Macmillan Lecture 2013: ‘Keep Calm and Carry On Reforming’

 MACMILLAN LECTURE 2013

Keep Calm and Carry On Reforming 

By Rt Hon Damian Green MP

The previous occasion I delivered the Macmillan Lecture was in 2005, just after a disastrous election result for the Conservative Party which saw us make little progress even though Tony Blair’s Government was visibly crumbling.

“Why aren’t we thinking what they’re thinking” was the rather gloomy title, prompted by the thought that the lack of progress made it much more difficult to obtain an overall majority in the subsequent election—a sadly prescient point. One thought I was keen to make then is equally true in the very different world of today; that if the Conservative Party does not like modern Britain it is unlikely that modern Britain will warm to the Conservative Party.

Of course there is much that needs to be changed, and much that is changing because of this Government. As I say in the title of this lecture, we must carry on reforming.  But we should not let the long recovery from recession, or individual horrible incidents such as the Woolwich killing, leave us gloomy or grumpy as a country. It is less than twelve months since the world admired the best Olympics of the modern age. They admired not just our national organisational skills but the character, warmth and openness of the British people. We should not just keep calm, we should cheer up.

I should move from the national to the party.  The same injunction applies.  

Perhaps this is the appropriate moment to fulfil the duty of all who deliver this lecture to quote Harold Macmillan; “It is the duty of Her Majesty’s Government neither to flap nor to falter.” Admirable advice which is both timeless and timely.  For centre-right politicians there are significant reasons to be both calm and cheerful , the most notable of which is the public’s reaction to the financial crisis and subsequent recession. It was the fond hope of those on the left, perhaps particularly those who grew up at the feet of Marxist philosophers, that this would be seen as a crisis of capitalism. The people would throw off the shackles of false consciousness and realise that free markets had failed, and that state spending, borrowing and control was the route out of recession.

Fortunately the British people have more sense than that, and tend to prefer the analysis that state spending and borrowing was precisely the route into recession. There is no spin in this analysis. Successive poll findings have shown  that even when Labour is enjoying a significant lead the Conservative team is markedly ahead on managing the economy. This is true even over the past few weeks, where calmness has not been the prevailing emotion.

The most recent Ipsos Mori poll showed a 14 percent lead for David Cameron on managing the economy. Truly, if it still is the economy, stupid, that sets the political tone we are winning the most important argument.  British Keynesianism failed in the 1970s, and enough people know that to ensure that its modern enthusiasts have little credibility. The world has not gone left since the crisis. Where right wing Governments have been ejected, as in France, the left-wing alternative is already in trouble. The economic facts of life are still Tory.

So keep calm. But also carry on reforming, and more particularly carry on reforming in a Tory way. There is gathering strength to the argument that the reforms we are seeing to, for example, immigration, welfare and education address exactly the issues that people want Government to concentrate on.

These key reforms have three significant features. The first is that they are as important to the success of the Government as the central economic policy. The second is that all of them are dependent on Conservative ideas and energy to drive them through. The third is that they are precisely on the Common Ground originally identified by Keith Joseph as the proper target for successful Government, rather than the centre ground.

So as well as winning the central economic argument we are reforming in the areas where the country needs changing, and we are doing so in a Conservative direction. This message cannot be sent too often or too loudly, particularly to traditional Conservative supporters. They want lower immigration, an end to abuse of the welfare state, and higher standards in schools. Conservative Ministers, drawing on Conservative principles and our Manifesto promises, are delivering this.  

On immigration, the latest figures show that net migration is down by more than a third since June 2010, and is now at its lowest level for a decade. At the same time as seeing this dramatic decline in overall numbers, which is the main requirement, we have continued to support economic growth by welcoming the brightest and best to the UK. Higher numbers of skilled worker visas were issued over the last year, as were university student visas. So we have lower immigration, and more selective immigration: both good Conservative policies.

