Tories plan ‘shock treatment’ to win over the low-paid

Strong criticism echoes campaign by Miliband for an end to the political consensus on the economy since the Thatcher era

Political Editor

Capitalism needs “emergency shock treatment” because it is failing many British people, a modernising Conservative Party group has warned.

The surprisingly strong criticism echoes the campaign by Ed Miliband for an end to the political consensus on the economy since the Thatcher era. The Labour leader has declared that the economy is “no longer working for working people”.

Renewal, a group of modernisers trying to broaden the Conservatives’ appeal in the North and make them “the party of the working class”, says the free market remains the best way to create wealth and prosperity. But it calls for more government intervention to make sure the economy works for all, especially the low-paid.

The group is calling for a rise in the £6.31-an-hour national minimum wage; the building of one million new homes; and a Cabinet-level post with responsibility for consumer protection.

David Skelton, the founder of the Renewal group, said: “The Conservative Party needs to come to terms with the fact that many people, particularly the low-paid, don’t think that capitalism is working for them.

“We need to do more to show that capitalism can work for everybody in every part of the country. Being pro-market isn’t the same as being pro-big business. Where there are instances of abuse – in either the public or the private sector – Conservatives should come down hard to protect the consumer.”

Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow and architect of “white van Conservatism”, is working with the group on a project called “Renewing Capitalism”. The aim is to ensure that Tory policies up to and after next year’s general election resonate with ordinary people in all parts of the country.

They will draw up plans for “a genuinely competitive economic environment in which the consumer and the low-paid are protected, competition is cherished and anti-competitive, monopolistic behaviour is cracked down on”.

In another break with Thatcherism, they will also explore ideas to create wealth in parts of the country that have been struggling to share in prosperity since the 1980s, notably the “deindustrialised towns” in northern England.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, said last week that he would like to see a rise in the minimum wage but added that such a move must not risk firms cutting jobs.

Policy Exchange, a think tank with close links to David Cameron, is drawing up policies under the banner “Popular Capitalism”, including how to create private sector jobs outside London and tackle low pay and housing shortages.

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