The new age of anti-politics spells the death of big government

Our challenge is to show we are ready because we have kept in touch with the mainstream majority

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One of the potentially most significant aspects of the Danish referendum result last Thursday was that the people voted "No" while the largest political parties and media were arguing for "Yes".

One of the potentially most significant aspects of the Danish referendum result last Thursday was that the people voted "No" while the largest political parties and media were arguing for "Yes".

"Anti-politics" politics has hit Europe, just as it has been around for a long time in the United States.

Before the 1997 general election, Labour thought that it understood this mood. It got it wrong. Increasing dissatisfaction with the government translated in its mind into simply anti-Tory feeling.

In government, Labour has failed, largely because it did not understand. The message the people were sending was; we want more opportunity, more security, a stronger society alongside a successful economy. They didn't say: we want a bigger government, more taxes, more bureaucracy. But that's what they got. Labour's socialist instincts - which Liberal Democrats now appear to share indistinguishably from Labour - are for a bigger state.

Big government isn't delivering. Why has the quality of public services not kept up with the quality of services demanded from commercial enterprises? Why is it that the United States shows consistently stronger non-inflationary growth than Europe does? It is because the bureaucratic central state is one of the most inefficient ways of delivering economic and social objectives.

The time has come for a new direction. The task is urgent. Global markets will penalise countries with higher taxes and costs. Every year that our schools aren't free to realise their children's potential is a generation of children we have failed. Every time the first-rate doctors and nurses in the NHS have to try to meet their patients' needs in a second-rate environment governed by political priorities, we fall further behind the standard of care other countries achieve.

In Believing in Britain, published less than a month ago, William Hague showed that we have "Listened to Britain". He showed how we can deliver the "Common Sense Revolution". He set out a new direction for government. Labour has squandered its opportunities; our challenge is to show that we are ready to govern because we have listened to Britain, kept in touch with the mainstream majority in this country and can deliver common sense solutions.

At the heart of this new direction is a government that sets people free. Enterprise free to compete, because we reduce taxes and cut red tape. The health service free to grow and free to treat patients according to their individual needs and patients' choice. Schools free from bureaucracy, and free to respond to parental choice and to maintain the discipline and ethos essential to high standards. Local communities free to bring economic and social entrepreneurs to the fore, with no monopoly on provision of services, just an emphasis on quality of outcomes and equity of access. Not least, to ensure that Britain is free, because we manage our own economy, with our own currency, and create a new relationship with Europe that is positive towards practical cooperation, but free from the endless threat of political integration into a United States of Europe.

The more that government sets people free, the more that government can focus on delivering more effectively on its responsibilities. Labour is always keen to talk about public expenditure as if it only consisted of health and education. But these two services, put together, receive only a quarter of total public spending. Labour has increased the costs of bureaucracy by £2bn, it has set up new quangos, it has failed to reform welfare budgets or root out fraud, and it has poured money into politically correct projects across Whitehall rather than focused on key responsibilities such as the NHS, schools, policing and our armed forces.

We know that the next Conservative government can live within its means, not spending more than the economy can afford. Spending more than this, as Labour plans to do, is not prudent, it is reckless and it is threatening to our economy and to public services which would then suffer from famine after feast.

Freedom is a much used, and much abused, word. It can be intimidating. For some people, freedom means insecurity. It need not be so. If we set people free to realise their potential, and set communities and public services free to raise their standards, then we will also generate the opportunity to increase the positive support that we can give to those in genuine need. That does not mean, however, that support equals dependency. Our proposals to increase the basic state pension, a fundholder for the disabled, reduce means-testing of benefits and inner-city regeneration companies, are all ways of unlocking the potential of those in receipt of government support to shape the ways in which they live and prosper.

If this means a smaller government in the long run, people should celebrate that fact, not run from it. Just as government spending crowds out entrepreneurial investment, so the bureaucratic nature of government welfare, and its dependency, crowds out compassion. There is such a thing as society, but it is not defined by the state, still less is it the same thing as the state.

Freedom is the new direction Britain needs. It is the key to our growth. It is the way to quality in our public services, renewal in our communities and real compassion in welfare. It is also the antidote to "anti-politics" politics. Whether people believe in politics and politicians, they will be more free to live their lives, and to realise their hopes for the future. They will be in control.

The Conservative Party believes in that freedom. We believe in the common sense of the people of Britain. We trust it enough to set people free. We care enough about Britain to be determined to defend the integrity and independence of our country. We are confident in what Britain can achieve; we are honest enough to know that ambitions for Britain are best realised by a government that dictates less and delivers more. That government will be a Conservative government that believes in Britain.

 

The writer is shadow minister for the Cabinet Office

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