On welfare, we have introduced the biggest welfare to work programme the UK has ever seen to get people back to work.  We also believe it must always pay to work – which is why we have capped benefits so that no one can get more on benefits than the average person earns in work. We want to help people escape poverty, not trap them in it. This reform is squarely in the tradition of  which Harold Macmillan would have approved.

The same is true with our education policy. We are making sure that every parent has the choice of a good local state school for their child, teachers have the powers they need to keep discipline in the classroom and the exam system is rigorous, respected and on a par with the world’s best.

We have a programme to improve the quality of teaching, including scholarships to attract the best graduates, higher literacy and numeracy requirements for trainee teachers and a network of ‘Teaching Schools’ across the country.  79 Free Schools and more than 2,000 new Academies have been delivered already. Many of them are in areas where most people have not been able, up to now, to gain access to an excellent education for their children. We are restoring discipline to the classroom with new search powers for teachers, an end to the ‘no-touch’ rule, and higher fines for truancy.

All of these essential reforms have been delivered by Conservatives working in a Coalition Government.

Which brings me to a theme which is particularly important for the Tory Reform Group, and all moderate Conservatives.  There may be areas of policy where we agree with Liberal Democrats, but we are not the same.  We believe in change and modernisation , and we recognise that what modernisation means changes over time, but we are first of all Conservatives. We have principles which are not shared even by the most orange of the Orange Bookers. We also do not regard ourselves in any way morally deficient compared to Liberal Democrats.

I get on very well with many of my LibDem Ministerial colleagues, but I am entitled to challenge their thesis that this Government can only be kept compassionate by their presence. There is a long and honourable tradition of decent Conservatives who want to help those who need help, and Macmillan himself was of course a prime example at all stages of his political career.

Macmillan  was alive to the difference. As he put it; “As usual the Liberals offer a mixture of sound and original ideas. Unfortunately none of the sound ideas is original and none of the original ideas is sound.”  We do have practical differences, as I discovered on a regular basis when I was Immigration Minister.

There are similar debates about key issues such as childcare. All of these debates can be, and are, resolved within Government, as they would be whether it was a Coalition or a one-party administration. But they illustrate that the moderate Conservative tradition is a vital part of any Conservative mix, and is distinctive from the instincts and habits that the LibDems bring to politics.

This distinction is key for those who worry that in the Coalition the tail is wagging the dog. We are reforming and we are reforming in a Conservative direction. Every Conservative policy is about promoting opportunity and social mobility.  We know that  making Britain succeed globally and allowing people to achieve their aspirations are the two keys to a successful society. Economic growth and individual growth need to go hand in hand. This is the basis for economic and social policy under this Government and I cannot understand why any Conservative, whichever tradition they adhere to, would object in principle to this approach.

There will always be disagreements about tactics and day-to-day priorities but these must not be allowed to divide the right, when the only beneficiaries will be the left. All  of us who campaigned so hard and so successfully to preserve a first-past-the-post electoral system must accept the consequences. Under first-past-the post a serious party that aspires to Government has to be a broad coalition.  This in turn requires a degree of self-discipline and capacity to compromise. If we Conservatives forget that, our opponents will be the beneficiaries.

This means that the tone of the discourse between Conservatives is important. If we sound as though we dislike each other, others will draw the obvious conclusion. I love Twitter, but its general tone should not be a guide to how Conservatives address each other. Disagreement on an issue, however emotive, does not mean treachery, or not being a proper Conservative. Politics is a team game, and mutual loyalty is vital for a successful team.

The biggest and longest-running cause of Conservative discord is Europe. Every Conservative should have a high regard for the lessons of history, and the party’s history on this issue since the 1990s is terrible. The effect of this has been, ironically and yet predictably, that Britain’s fate in Europe has been in the hands of those who have no sympathy at all for the Eurosceptic viewpoint. Surely we are all able to learn this lesson of history and not repeat it.

