On the fringe of this morning’s Conservative Party Conference in Manchester I listed ten things every Conservative should know and I’ve set them out very briefly below. Charlotte Pickles will be writing about the other panellists’ reactions to my list – and also about the audience’s comments – in a separate post in the next day or two.
(1) The most important things aren’t in the news. If they were, there’s no way Jeremy Corbyn would have come close to power in June or that Donald Trump would have been elected. Both were propelled to the margins of power or to power itself by forces that were barely or inadequately covered by the mainstream media. Like Trump, himself – as the video below argues – nearly all of us spend too much time consuming the output of an industry that is obsessed with the latest things rather than the most important things (with controversy over enlightenment, with negative over positive, and with the political over the technological and cultural). As well as reading the likes of The Spectator and Wall Street Journal, politicians with an eye to the future need to be immersed in Wired, Scientific American, history books and, of course, UnHerd’s “UnPacked” column and the deeper, broader trends Peter Franklin brings to our attention via it, each and every weekday.
(2) The scale of disruptive automation heading our way. A report by PwC estimated that 30% of current UK jobs, 35% of those in Germany, 38% in America (and 21% in Japan) are vulnerable to automation from AI and robotics by the early 2030s. New jobs might be created in time and/or huge new leisure opportunities opened up but how bumpy will the transition be? Nigel Cameron’s book on robots explores these challenges and our preparedness for them.
(3) The rise of China. Just because we’re familiar with it, we need reminding of China’s onwards march – upskilling its labour force, its infrastructure, its technologies and its military. Its latest big step forward is its One Belt, One Road project, investing over $1 trillion in 65 countries. Michael Burleigh wrote about the scale of Beijing’s ambitions here.
(4) Capitalism’s unpopularity (and the right way to meet that unpopularity). Data from Legatum Institute last week found that those favouring public ownership of UK’s water industry were 83%, of electricity 77%, gas 77% and railway 76%. Socialism was more favoured than capitalism. That taxes should rise to fund the NHS. But we can draw the wrong lessons from this? As I argue on The Feed; capitalism wasn’t that popular in Thatcher’s time either. The sensible way forward isn’t rhetorical defences of the free market system but policies that unleash its creative power and eliminate market distortions.
(5) Concentration of market power. Four airlines control 80% of US domestic market. Three drug stores account for 97% of drug stores. Walmart delivers 30% to 50% of all products Americans consume. Google and Facebook are winning 98% of all growth in digital advertising. Nearly $1 in every $2 Americans spend online is spent with Amazon. Despite what some ‘free market’ think tanks in receipt of big money from big business might have you believe, this reduction in competition is dangerous.
(6) Disincentives to work. For a long time during the 2010-2015 Coalition government, Conservatives worried a great deal about the disincentive effects of the 50% income tax rate facing higher earners, left behind by the outgoing Labour government, but under the Universal Credit benefit, claimants face a withdrawal rate of 63% as they move from unemployment to work and up the income scale. One rule for the rich and another for…?
(7) Property inequality. The London Evening Standard reported the chilling numbers. By the middle of last year, “private-sector rent has rocketed up from 49% of average pre-tax income to 62% since 2010.” Or another way of looking at it: “Six years ago, tenants spent more than half their income on putting a roof over their heads in only five London boroughs. That figure has now increased to 20 out of 32 in the capital.”
(8) The North-South infrastructure gap. The figures are disputed by Chris Grayling, Britain’s Transport Secretary, but IPPR North allege a north-south spending gap whereby there’s £1,900 of government spending per head in London compared with £400 per head in the North. Serious policymaking also requires looking at unfairnesses between cities and rural areas and politically-championed places like Scotland versus politically-neglected areas like Lincolnshire.
(9) The loss of ideas-generating institutions to the Left. 68% of teachers told the Times Educational Supplement they expected to vote Labour, 10% backed the Liberal Democrats, and only 8% chose the Conservatives. It’s not that different among other ideas class leaders. On the other side of the Atlantic, for example, 80% of political donations from ‘newtech’ goes to the Democrats. The Left is close to completing its march through the institutions – hence the importance of initiatives like George Freeman MP’s ideas festival.
(10) The American people elected Donald Trump to the presidency. We live in a time when anything is possible and when volatility in democracy – because of tired, sleepy political and media establishments – might be a bigger factor than any shift in any particular ideological direction.
The last two points – the idea of a leftwards lurch in ideas-generating institutions and volatility in democracies were both discussed by UnHerd’s political jury.