As some of you might be aware, I recently defected from UKIP to the Conservatives. UKIP is not a libertarian party. Nor is it a party with a sound economic platform; there are a large number of PPCs who aim for economic nationalism; like that of the BNP. UKIP has not released an updated spending plan since 2010, and their work then was extremely simplistic (and even rails against companies with outsourced services making profit!).
UKIP is not going to win in 2015 or likely in 2020, probably only mustering a handful of MPs, they should be aiming to shift the debate on the economy. UKIP are instead campaigning against gay marriage and immigration – hardly the most libertarian positions. Aside from Farage the leading figures in the party are largely anti-libertarian. As a Tory, and more importantly as a libertarian, I think the UKIP threat to this country needs to be neutralised, especially after their good showing in the Eastleigh by-election. Thankfully UKIP came short of the crucial win they needed to move to the next level politically, although their political credibility has risen somewhat.
Many people will be suggesting that Cameron take a more anti-immigration stance, that he come more strongly down on the Eurosceptic side. I don’t think this will be believed by many, and crucially I don’t think this will hold back UKIP’s rise. As those across the pond might say, ‘it’s the economy, stupid!’ The economy (and jobs) is the most important issue to the public, by a long way according to polling. If Cameron can fix the economy, he not only will hold his base, but he’ll win votes from those outside the party. If the coalition can deliver a growing economy, with reasonable living costs by 2015, the Conservatives will likely win the election. If they cannot, they will lose. The protest vote moving to UKIP will be stemmed (although there is growing natural support for UKIP, it isn’t all protest).
In order to win, there has to be real, deep spending cuts. Thanks to Labour, media and even Conservative spin, people already think large cuts are taking place, so why not do it? It would shore up credibility and actually deliver what is needed. The UK might even win back its AAA rating shortly before 2015 if the government acts now. Wouldn’t that look good? Regulations need to be cut wherever possible. The tax system needs to be radically simplified so that small businesses don’t have to spend so much time working out what they are required to do. Lastly, taxes need to come down, or at the very least, stop going up. Inflation needs to be reined in, real wages are falling, if this continues to 2015, again, the Conservatives will lose.
So how can Cameron deliver on this? A reshuffle: Osborne seems keen on having a say on strategy and it would be useful to keep him around, he has also shown himself to be out of his depth as chancellor – a move to party chairman or a similar role might well work. But who should be the next chancellor? A radical move would be for the Lib Dem Jeremy Browne to come in, he is economically liberal, would be popular amongst a large section of the more economically right-wing conservative backbenchers. Browne has experience of the treasury and would obviously cheer up many Liberal Democrats, keeping the coalition together until 2015. Danny Alexander could be moved to another post, with Sajid Javid being promoted up replace him – keeping the rest of the Tory backbench quiet. Another possibility is to promote Javid straight to chancellor, this would be less radical, but would deliver a similar result. However, this would represent a very big promotion to someone who has only been in parliament since 2010, and only in the treasury since September. John Redwood is a candidate with more gravitas, but also more baggage, he should certainly be considered. David Davis could be brought back into the tent, a northern MP with all the right instincts might really help. Either way, there are enough options that would deliver the right result.
Moving people and carrying on as we are isn’t enough, the Conservatives have to act faster, and be seen to be radical. We are in a once in a century economic situation, we can’t continue as if all we need to do is tinker. We need to scrap departments, starting with BIS. Even Vince Cable suggested that this department was unnecessary (before he was in charge of it, of course). As another (sadly necessary) sop to the Liberal Democrats, Cable could be given a minister without portfolio position, keeping his seat around the cabinet table. Other departments, quangos, projects like HS2 and anything else government spends its money on needs to be looked at for scrapping. To date this hasn’t really happened. Fuel, alcohol and cigarette taxes should cease to increase, various other minor taxes need to be cut and plans to cut the benefit bill need to be followed through – the coalition cannot afford to blink. Neither Labour nor UKIP have an answer to the coalition on this. Pushing ahead with benefit reforms and Gove continuing his good work in education will leave the coalition partners in a relatively a good position in 2015. Lastly, Cameron needs to give real details of what powers he wants to repatriate from Brussels. Not in 2015, but before the summer recess. By making it very clear what he will be negotiating on, he will begin to look genuine, undermining crucial UKIP spin.
Cameron cannot afford not to be radical in the next year, not just for the sake of neutering UKIP, but for the sake of the country. It is time to be radical, kick the Brownian instincts from the treasury and end the economic malaise we find ourselves in. If the right is to be re-united, the Conservatives have to prove their economic credentials above all else.