I am not just lecturing others. We must all learn lessons. For years pro-Europeans opposed the idea of a referendum. But the strategy of negotiating a new settlement, and then putting that to British people, is clearly the right one for current times. Most British people want it to happen. So much has changed since the 1975 vote that it is time to put the argument again. I hope and expect that the outcome of this process will be to renegotiate, reform, and revalidate Britain’s place in Europe. The Prime Minister has made clear that this plan will be central to Conservative policy up to and beyond the next election. It is time for the whole party to get behind it. And it is possible for those who hold the whole range of views on Europe to do so.

For those of us sympathetic to the European argument this is an opportunity to make our case, and the Prime Minister’s case, that a properly reformed EU will be hugely to Britain’s advantage. For too long only a few lonely voices in the Conservative Party have made the case that we are better off in. Those of us who hold that view cannot wait for the few weeks before a Referendum to argue our corner.  There is a hard-headed Conservative case for Britain’s membership of the EU, for all its imperfections, and it needs to be heard.

The core of the argument is economic. All sectors of industry agree that we are better off in. Let’s start with manufacturing. Five out of every six cars made in this country are exported, and 700,000 jobs depend on the industry.  How many of those firms would invest long-term in Britain outside the EU? No wonder Ford’s European Chief Executive, Stephen Oddell, has said that “Leaving a trading partner where 50% of your exports go… would be devastating for the UK economy.”  

Then there is the City, often seen as the part of the economy most hampered by EU rules. Goldman Sachs are unlikely to be sentimental about the economic effects of leaving, and they have concluded that departure would be a loss/loss scenario, in which the loss would be greater for the UK than the EU.  In particular they argue that “The UK’s ability to conduct business in financial services across the European Union is likely to be severely compromised by a departure from the EU.”

Then there is the argument that we should concentrate on the fast-growing economies in Asia and South America rather than sclerotic old Europe.  I have never understood how you make it easier to export to China by making it more difficult to export to Germany, and indeed the German example is surely one to follow. Last year Germany exported $804bn worth of goods to Europe, and another $519bn to the rest of the world. They are complementary markets, not alternatives.

Finally there is the argument that our businesses have to obey all these petty rules that hinder them. Does anyone imagine that the rules would be less onerous, or indeed less of a hindrance to British business, if they were made without any input from Britain? Since Britain will need to trade with Europe, we would be putting an added burden on our business, not removing one. And we would have to pay a large fee for access to the Single Market, as Norway does. The idea that we can remove all the irritations, but retain all the benefits, is not worthy even of the saloon bar.

Of course there is need for reform, not just for Britain’s sake but for Europe’s. We need a Transatlantic Free Trade deal. We need a single market in a number of new areas, including digital services. Above all, we need a reform deal which will deliver benefits to every country in the EU, so that others will be as keen as we are on reform.  This will show how beneficial it can be when Britain plays a leading role in Europe.

This European reform will be consistent with all the other hard-headed, unsentimental, pragmatic, Conservative reforms which the Government has embarked on. It will fit in with a wider modernising agenda which is nothing to do with party image and everything to do with making Britain (and Europe) fit to compete in the modern world. All these reforms, taken together, will change Britain for the better. So the job of all Conservatives at this point is neither to flap nor falter, but to get on with the job of persuading people that Conservative principles in action give all British people the chance to succeed. We should be proud of our record so far, and we know there is much more to come. We have an important job to do. We should devote all our energy and time to doing it. 

Europe is worth fighting for - maybe not this Europe, but a better Europe is at least worth a try

Nik Darlington 10.30am

This evening the annual Macmillan Lecture is being delivered in Parliament by Damian Green, police minister and TRG vice-president.

Mr Green will state the unequivocal Conservative case for the EU, rejecting clarion calls for an immediate exit yet insisting that the British people are overdue their say on our membership. Giving the Prime Minister his strongest backing, Mr Green will make the case for allowing negotiations to proceed and for an improved settlement to be put to the British people.

