Let me introduce our speaker, Kevin Roberts, President of the Heritage Foundation. Kevin is one of the US’s foremost fighters for conservative ideas, both in his current role and previously as CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin. The Heritage Foundation will of course be known to everybody here. It's America's premier conservative think tank. Founded like so many of our own think tanks in those grim collectivist years of the 1970s, Heritage is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year - 50 years of fighting for free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values, and a strong defence. Thank you Kevin for coming today and we very much look forward to hearing, in a moment, what you have to say to us.
I listed just now a set of values that Heritage, and I think everyone on the centre-right, does or should stand for. Unfortunately these are values which are in abeyance in the UK, across Europe, and sadly and worryingly to a very great extent in the US. The current times are all too reminiscent of the 1970s. It's the job of everybody who cares about conservative politics and conservative values to speak out and do what they can to put things back on track.
Every Western country faces versions of this same problem and l don't in any way believe Britain has the worst form of it. It is of course true that our debate is bedevilled by the relatively small number of unreconciled pro-EU fanatics, over-represented in our political and commentariat class, who portray every difficulty as due to Brexit, regardless of the facts. It is also true that the government is doing rather little to rebut these criticisms of Brexit, which is after all its central policy, and in fact often gives the impression of regarding the whole thing as an awkward embarrassment, to be moved on from as rapidly as possible. It is of course my strong belief that the vote to leave the EU was the first stage in getting a grip on our problems by making us a full democracy - a country in which general elections can actually change policies once again.
There are of course plenty of people who opposed leaving the EU and who don’t like giving voters a real say. Indeed the widespread wish in much of Britain's political class, the politicians, commentariat, civil service and quangocracy, seems to be to do everything they can to get back to doing politics like it was done before 2016, just outside the EU rather than in it - a politics in which changing anything significant seems to be beyond the capacity of our government, and in which blockers, lobby groups, the well connected and the well off, all have the decisive say.
We must not give into this. If we do, British politics will once again get dangerously disconnected from the voters. Instead we must double down on the votes for change of recent years.
The 2016 referendum was a vote for change. Old politics, in 2017 and 2018, then messed it up.
In 2019 that vote for change was renewed. We did then finally deliver our national independence. There’s a huge opportunity. But old politics is messing it up again.
The Conservative Party may not - on current polling, will not - get a third chance.
I want to change that. I am not interested in the seeming current Conservative Party mentality of “let’s lose decently and then decide what to do”. “Steady as she goes”, in the hope that people turn against Keir Starmer, is not good enough. If we are to prove that more tax, more net zero, more migration under Labour is bad for the country, we have to stop offering a version of that ourselves.
The Prime Minister and the government are absolutely right to focus on inflation and interest rates just now. Inflation must be got under control and I'm glad the PM is not listening to those calling for another round of subsidies, this time to mortgage holders and renters. If the government changes its mind on that, as on the windfall tax, it will be another hit to overall credibility. But in all this debate no-one is making the central point - which is that real interest rates are at minus 2 to minus 3 percent and yet we are barely keeping out of recession. So my problem is not with what the government is doing but what it is not doing by way of supply side reform. There is a huge dysfunction, a huge imbalance, in the economy. Its productive capacity is shot to bits. That’s what needs to change.
Doing that is not the work of a day, a month, or a year. We need a five to 10-year action plan to rebuild Britain, put it on a different path, and allow us more freedom to run our lives as we wish. And we need to paint a picture of how we want Britain to be different, how we can change the country in the interests of everyone who lives here.
I set out a 10 point plan for this last week, 10 specific areas where we can make a difference, and I repeat it now.
(1) It means getting tax-and-spend down significantly - I suggest to the levels of the Blair government era.
(2) It means freezing the ballooning Social Security universal credit and pensions budgets.
(3) Postponing net zero, putting in place a domestically sourced gas to nuclear programme, and removing the subsidies on worthless forms of renewable energy production so that it becomes worthwhile to invest in energy intensive activities here again.
(4) Radical planning reform, if necessary driven through by a referendum, so we can get on with the task of dealing with our 4 million house backlog.
(5) Opening the country to trade by abolishing most tariffs and bringing food prices down.
(6) A Royal Commission to set out ways of how to move the NHS to a different European-style structure over a generation.
(7) Abolishing the Equality Act and replacing it with a simple non-discrimination duty, making positive discrimination and group rights illegal, and putting in place a Free Speech Act to ensure we get proper debate about these areas.
And finally it means getting a grip on the government itself so that it can govern and rebuild the nation. (8) We need a Government Modernisation Act to give ministers real control over budgets, people, and activity. (9) It means taking back control over our borders and getting immigration right down so that we can pause for breath, rebuild our social cohesion, and get a grip on public services. It means detecting and punishing crime properly and keeping streets safe. (10) It means a referendum on leaving the ECHR, which is such a limit on the government's ability to make most of these things happen, and, in time, on the Windsor framework and the Northern Ireland Protocol, the last area where the UK Government does not have the final say on - is actually not in control of - what happens in the country.
That's what the Conservative movement in this country needs to be about: Freedom, Prosperity, the Nation. Not about playing Westminster politics but about focusing on the country’s actual problems. Showing how things can be different in future. And ensuring we have actual control over the government machine so it can deliver.
Some of this will sound impossibly radical. This is an indication of how far we have let things drift. There is no point in doing only things which are acceptable to public opinion but which do not solve our actual problems. Instead we have to set out a way of dealing with our problems and then persuading voters of it. If we want our children to be richer than us, the usual expectation of every generation since the Industrial Revolution, we are going to need to do some radical things to bring back productivity and growth. Let’s talk about them, prepare the ground, and then make them happen.