The State We’re In

By Lord Ashcroft

“Britain is broken – people are getting poorer, nothing seems to work properly, and we need big changes to the way the country works, whichever party is in government.” In my latest polling, an extraordinary 72% agreed with this statement, including more than half of 2019 Conservative voters. Only just over one in five opted took the alternative view that “there will always be problems that need sorting out, but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the way the country works.”

Many thinkers of various stripes agree: economists, including those on the Growth Commission established by Liz Truss, consider the urgent question of how to improve Britain’s sluggish productivity. Many others on the centre-right – not least those contributing to ConHome’s project on reducing demand for government – worry about an allied problem: that the state itself has become too big, expensive and burdensome, and that the Tories should make it their mission to rein it in.

This is a recurring theme in Conservative thought, and with good reason. But it’s easy to take the arguments for a smaller state for granted, and assume they are self-evident to everyone. At least as dangerous, politically, is the temptation to think in terms of theory when voters think almost exclusively in terms of practice. I therefore wanted to find out how people saw the questions at stake in this debate – about the tax burden, business regulation, spending and public services, the role of the state itself, and how they reacted to the low-tax, small-state agenda (more…)

Broken Britain has to be fixed – regardless of whether Rishi or Keir is PM

By Lord Ashcroft

This article was first published in the Mail on Sunday.

After 13 years of Conservative government, things were not supposed to look like this. Strikes, inflation, record NHS waiting lists, a sluggish economy and apparently uncontrollable migration point to a country where things are going wrong. Covid and Ukraine sound increasingly like excuses, not explanations.

But people sense more than an administration running out of steam after a bruising stint in office. I found more than seven in ten agreeing that Britain is broken and needs big changes, whichever party is in charge.

Political and economic sages debate how to boost the dismal rates of productivity that hold the country back compared to its more prosperous peers. For many Conservative thinkers, pondering the party’s direction in a new term of government (or, as many expect, in opposition), the problem is the state itself. Recent Tory governments – prompted by Covid and a desire to show suspicious voters that austerity was over – have spent, taxed and borrowed at a rate that would have made Gordon Brown blush; these critics argue that government has grown too big, tries to do too much, and so imposes an excessive burden on business, workers and families.

There is a lot to be said for this view: allowing governments to consume ever more of our national income is a recipe for economic and social decline. But as Mrs. Thatcher’s Tories understood in 1979, any attempt to reverse the trend has to start not with economic theory, but with people (more…)