Of course, the British people have every right to reject EU membership even then. Conservatives sympathetic to the EU today are not blindly uncritical. Without democratic consent the EU is but a hollow bureaucratic shell. Indeed, a shell that in this day and age looks increasingly like a fossil.

There is a case to be made for the EU, but it has to be made on Conservative principles of free trade and democracy. It is on precisely those principles that the EU’s biggest critics have assumed to abandon the field. Europe is worth fighting for. Maybe not this Europe as it stands (or falls), but a better Europe is at least worth a stab.

What does Jo Johnson’s appointment to Downing Street mean?

Nik Darlington 9.55am

So the backroom shake-up in Downing Street is causing a mini stir this morning.

Leaving aside the prominent headline for a moment, our biggest congratulations go to the TRG’s vice-president, Jane Ellison, who has been appointed by the Prime Minister to a new policy board of MPs. Jane is joined by backbench colleagues Jesse Norman, George Eustice, Margot James and Jake Berry, as well as former ministers Nick Gibb and Peter Lilley.

The biggest news of the morning, however, is that the Mayor of London’s younger brother shall be heading up the Number 10 Policy Unit. In a way it is a shame it is taking the gloss off the GDP growth figures in light of the BBC’s crowing it would be a triple-dip recession - but perhaps the timing tells us Downing Street was at least half expecting bad news.

That is by the by now. What does it mean?

First and most importantly, I expect the Lords & Commons cricket club shall have to make do without one of its better cricketers. Belligerent with the bat and a bowler with real pace and bounce, Jo Johnson was limbering up for a promising summer, bordering on unplayable at times in pre-season nets (though fastidiously did he protect his polished new cherry) and even electing to don a lid when batting. The club shall be even more reliant on Peter Bone’s left-arm tweakers.

Secondly, it marks an about-turn for David Cameron, who till now has employed a civil servant in the role. It demonstrates a beefing up of Number 10’s political clout and provides a direct link between policymaking and the parliamentary party.

Yet how cosy and effective (to all tastes) that link shall be, only time will tell. Jo Johnson has done a stint as a party whip, so backbenchers have had plenty of experience of his enforcing Government policy, less so working with them to formulate policy (which we presume is the main point behind the switch-around).

Nonetheless, the third significant point is that Jo Johnson is easily one of the more cerebral of the 2010 intake and with his hinterland (handful of degrees, financier, journalist, edited the Lex column etc), he will bring an intellectual thrust to the role. Again, this might grate with backbenchers who yearn for a more bread and circuses brand of politics, or a harking back to the black and white certainties of Thatcherism (neglecting, of course, to recall how reliant Mrs Thatcher’s policies, particularly economic, were on intellectuals).

He is also relatively pro-European, at least significantly more so than the vast majority of MPs. This may be something to do with his FT background (though media organisations tend to be self-selecting) or simply that he has actually spent some years studying and working on the continent. Some might make more of this than it is worth, given that David Cameron’s EU policy (in many ways markedly more Eurosceptic than Mrs Thatcher) is largely decided. Nonetheless, Jo Johnson is no John Redwood (the latter, for instance, is far cannier a bowler).

Then there’s the brouhaha about his older brother, which many in the media will be fixated on between now and the next election (and perhaps beyond). The sensible will do best to ignore it.

All in all, it is an intriguing development. Jo Johnson is a brilliant pick for the policy unit. As a go-between for Number 10 and the parliamentary party, time shall tell, the onus perhaps resting more with backbenchers than the man in question.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Margaret Thatcher’s message for the TRG’s inaugural conference in 1975

Nik Darlington 9.00am

The morning’s newspapers are devoted to the death of Baroness Thatcher. The TRG made a statement yesterday and I made my own comments later.

While millions around the world mourn her passing, we remember her words at this organisation’s birth, in September 1975.

"I am pleased to learn of the formation of this new and vigorous group, and thank you for your good wishes to me as Leader of the Conservative Party.

