A few months back I wandered into the second-hand bookshop of a National Trust property. It confounded the modern reputation of the Trust by having on display a copy of Let our Children Grow Tall , a collection of Margaret Thatcher's speeches from the late 1970s. They are of remarkable depth and length. Although we can well do without most aspects of the 1970s in our modern politics, it would be good to recover the ability to set out political ideas in a non-trivial way.
I do not suggest that these speeches should be the basis for a modern political programme nearly 50 years later. As Mrs Thatcher herself said: "Every generation must restate its values in the light of present challenges and of past experience." What they do show, however, is the effort she felt she needed to put into explaining her ideas. In retrospect, it seems obvious that by the late 1970s the post-war consensus had run out of road. It wasn't so clear at the time. The consensus set the intellectual climate. Deviation from it took you off the policy reservation. Critics were quickly stigmatised as shallow, intellectually not up to the job or even dangerous.
The same is true today. For 20 years or more, political discourse has been dominated by a shared set of ideas: that the state should guide life through both tax and regulation; that economics is best done by technocrats, and politics is best done by judges and lawyers; and that it is the government's job to take care of everything traditionally considered important in life so that we are insulated from risk and change.
On top of this come the beliefs that the nation state doesn't matter, that a passport is a flag of convenience not a statement of national identity, and that a country is nothing more than the people who happen to be on its territory at any given moment – whatever their loyalties and however they got there.
I personally find this whole world view – the intellectual world of Gordon Brown, of Davos, the IMF, the European Commission, and virtually everyone who has been in power in Britain in recent years – profoundly depressing. It assumes there is only one way of doing things and that moral autonomy and individual beliefs do not count. Not surprisingly, it reached its apotheosis during the lockdowns.
It can even seemingly survive prolonged contact with reality. Unpoliced borders, a semi-detached Scotland, double-digit inflation, the prospect of energy blackouts, near-zero productivity growth, tax and spend at the highest levels since Clement Attlee – none of this suggests to its proponents that they got anything wrong.
Liz Truss and her team are rightly refusing to be mesmerised by this orthodox wisdom . But the establishment doesn't like it and moves rapidly to stigmatise heresy.
Suggest that the Bank of England hasn't got everything right and you will be told, as by one member of the Monetary Policy Committee, Michael Saunders, that "the foundations of the UK monetary policy framework are really important, and best left untouched". Suggest, as the Attorney General did this week , that judges on the ECHR don't always get it right, and you will find yourself told by George Peretz QC that you are dealing in "crude civil law vs common law stereotypes that seem to be prevalent in the hard Brexit/anti-ECHR community".
Criticise the Civil Service, and the former head of the Government Legal Service, Jonathan Jones, will tell you that you are being "crass", "completely unfair" and "damaging morale and trust". Suggest that lower taxes help business and you will be told by world-weary economists and commentators that business investment is not affected by business taxation. (Tell that to all the businesses that moved to Ireland in recent years.)
These people will oppose any worthwhile change. It is time to stop listening to them.
That's because a national emergency is coming. Our energy policy has been criminally negligent. The choice by net zero proponents to rely on renewables and interconnectors, and to run down storage, means we face blackouts, hideous business-crushing costs, and people shivering and dying in the cold. The people responsible for this are as culpable as the "guilty men" whose policies ended up with German tanks at the Channel coast in 1940. They must be swept away from Day One.
We are going to have to take some very unwelcome and expensive decisions to get through the next few months. But it must never happen again. We need to get serious about energy policy. Those who created the old one can't be involved in the new one .
And this should be a "teachable moment", to use Barack Obama's phrase. If she wins, Liz Truss can point to it to illustrate the establishment's failure and why change is needed.
That will be crucial. She will have no breathing space. She will have to govern straightaway. Like Mrs Thatcher, to bring people with her she will need to devote huge effort to explaining why free-market change is needed. She can't do that while accepting the presumptions of the ancien régime .
The problem is that lots of people have simply never been exposed to any other ideas. I have had many conversations with people under 40 who clearly have simply never heard free-market arguments. Indeed, they often think they have been living under a free-market regime rather than under a drift to a modern high-tax high-hectoring form of regulatory socialism.
That is our fault. Conservative politicians have simply not set out the arguments in a way that compels attention. Too many are frightened of criticism and instantly back off if questioned.
We need to get back to making a case. The case that countries are stronger where people keep their own money and decide things for themselves. Where they are not dependent on state charity for everything that matters. Where they are expected to develop as individuals and build their communities themselves, not wait for the Government. And where the Government does its job properly – making sure the borders are controlled, the streets policed and the lights stay on.
These things make better countries. People can see that. That's why the consensus is much more fragile than it looks. Liz, give it a kick and it will come crashing down. Then we can move forward.
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