Owen Meredith: The PM must show there's more to the Tories than Brexit
Rather than ignoring the domestic agenda, Theresa May should focus on five policy areas.
The Tory Reform Group urged MPs to back the Prime Minister this week and we welcome the result of Wednesday’s ballot. Having resolved the leadership question, the Prime Minister will need to turn her attention to the Brexit gridlock; but she should not ignore the domestic agenda. For the Conservatives to prove we are more than the Brexit Party, and the true home of pragmatism and moderates, as she said outside Number 10 this week, here are a few key areas of policy that can show real action behind the Prime Ministers’ words:
Take students out of the immigration figures
I’ve written on this site before about how international students play a hugely important role in our society and are a key factor in ensuring the UK remains an attractive and exciting place to study. If we are truly going to champion ‘Global Britain’ then where better to start then welcoming students who choose to study here? We have four of the top ten universities in the world, and a British education is a globally sought-after commodity. It is perverse when rebooting global Britain to slap a quota on such a fine, healthy and growing export. Time to shake the toxic narrative on immigration, and welcoming international students is the best place to start.
Introduce a Lifetime learning allowance
If the Conservatives are going to be compassionate, the party must recognise that the employment market is changing rapidly, and whilst more people have jobs – they aren’t always for life. With people now likely to have more than 15 jobs or careers in their lifetime, a new Lifetime Learning Allowance can help individuals retrain and invest in their future. Funded in partnership between government and employers (perhaps redeploying the lack lustre Apprenticeship Levy) individuals could have freedom to spend their allowance to support professional development throughout their career. This should be tied in with the review of student tuition fees.
New deal on housing
Give a helping hand to those who want to get on the housing ladder, by reforming property taxes to a “first step” principle. Earning £50k in a professional career in London doesn’t give you access to the local housing market, but it could get you on the housing ladder elsewhere. By giving people a chance to own a property, even if they don’t live there themselves or choose to rent it out, young professionals can gain a stake in the market and provide quality rental property for others working their way up.
We need to be bold and radical in supporting business and entrepreneurs. The Office of Tax Simplification should address the outdated taxes that are still in existence which are no longer fit for purpose. Give a boost to the high street by reforming Business Rates, Corporation Tax fails to properly assess a company’s UK profitability in a globalised economy; Income Tax and NICs are increasingly unsustainable in a world where work is ever more flexible.
Building a greener economy
Time is running out to prevent catastrophic climate change. Build on the Cameron era legacy and lead the way in finding market-driven solutions to cleaning our air and combating climate change. As our cities choke on some of the most polluted air in Europe, people in the UK are 64 times as likely to die of air pollution as those in Swede, government must be a catalyst for huge investment in green technology and clamp down on dirty polluters.
This party, and this country, demand and expect more than just battles over Brexit. It is time to deliver a positive and exciting domestic vision.
Owen Meredith is chairman of the Tory Reform Group.