As a nation, we face three problems:

First, we must beat inflation, or it will destroy the basis of our society.

Second, we must secure the future of economic and political liberty by genuinely distributing power and property among our people—a policy which is the reverse of that which the present Government is pursuing.

Third, we must play an active and influential part in world affairs, showing concern both for the western democratic ideal and for those nations whose primary task is to overcome poverty.

It is good to know that the Conservative Party can look to the Tory Reform Group for creative and practical ideas on these matters and for the will to see them through. We face the future with a sense of hope, and confidence in the capacity of our people to cope with whatever lies ahead.”

Peter Walker, the founder of the Tory Reform Group, who served under Mrs Thatcher as Energy Secretary in the pivotal period of the miners’ strike, responded with the following words:

"The members of the Tory Reform Group are holding their inaugural conference in London today and have asked me to convey to you their good wishes and to express to you their determination to do all in their power to see the early return of a Conservative Government and the defeat of the Socialist Government that is doing so much harm to our country.

They have also asked me to tell you that besides your being able to rely upon their fullest support in bringing victory to our Party they hope they will be able to make a creative and constructive contribution to the preparation of our Party’s policies for the years that lie ahead.”

The “Socialist Government” was indeed defeated in 1979. Margaret Thatcher went on to revolutionise British politics, and change the course of not one but two political parties as even her Labour opponents under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown comprehended the sea change before them.

For our part, the Tory Reform Group remains wholly committed to continuing that “creative and constructive contribution” as we all work towards the return of a Conservative Government in 2015.

Tory Reform Group: “The death of Baroness Thatcher marks the passing of an era in British politics.”

The death earlier today of Baroness Thatcher marks the passing of an era in British politics.  The most electorally successful of modern Conservative Prime Ministers and the only woman to hold the post, she helped change our country in a way that few leaders have ever done.  Much of Britain’s domestic culture and international position is a result of her style of leadership and the vision of a leader who set our her stall based on simple principles, learned from her father, a shopkeeper.  She showed how determination and hard-work can make anything possible.

If anyone broke the mould of British politics, it was her.  Today is not the time to analyse her legacy but rather a time to reflect and express our sympathy for her family at this difficult time.

Tim Crockford, TRG chairman, said:

"It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of Lady Thatcher. The thoughts of all TRG members are with her family."

Scots Tories setting out a positive vision for post-referendum Scotland

Andrew Morrison

On these pages in November 2012, I predicted that the Scottish party leader Ruth Davidson would eventually reverse her ‘line in the sand’ position on devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament, namely powers over the levying and collection of taxation.

The concept of our party supporting the transfer of additional powers was first espoused by Murdo Fraser. Alex Fergusson - who endorsed Murdo Fraser’s leadership bid – has also set out his support for this move on Egremont and sits on the board of the DevoPlus campaign group to further that objective.

I had predicted that this breakthrough would come during Ruth Davidson’s leadership – and I use the term breakthrough very deliberately – but not until the ‘Yes’ camp were defeated at the Scottish Independence referendum, now fixed for 18 September 2014.

Put simply, the Scottish electorate needs a more compelling vision of exactly what Scotland they can expect to see after voting ‘No’ at the referendum, and they need that vision set out for them now, before the referendum.

Ms Davidson has stepped up to the plate and furnished a centre-right vision for Scotland’s constitutional settlement within the UK post-2014. No longer would the ‘tax and spend’ members of the Scottish Parliament be allowed to practice fiscal irresponsibility unchecked. No longer pursuing blanket policies of free NHS prescriptions and free concessionary bus travel for all - including fellow MSPs and millionaires - without suffering from the discipline of having to raise the necessary tax revenue to pay for those policies.

