Power and responsibility

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The Independent Online
These are extracts from John Major's Spectator lecture last night:

"Moral" is a word I usually prefer to leave to the Church but it is apt for what I intend to say. For example, is it moral to take from individuals the right to make personal decisions? I think not. Is it moral to impose obligations on employers like the Social Chapter and the minimum wage that will cost jobs and prevent those without jobs from getting them? Again, I think not. Is it moral to compulsorily take too much tax from people for government to spend and diminish individual choices? My answer is no.

Smaller government fits with a belief in individual freedom and choice - still one of the basic divides in British politics.

I start from the presumption that government should not interfere and meddle where it is not needed - the belief that power, choice and responsibility should, wherever possible, be left with individuals and their families, with entrepreneurs and businesses.

I don't want my personal choices made for me by the state. Nor do most people. Nor is it necessary. The British people are better able to order their lives effectively than the most efficient and humane of governments. "Trust the People" is an old Conservative battle cry. It must be central to our future policies.

We aim to regulate less of people's lives. We trust people to spend their money, or save it, or give it, and to do so sensibly. We don't believe most people are selfish or greedy. And we think they can be trusted to exercise those instincts themselves - not to have them exercised on the people's behalf by men in Whitehall who claim to know better.

So we aim to tax and spend an ever smaller share of what people earn. To reduce and, in due course, abolish capital taxation. I want to do that because it makes good economic sense; it ends a penalty on enterprise and investment; it will release capital and create jobs. And that is the right thing to do. There is a moral case for low taxation if you genuinely want to see growing prosperity and more employment.

And it is that moral view, just as much as the economics, that leads me to the conviction that the state should progressively disengage and do less - but that what it does it should do well. Indeed, I believe that by doing less it is more likely to do better.

Underlying socialism, democratic socialism - or even social democracy - is a set of instincts that favours state control. Where there is a choice it is always to be exercised in favour of the state, and too often by the state.

It's those instincts that lead to high-spend, high-tax policies, and to ever more regulation. They may be dressed up in the name of better public services. But underlying them is a confident belief that the Government knows better how to spend your money than you do -that government control can produce better outcomes than free choice.

We still have much to do. We are only half way through our programme. But the direction in which the Government wants to go is towards more choice, more information, more accountability.