一本道理不卡一二三区After a few weeks of national unity in tackling the Covid-19 crisis, political positioning for the future is back. A nationalist administration in Edinburgh and a Labour one in Cardiff are relishing the chance to show they can make different decisions from London. Labour mayors complain loudly about the Conservative Government – in the capital begging for bailouts for a transport system they have themselves made less financially sound.
Most ominously, Sir Keir Starmer has taken an increasingly critical line in the House of Commons, using much more forensic thinking and a more reasonable manner than could ever have been mustered by his predecessor. We can be sure that, as the drama of today’s health crisis is followed by the long agony of massive unemployment and a slow economic recovery, any last attempt at political consensus will disappear. This is merely the phoney war, and an immense ideological conflict will shortly commence.
It will be a conflict in which the natural supporters of free enterprise as the foundation of human progress, and fiscal responsibility as the bedrock of a confident economy, will suddenly find themselves on the back foot. In Britain, and many other countries, the state has intervened in the lives of families and businesses more than ever before in peacetime. It is only too easy to think that what has happened can become the new normal.
一本道理不卡一二三区It seems that we can not only bail out many businesses in trouble but do so for all of them, in every industry and sector, regardless of their longer-term prospects. The Chancellor has had to do that to keep the productive capacity of the economy alive. But the longer this goes on, the more firms will really be the living dead, never to reopen in the same form again. Similarly it might seem that the state can pay the wages of millions of people indefinitely. Yet the longer it does so, the more of those furloughed workers will find they are actually unemployed.
As businesses try to emerge from the nightmare, every one of them that accepted assistance will find that regulators, politicians, trade unions and campaigners feel entitled to a say on how they deploy their capital in future. Every dividend payment will be criticised, even if vital to the overall health of pension funds. Each new hire will be deemed too expensive, even if needed for the business to compete; each new automated process condemned for destroying jobs even though important to raise the long-stalled productivity of the economy.
Against this background, Left-wing thinkers will be able to advance more easily an agenda of state intervention, and unaffordable ideas such as a national basic income. Most conveniently of all for them, the magic money tree – that Conservatives have spent years saying does not exist – appears to have been found. If we need a few hundred billion we can conjure it up, or so it must seem. Never mind the awful truth, that one day it will be paid for in higher inflation, a much-devalued currency or crippling taxation. The concept of endless billions whenever we need them is now firmly in the public mind. And if we need taxation, those of a socialist disposition will say, this is the moment to tax wealth, land and corporations. With millions unemployed, how else, they will argue, can higher spending be financed?
Worst of all, the boundary between personal freedom and state power has been shifted dramatically, and in some countries it will never move fully back. Surveillance, monitoring and restrictions are an everyday reality for many months to come. There is a danger that, subtly and imperceptibly, the public will grow accustomed to a smaller space for individual liberty and a bigger role for the state, changing the acceptability of other ideas – supposedly to secure a better future through larger, more powerful and more dominating governments.
Conservatives, and other champions of an open, free and enterprising society based on sound money, need to think about this now. Otherwise they will emerge from the dark and tragic tunnel of this crisis to find themselves in a landscape they don’t recognise. Of course, many will say “this is not the time to think about this”. In reality it is always vital to consider the battles of the future when fighting those of today. Even at the height of the Second World War, the time was taken to consider the aftermath: Beveridge designed the modern welfare state and, at Bretton Woods, the post-war financial system was laid out.
Being fully aware of the titanic political struggle to come is crucial to make the right decisions about how to help this country and others recover. There will be a natural and justified desire to learn from the crisis and create a better world after it. Fundamental parts of that are improved international cooperation, pandemic prevention and national resilience, all of which have been found wanting in recent weeks. But the centre-Right of politics will also have to work hard, and think deeply, to present a vision of a more environmentally sustainable society, with worthwhile work for all and fairness to young generations.
一本道理不卡一二三区It is richer capitalist societies that are best at cleaning up their environment, inventing new forms of energy and fostering the innovations we need to save ourselves from climate change. We need to show how tax and regulation can push market forces to do that, not forever tell everyone how to live.
一本道理不卡一二三区To get growth going again, dispensing with some of the rules that limit house building and business development in high streets is the way, not more requirements and planning zones. Using the tax system to encourage entrepreneurship among younger people should be a priority. Above all, building a world-class education system for people of all regions and backgrounds is the most pressing need.
一本道理不卡一二三区Ministers in this country can begin to capture the new political ground by designing such imperatives into the plans for the recovery of our economy and society, centred on the “three e’s”: employment, education and environment. For if people are left to turn only to socialist ideas in the wake of these terrible weeks, today’s tragedies will turn into the lifelong torment of tomorrow.