Whether the Scottish electorate decide policies such as universal free benefits during times of fiscal constraint, or not, is up to them to decide. Our role is merely to argue our case. We should not deny a legislature the democratic rights which a growing number of electors would like to see it gain because we fear the governing party would use those powers to the contrary of what we would do (i.e. they raise the burden of taxation whereas we would reduce it). We lost that basis of argument in 1997 on the referendum on Scottish devolution, and are still suffering from it. It is time to get ahead of the curve for once and all on this particular issue.

With greater fiscal autonomy, the Scottish budget would directly benefit from policies which help promote economic growth and simplify the tax system, thereby increasing tax compliance and collection rates. The Scottish Conservatives hand is strengthened because it is our message of sensible tax rates, a pro-enterprise economy, and cracking down on tax evasion which chimes perfectly with this type of devolution settlement.

Ruth may well have alienated figures such as Lord Forsyth, whose backing was instrumental to winning the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives in the autumn of 2011, but this is silly. We are all Conservatives first and foremost - our core values are the same. The reformist wing of the party should believe in reforming political institutions to further our beliefs of fairness, democracy and progress. Allowing a Parliament to determine its own taxation levels to pursue its own political priorities naturally follow from that belief.

The job of the TRG throughout the Scottish Conservatives’ review on greater devolution for Scotland must be to represent our grassroots members’ views and to ensure the process is not hijacked by figures such as Lord Forsyth, and some of the others who previously backed Ruth Davidson’s leadership bid, all of whom could potentially put the brakes on what has been a breakthrough announcement today.

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Andrew Morrison is a member of TRG Scotland, serves as the current Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party West of Scotland Regional Council, and stood for election recently at the Local Authority elections in May 2012. Andrew previously stood for the Holyrood constituency of Glasgow Pollok, being ranked number three on the Glasgow regional list.

I can see no circumstances by which this blog can be regulated by the government’s attempt at press regulation

Nik Darlington

So the lacklustre rigmarole of a Royal Charter takes another turn. The House of Lords has been debating whether to exempt small blogs from the new cross-party press regulations.

The Government is considering its own response to the quandary posed by Internet blogs like Guido Fawkes that are based overseas.

It can be argued that a result of the Internet age is faster, better connected, more nimble scrutiny of the holders of power. Politicians and press barons have been in each other’s pockets for decades, and to suppose this is a new phenomenon is naïve.

Yet political bloggers are beholden to no greater power (at least that is what they claim - and most ought to be believed). Unlike newspapers with their failing business model, most bloggers have no paying market of consumers to chase.

How does a Government get to grips with curtailing them in the manner it is attempting to curtail the mainstream press? To murder a phrase, qui regulates ipsos regulatiem?

It can’t. Which is why ministers, shadow ministers and advisers are hurriedly trying to patch up this particular hole (of several) in the new regulations.

For our part, I am not entirely aware yet whether as de facto digital lessees of Tumblr, the Egremont blog falls into the same category as Guido Fawkes - i.e. an offshore concern.

That small print aside, there are no circumstances under which I can see our being subject to this attempt at regulation. Zero funding, zero revenue, and a relatively small but of course highly influential and intelligent band of readers.

So for Egremont at least, it is business as usual.

Tory Reform Group supports an In/Out EU referendum

The Tory Reform Group supports the Prime Minister’s belief that it is in the national interest for Britain to play a leading role in the European Union. The EU is the largest trading bloc in the world and accounts for 50% of Britain’s trade. It is also apparent that business and our allies in the world, in particular the United States, have all advocated that Britain take the lead in the future of the EU.

The TRG does not believe in federalism or in ever closer integration but rather in being an active participant in the EU alongside our partners and customers. Today’s TRG is composed of ‘Eurorealists’ who are not driven by ideology but on pragmatic assessment of Britain’s interests.

For too long the question of whether we should ‘go it alone’ has been allowed to cause division within the Conservative Party. The TRG therefore welcomes a commitment to hold an in/out referendum which will allow the British people to decide, as they did in 1975, whether Britain should be constructive partners in an open and competitive European Union.