Britain is crying out for bold, progressive leadership

Matt Gillow

April 8, 2019

One of the great tragedies of Brexit is its absolute pre-eminence in our politics. Worthy causes slip by, and foolish HS2-shaped white elephants pass unscrutinised, instead of being cast aside as they should be. This is because British political discourse and the pigeon holes of ministers have been stuffed to breaking point by Brexit.

Yet a light has emerged. Theresa May has signalled that if her deal passes, she will step aside. We will finally have the chance to begin setting out a vision for post-Brexit Britain.

There is much to be done: our tax system is in urgent need of reform, the NHS continues to fall deeper into dire straits, and our awkwardly monopolised rail cartel is putting us behind much of Europe on transport.

First, however, we must focus on how we can unite the country after we leave the European Union. It’s crucial that whoever steps up to the helm embraces free enterprise and radical, evidence-based solutions to the gripping issues of the day.

We must legalise cannabis to tackle the rise of street gangs and Britain’s knife crime epidemic. We must build on the green belt and abolish stamp duty as the first steps to solving the housing crisis.

Further, its time for the Conservatives to stop simply rambling on about being the party of “aspiration and social mobility” and implement genuine, bold reforms. In doing so, our focus should be on education and unlocking the potential of the north.

London is one of the most centralised capital cities in the world. It is our political, financial, and cultural capital – in 2015 alone it welcomed 17.4 million international tourists. It also generates more than a fifth of the UK’s income.

But we must now turn our focus to unleashing the north just as Thatcher unlocked the City – not through fanciful vanity projects such as HS2 or George Osborne’s approach of just chucking money at the “northern powerhouse”. The north has become a black hole for taxpayers’ money and simply encourages commuting from the Midlands to London, and this drain cannot continue.

There is another way. We could abolish HS2 and invest in local transport links across the north, encouraging greater movement between areas such as Lancashire and Yorkshire to make the entire area more productive and attractive for business.

Devolving taxation and revenue-raising powers to a local level would allow the north to compete with the south in terms of business, rather than forcing different parts of the country into tax policies decided by the disconnected bureaucrats of Whitehall.

Would major companies make the shift northwards for a lower corporation tax rate? Could high net-worth individuals move to Nottingham if the regional administration implemented a lower income tax level than London? It’s likely.

Radical moves, such as shifting some of our political institutions northwards, as advocated by DEMOS’s Polly Mckenzie, would also result in long-term gain. Westminster is crumbling, so why not take the opportunity to move parliament to the north? London would recover, and the north would be transformed.

On education, Michael Gove introduced fundamental reforms, largely focusing on higher education, but more can be done. While aspects of our universities do need fixing (not least the maintenance loan system), early education is the key to social mobility and addressing inequality of opportunity in our system.

Fundamental to this is putting the emphasis on choice and freedom – for children, teachers, and parents to have an exciting learning environment. In Finland, which is consistently ranked the best country for education, kids start school (as we know it) at the age of seven. While not necessarily appropriate for the British system, it’s clear that success can be found in bold approaches which differ from accepted norms.

To improve our education system, which lags around the middle in global league tables, something of a cultural shift is needed. In much of Scandinavia, teaching is seen as on par with being a lawyer or a doctor, and this encourages the best people to work in education.

There are quick fixes, of course. Taking the radical but much-needed step to address centralised pay bargaining would mean we could improve salaries for teachers without a massive injection of public funds. As always, choice is key. A lack of flexibility in curricula results in tedium and results in a needless amount of time doing paperwork.

Liberalising our education system also means continuing to back free schools. They are independent of local authorities, exempt from teaching the national curriculum, and possess greater control over teachers’ pay. As well as freeing up the state’s stranglehold on education, we should be encouraging enterprise, for example championing the new low-cost private school movement.

Brexit has led to disunity and vehement disagreement across the political spectrum, and it’s also exposing gaping holes which demonstrate that our economy and public services need a fundamental shake-up.

To recognise and address the concerns of those who feel left behind, unlocking the potential of the north and fixing our education system are key. This will require brave leaders who are willing to set aside vested interests and challenge the status quo. Those who do will surely be rewarded by the public at the ballot box.


  • Matt Gillow

    Matt Gillow is co-founder of 1828 and communications and events manager at the British Foreign Policy Group.

Written by Matt Gillow

Matt Gillow is co-founder of 1828 and communications and events manager at the British Foreign Policy Group.


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