As important as what is in this manifesto is what is not. Readers will scour it in vain for a solution to the problem of Islamist extremism, a view on whether the aid budget should rise in real terms, or a plan to lower energy bills for consumers. Nor are we under any illusion that most voters will read it. Few read manifestos in any event. Even fewer will read this one.
There is a rationale for these omissions – and for our focus on themes which though few are vital. The three foundations of a free society that matter most are the chance to own your own home; work that enables you to get on and not just get by, and having enough to plan for the years ahead. In other words: Homes, Jobs and Savings – the three words stamped on the masthead of ConservativeHome.
This manifesto sets out a programme for more homes, better jobs and higher savings – accompanied by plans for economic and political reform. It follows that important areas of public policy are not included. Welfare reform, for example, would require a chapter all of its own, and its exclusion is a consequence of the manifesto’s concentration of vision. Not everyone will agree with this rationale, but there it is.
A list of thanks would be very long. I must confine it to Tim Montgomerie, who built the site’s social justice tradition almost single-handed; to Mark Wallace, the site’s executive editor, for his ideas, energy and input; to Alexandra Mitchell, for her research and help, and to Peter Franklin – without whose vision and work this project simply wouldn’t have happened.
The last word of thanks is to Lord Ashcroft, who continues to make it all possible.
Homes. Jobs. Savings.
This is a manifesto for the ordinary working people of Britain – the backbone of our nation. They are the children and grandchildren of the old working class, who escaped the prejudice and poverty of the past to become a mass middle class: neither servants of the rich nor serfs of the state.
To this day, there are those who look down on them, who dismiss aspiration as greed and independence as selfishness. What the detractors refuse to see is the pride that comes from ownership and the dignity of self-reliance.
These aren’t just vague principles, but are embodied in real achievements – three in particular:
- Firstly, the chance to own your home.
- Secondly, work that enables you to get on, not just get by.
- And, thirdly, having enough left over at the end of each month to plan for the years ahead.
Homes. Jobs. Savings. These are the building blocks of personal liberty and a free society. And yet they are under threat. In the previous century progress was made on all three fronts, but since the Millennium, home ownership has declined, wages have stagnated and the savings habit has given way to a culture of debt.
Having lead this country out of the deepest recession since the war, the Conservative Party now faces an even bigger challenge – to halt and reverse the decline of the mass middle class.
Ten policies to make a difference
Our manifesto for ordinary working people sets out a programme of reforms designed to support home ownership, full employment and savings for all. Across five chapters we explore the challenges and propose the policies we believe are required in response – here are ten of them:
Homes: Ownership first
Britain doesn’t just need more homes, it also needs better, more affordable homes. A building boom that sucks in cheap money looking for a quick return will not deliver affordability. We must therefore freeze out the property speculators with an ownership first condition on the development of new housing. Councils would be given the power to reserve the sale of new homes to those intending to live in them.
Homes: New Garden Cities for the 21st century
The piecemeal approach to building new homes has failed. We need a vision for the development of strategically located areas like the Thames Estuary. Therefore we propose the creation of Garden City Corporations, empowered to clear the obstacles to large-scale regeneration. Existing residents would have a direct financial stake through the allocation of shares in each corporation – and the closer the impact of new development, the more shares they’d get.
Jobs: Scrap HS2 to create a Northern infrastructure Fund
The battle for Britain’s future prosperity will be won or lost in its cities beyond London. HS2 is yet another London-centric mega-project that won’t even reach the North until the 2030s and won’t reach key cities like Liverpool at all. We would scrap HS2 and re-direct the planned public investment in its entirety to a Northern Infrastructure Fund under the control of elected mayors from across the region.
Jobs: A new deal on immigration
Britain must regain full control of its borders, repatriating power over immigration policy from the European Union. With this renewed freedom, the existing immigration targets would be replaced by a points-based system emphasising the skills needed for economic growth. New migrants would be required to purchase their own health and welfare insurance cover –and access to public services would have to be earned.
Savings: A fair share of pensions tax relief
Upfront tax relief on pensions is worth between £20 and £30 billion a year, but this disproportionately benefits the wealthiest savers. A fairer allocation of this vast amount of money is needed to provide ordinary working people with a greater incentive to save. The highest rates of relief should go to savings made from the lowest incomes.
Savings: Hands-on financial education
As a country, we must rebuild our savings culture – and the best place to start is with the young. We therefore propose that funding should be allocated to endow every school with the seed capital for an investment portfolio. This would form the centre-piece of a hands-on programme of financial education. Dividends would be paid out to every pupil – providing they passed a financial literacy test and paid the money into a personal savings account opened as part of the test.
Money: Higher National Insurance thresholds
National Insurance Contributions are a direct tax on jobs. To boost job creation and the earning power of ordinary working people, we would make NICs our top tax-cutting priority. We would begin by eliminating employee and employer contributions for all under-25s on the minimum wage – extending the tax cut up the age range and income scale as resources allow.
Money: A UK Sovereign Wealth Fund
Countries like Norway have set up sovereign wealth funds –allowing them to save as a nation, not just as individuals. In Britain, however, successive governments have squandered ‘windfall’ revenues instead of investing them for the future. We therefore propose the creation of a UK Sovereign Wealth Fund, mutually-owned by all British citizens and into which all new windfall revenues would be paid.
Power: Devo-Max for all the home nations
Whatever the result of the Scottish referendum, is is clear that the existing relationship between Westminster and the four home nations cannot be sustained. We propose devolved national governments for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – each with its own First Minister. The English Government and First Minister would be chosen by MPs for English constituencies.
Power: Direct Democracy, including internet voting
Merely electing our MPs and councillors every four or five years and hoping for the best is not good enough. There should be a genuine right of recall. Work should begin on the introduction of electronic voting. The passing of a referendum bill should be made a non-negotiable condition for Conservative participation in any future Coalition Government.