Just eighteen months have passed since the last general election, yet the Overton Window has swung further than anyone could’ve imagined in December 2019. Covid-19 has forced the government to make difficult, costly decisions – and the increase in public spending will be hard to pay back. Similarly, lockdowns were necessary to halt the spread of the virus and reduce the pressure on the NHS – but emergencies have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded. They shouldn’t be kept from us a moment longer than necessary.
Today sees the launch of a new initiative – the Free Market Forum – which exists to make the case, in Parliament and beyond, for a return to a small state, low tax economy and a nation which values individual responsibility and personal freedom. The MP-led project follows in the footsteps of the impactful Free Enterprise Group and FREER, the latter of which I was a supporter, and will provide a platform for MPs to debate and discuss the biggest issues of the day.
Covid-19 triggered the deepest recession this country has witnessed in three centuries – and in the coming months we must put Britain back on the path to economic growth. Businesses which have been shuttered for much of the past year have rightly utilised government-backed loans and grants, as well as the furlough scheme, but the scaffolding must soon come down. Companies must stand on their own two feet. People must return to work.
The route out of this slump cannot be mapped by more government spending. It is entrepreneurship and innovation that will lead our bounce back: start-ups becoming scale-ups, businesses growing and creating new jobs to replace those that have been lost, private enterprise offering people a way back to employment and productivity. The FMF will look at policies to turbo-charge this growth and reduce the burden of high taxes and red tape companies may face when trying to reopen.
It isn’t all about the pandemic of course. I’m proud to have been the first brick in the Blue Wall when I was elected to represent Mansfield back in 2017, and I’m delighted to be joined as a parliamentary supporter of the FMF by a number of new 2019 intake colleagues, including our co-chairs Dehenna Davison and Greg Smith. Together we will have much to say on levelling up, reducing regional inequalities and delivering growth across ‘left-behind’ Britain.
Issues like climate change and the UK’s commitment to reaching net zero by 2050 cannot be abandoned to Extinction Rebellion. FMF supporters will make the case for more free market policies to meet that target without vast government-run schemes and burdensome taxes. We will raise issues such as greater accountability and responsibility for local government authorities, or the pressing need to boost the supply of housing. We will build on previous work done by FREER, including my own contributions, and push back against the ever-encroaching nanny state which seeks to monitor our lunchboxes and ban us from looking at advertisements for so-called junk foods.
The Free Market Forum isn’t about creating a manifesto everyone signs up to. Whatever we produce – be it essay collections, podcasts, blog posts, or public events – will be the author or speaker’s own views. Competition isn’t just for supermarkets and football teams – although perhaps not all football teams – we need a marketplace of ideas, to pit policy against policy and identify what works and what doesn’t. That is why I am delighted not just to be involved with the Free Market Forum, but with 1828 where I sit on the Advisory Board. Authors on this site disagree, just as supporters of the FMF will do, but we will offer new perspectives on the public debate in the UK and shift the dial back towards freedom.
The Free Market Forum is a new initiative from the Institute of Economic Affairs and IEA Forum, find out more on the website www.freemarketforum.org.