There are few genuinely momentous moments in politics, but no one could deny that we are living through one now.
During his decade-long tenure as leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron has rediscovered the compassionate Conservative ethos which beats at the heart of the party in our One Nation doctrine. By delivering a historic Conservative-majority Government just a year ago, he has anchored the party in the centre-ground, and proven that this is where we need to be to win elections. Now is not the time to abandon his legacy or the manifesto on which we were elected to serve, but a time to embrace and build on it.
The leadership election is as much about how we deliver our 2015 manifesto as it is about the kind of party we want to be heading into the next general election. This leadership contest is not a time to re-run the referendum, nor to pour salt into the wounds of a bitter debate that divided families, colleagues, friends and our party. We must reunite and bring our country back together.
On the steps of Downing Street, Cameron rightly claimed his legacy as rebuilding the British economy, but also reforming education, revolutionising wel
There are some in our party who would seek to reverse or denounce that legacy, and take the opportunity of a divided opposition to abandon the centre-ground in favour of what they perceive to be ideological purity. We must resist this temptation at all costs.
Ironically, the vote for Brexit that put an end to Cameron’s premiership was strongest from those he had done most to help – older people and voters with lower educational attainment. In protecting pensions and pensioner benefits, reforming welfare and education, delivering the national living wage, and increasing the personal allowance, he protected those in our society who are most vulnerable, and arguably most likely to suffer as a result of Brexit.
The task for our next leader must be to redouble those efforts to govern in the interest of One Nation; to reach out to communities right across our country and to regain their trust. We must build a party that once again speaks to every part of our great country and every community within it.
In doing so, we must govern in the best of Conservative traditions while understanding modern Britain. We must deliver our 2015 manifesto and continue to govern in the interest of One Nation. We should seek to reduce taxes on employment, providing employers with security and the incentive to retain jobs in the UK, and build on the legacy of record employment, and in parallel, invest in enforcement to ensure the benefits of the Living Wage reach the pockets of workers in every town across the country.
We must reform business rates to support smaller firms and our high streets in competing in a modern economy.
We should continue to meet our election promise to increase funding for the NHS, not least because voters in the referendum expect it; but we should direct investment towards social care and health prevention, including redoubli
We must boost the Foreign Office with an army of negotiators, and a council of business leaders, to deliver the free-trade deals we need around the world, and to guarantee access to the Single Market.
We need to build more homes – a lot more homes – which will mean releasing more land, liberalising planning and providing housing associations greater flexibility to borrow and build.
We must deliver greater reform of the prison system, including tackling sentencing, to ensure we break the cycle of criminality with investment in education and training and incentives for businesses to take on ex-offenders.
We must retain our commitment to the world’s poorest, spending 0.7% of GNI on international aid, ensuring that we focus on priorities which help the world’s poorest, and enhancing global security by directing money to priorities which help build global security and the UK’s international trade links, providing opportunities for young people to travel the world in the process.
We must press ahead with building HS2, explaining airport capacity, investing in infrastructure to deliver the Northern Powerhouse, and extending local devolution through City Deals.
We must look again at major projects, like the Severn Tidal Barrage, to secure a renewable future, while exploiting shale gas to deliver energy security and
We should push ahead with greater freedoms for academies and free schools to ensure young people have greater opportunities at the start of their lives, and forge lasting partnership between local employers and academies to deliver the skilled workforce we need.
And we need to keep the public finances on track, so we do not burden the next generation with yet more debt. Radically simplifying the tax code and cracking down on avoidance will play an important role, as will keeping corporate taxes the lowest in the G20, but to deliver a surplus some taxes may have to rise especially if the market uncertainty around Brexit translates into the real economy.
So in this leadership election, let’s not look backward to the referendum, but forward to how we build on David Cameron’s One Nation legacy and cement ourselves in the centre ground. We have an opportunity and a duty with a weak and divided Labour Party to speak up for everyone and every community in our nation to ensure we capitalise on our position and build our majority in 2020 – or whenever the next election may be.
Owen Meredith is on the Board of the TRG and writes here in a personal capacity