million new homes, but she cannot do that unless certain planning laws are repealed. She intends to end the hated practice of energy companies being able to charge ridiculous prices, but she will fail to do that unless the dead hand of government is prevented from discouraging competition in the energy market. And the same goes for the railways where fares keep on increasing. If the market was more free, the JAMs would inevitably become more prosperous and their confidence in sharing this country’s wealth could be restored. The freer the markets, the freer the people. There is no point lifting people out of welfare, which is still a safety net for many families, if they cannot gain a foothold into long-term employment that can be provided by a truly free market. The 2008 Recession and Brexit should not be excuses to increase government intervention.
It is becoming more apparent what May’s vision of conservatism is; a traditional and patriotic, yet pragmatic, response to this decade’s circumstances and continuing the policies of her predecessors where it works best. She has an opportunity that her predecessors would envy to save the Union and make Brexit a success. She is clearly serious about ending the supremacy of Brussels’ institutions, pursuing free trade deals and controlling immigration. That will certainly prove she listened to the JAMs who voted for Brexit. But their votes meant so much more than that. It was a plea to ensure the markets work better because they have failed to enjoy the wealth others have accumulated over the years. Until the Tory leader trusts the markets more to create prosperity, she will face the same backlash of anger from people Cameron did last year.