Five radical ideas for the Tories

The Tories can put some genuinely radical policies into their manifesto without worrying about losing votes, says Matthew Lynn. Here, he picks five good places to start.


It's hard to see how the Conservatives could lose the general election
(Image credit: © 2017 Bloomberg Finance LP)

With a 20-point lead in the opinion polls, no sign of Remainers flocking to the Lib Dems, and Labour in complete disarray, it's hard to see how the general election can be lost by the Conservatives. That is an opportunity. The Tories can throw caution and political calculation to the wind and put some genuinely radical policies into their manifesto without worrying about losing the odd vote as a result. So they could promise to remove restrictions on fracking. Ditch planning rules to allow more homes to be built. Strip the BBC back to a core public service of news and arts programmes. Here are five other good places to start.

1. A unilateral declaration of free trade

Instead of spending years trying to work out a tortuously complicated trade deal with the EU, just say that the UK will be completely open to trade from anywhere, with zero tariffs, and no restrictions beyond basic compliance with our health and safety rules. If we make our market completely open, then it is then up to the EU to decide whether they want to impose restrictions on our exporters or not but we will have seized the moral high ground. Over time, the EU is likely to allow our companies free access to its market as well.

2. Introduce charges for every visit to a GP

The NHS is unaffordable in the long run, so why not set about fixing it? To anyone who is working, and not on any form of tax credit or benefits, charging £10 to see a doctor, with any subsequent treatment after that still completely free, is hardly the end of the world. It would reduce time-wasting visits, and transform the finances of the organisation as well as making it a bit more customer-orientated.

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3. Rip up the green belt

London is our most successful economic entity indeed, it is arguably the most successful economic entity in the world. Many of our other great cities, such as Manchester and Edinburgh, are also doing well. But they need space to expand. You wouldn't put a cap on the size of your most successful companies, so why put a cap on the size of your most successful cities? They need space to build new offices, shops, and homes. By all means protect other areas so there is no net impact on the environment. But it doesn't make sense to maintain dull fields around our most successful cities if they can grow faster, so will the economy.

4. Merge income tax and national insurance into a single rate

There is no point pretending that NI insures you against anything. It is simply a backdoor tax, and one that allows chancellors to pretend they are not raising tax when they are. It enables the self-employed to pay less tax than they should, and fools people into thinking the basic rate is a lot less than it really is. Just get rid of it once and for all. People would then know what they were paying and that would make government more accountable.

5. Put devolution into reverse

All the evidence suggests that devolution has led to worse government for Scotland and Wales. In both countries, education standards have plummeted, Wales remains one of the poorest parts of the country, and Scotland's growth rate has started to slip way behind the rest of the UK. Even worse, the SNP administration is now running a never-ending campaign for independence, stoking resentment of England. Here's a simple solution. Offer the Scots a second referendum on independence, but if they turn it down, insist there will be less power for the devolved administration. Likewise, re-run the referendum that created the Welsh Assembly, this time with the aim of abolishing it. The half-way house is unworkable. If countries want to stay in the Union, it needs to work better.

Who's getting what

Martin Sorrell, the boss of advertising giant WPP, earned £48.1m in salary and bonuses last year, down from £70.4m in 2015. Sorrell is the highest-paid chief executive of a FTSE 100 company and has earned £200m over the past five years.The decline was due to a lower contribution from a controversial stock-based incentive scheme, which has been criticised as too generous by shareholders.

Former US president Barack Obama will receive $400,000 for delivering the keynote speech at a healthcare conference organised by investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald in September. The amount is roughly twice as much as the annual salary he received in the White House.

Jeff Fairburn, the chief executive of Persimmon, the UK's largest housebuilder, is set to be awarded 4.8 million shares worth £112m at current prices for meeting performance targets. Persimmon is among the housebuilders who have been criticised for selling houses on long leaseholds rather than freeholds (see page 8).

Unhappy investors have forced US tech firm Salesforce to slash the pay of its chief executive Marc Benioff to $13.2m last year, from $39.9m two years ago. Despite the pay cut, Benioff remains one of Silicon Valley's wealthiest executives, worth around $4.2bn thanks to his 5% stake in the business-software provider.

Nice work if you can get it

A group of landowners including the Queen may share a £3.8bn windfall if plans to develop a gigantic fertiliser mine in North Yorkshire go ahead, reports The Times. London-listed Sirius Minerals aims to mine a 70-metre seam of polyhalite, a mineral-rich form of potash, which runs under properties including the Pickering Estate, which is controlled by the Duchy of Lancaster, the sovereign's private estate. Sirius expects to pay royalties averaging £65m per year, once production starts in the early 2020s. The national park authority is set to receive £772m. However, the amount paid will depend on fertiliser prices, and some analysts consider the project which is expected to cost £2.3bn to be ambitious.

Matthew Lynn

Matthew Lynn is a columnist for Bloomberg, and writes weekly commentary syndicated in papers such as the Daily Telegraph, Die Welt, the Sydney Morning Herald, the South China Morning Post and the Miami Herald. He is also an associate editor of Spectator Business, and a regular contributor to The Spectator. Before that, he worked for the business section of the Sunday Times for ten years. 

He has written books on finance and financial topics, including Bust: Greece, The Euro and The Sovereign Debt Crisis and The Long Depression: The Slump of 2008 to 2031. Matthew is also the author of the Death Force series of military thrillers and the founder of Lume Books, an independent publisher.