Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
Lessons from New Zealand
The re-election of Jacinda Ardern, winning an overall majority and so overcoming New Zealand’s complex proportional representation system, shows that, even in the age of centre-right populism, there is a route back for social democracy.
It could be that alongside her emotional intelligence, which she displays in abundance, in this new Covid era, what voters yearn for is competence and security. A feeling of safety first. With both her handling of the terrorist atrocity in 2019, and her extraordinary success in dealing with the virus, is it any surprise that voters have given this remarkable politician the thumbs up?
No doubt our own Labour Party will be trying to pull off the same trick here, as will many other centre-left parties around the world. Conservatives should be doing everything possible to learn from her victory and thus forestalling the same thing happening over here.
If Joe Biden wins the US Election in two weeks time, it could just signal that the pendulum is swinging leftwards once more. If Trump gets an unexpected victory, then perhaps Ardern’s result will be seen as a swim against the tide.
The Corporatist State
I am as pro-genuine private enterprise as most Conservatives. But I don’t understand why our governments never get to grips with the mega-corporatist state.
How it is that we have allowed, time and time again, big corporations to plunder the taxpayer – whether it be through failed procurements, or permitting ginormous consultancies to charge £7,000 a day for their services in terms of track and trace.
Why is it that a noble £85 million laptop computer procurement programme for disadvantaged pupils, announced by the Department for Education in the height of lockdown, took months to deliver – by the time many children were already back to school? A school in my Harlow constituency told me they had only received the laptops recently, whilst others had arrived without the relevant logins et al. Would a better option not be to just give schools vouchers, after negotiating a good deal with Currys and Asda etc, and allow the teachers to purchase the computers themselves?
Of course, I appreciate this is a national emergency, which perhaps makes these vast sums going to consultancies more understandable. But, somehow, it seems pretty grim that the businesses profiting most from Covid-19 are these mega-corps consultancies.
Moreover, it is not as if these issues started in the pandemic. It has gone on for some time, and books have been written about the monies these consultants make and the failed procurement schemes that lay in their wake,
The left, naturally, describe all this as ‘vulture capitalism’ – but this is as far removed from genuine capitalism as it is possible to be. Capitalism is about the free exchange of goods and services and fair competition. The corporatist state is neither. Some of these companies are so big and intertwined with government departments that they become indistinguishable from the government departments themselves.
In the reform of Whitehall that Number 10 is currently planning, perhaps the wisest maxim might be “small is beautiful”.
Taking back control of VAT
Whether we leave with or without a deal by the end of the year, one of the key arguments for Brexit was that we took back control over our taxes.
Indeed in May 2016, during the EU Referendum campaign, both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove said that energy bills would be lower because EU rules meant that Britain could not take VAT off those bills. In The Sun, they wrote:
“The least wealthy are hit particularly hard. The poorest households spend three times more of their income on household energy bills than the richest households spend. As long as we are in the EU, we are not allowed to cut this tax.”
Both were absolutely right. Now we need to live up to that pledge by reducing the five per cent VAT rate for energy bills, and cutting the cost of living for millions. The Brexit dividend must mean cuts to the cost of living.
“In Harlow, we have already seen the NHS Brexit dividend, with a brand new hospital. The people of Harlow will feel that those who vote against this excellent deal really just want to stop Brexit completely. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, once we do the deal and leave the EU, we will gain control of our tax rates and be able to reduce VAT and energy bills for our hard-working constituents?”
The Prime Minister replied:
“Yes. Not only will we be able to reduce VAT in the UK, but we will be able to do it in Northern Ireland as well.”