Capitalism Isn't Working And People Are 'Pissed Off', Says Tory Former Minister

Anti-corruption champion John Penrose rails against large corporations and the super-rich, prompting one activist to accuse him of sounding "like a Labour MP".
<strong>John Penrose is Boris Johnson's anti-corruption champion.</strong>
John Penrose is Boris Johnson's anti-corruption champion.
PA Archive/PA Images

Capitalism is in crisis and and the government must radically reform the UK because “people are pissed off”, a Tory MP has said.

The former heritage minister said people feel crushed by large corporations and angry at the “illegitimate corrupt wealth” of mansion-owning foreign oligarchs who are “some of the nastiest people on the planet”.

Penrose, who is Boris Johnson’s anti-corruption champion, also hit out at rising inter-generational inequality, with the number of pension-age people growing while the tax-paying working population who “pay for the benefits we have promised ourselves” was “shrivelling”.

“Pretty soon everyone under 40 will feel like the system is a conspiracy and it is a conspiracy against them,” he said.

But Penrose, the MP for Weston, was told by one Tory activist at the Conservative Party fringe event, organised by The Enterprise Forum, that he “sounds like a Labour MP”.

With a snap election on the horizon, however, Penrose said his party must acknowledge the current market system had faults.

“We can’t just sit there saying, it’s all working perfectly because it manifestly for quite a lot of people for the last ten years hasn’t been working, and they are hacked off,” he said. “They are pissed off.”

He added: “It is clearly true, clearly true, that at the moment capitalism, corporatism, business, call it what you like, free markets, isn’t working well enough for enough people in our society.”

Penrose said the “danger is that the devil has all the best tunes” and voters could turn to Labour’s socialist agenda as an “answer”.

“Roughly once every ten years, once a generation, something goes wrong with British capitalism, with Britain’s economy, quite fundamentally, and we have to remodel ourselves,” he said.

PM Boris Johnson at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester
PM Boris Johnson at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester
PA Media: UK News

“We have to reboot ourselves. It is a regular occurrence. It isn’t new or extraordinary, and every generation it is up to the Conservative Party, usually, to fix it.”

He said former PM Margaret Thatcher had to “fight back the arguments about the three-day week” and “this time it is our turn and, ladies and gentlemen, we mustn’t be found wanting”.

Penrose said it is “as easy as it is ever going to get to win the battle of ideas” with “a bunch of old fashioned lefties” in charge of the Labour Party.

He reserved particular anger for foreign oligarchs who he said were concentrated mainly in London, in places such as Knightsbirdge and Kensington

“You will see an incredible number of flash cars being driven by oligarchs who have got their money by stealing the GDP [...] of a foreign country,” he said.

“They have swiped it [their wealth]. They are now crime lords, drug lords or kleptocrats and they have repatriated it to Britain and we have let them come into the country and they are living the high life, a really bling lifestyle, and they are some of the nastiest people on the planet and we are giving them houseroom.”

“We need people to know that the system will work for them [...} and not just for the kleptocrat, drug-running, human-trafficking oligarch who lives a few streets down,” he said.

Penrose also referred to a system of “consumers against producers” and said “people are starting to feel ripped off” by big companies who have large market power.

“People feel picked on and disempowered” by companies who effectively control the market for essentials, such as utilities and digital.

“We have got to change the rules of the game so producers are on the side of consumers,” he said.

He said the UK must reform competition laws to target the “natural market monopolies” of large digital firms such as Google and Facebook, who, he said had such power that they “may in the future rip us off”.

The next government must also tackle “generational justice”, he said, adding there was “just an awful lot more of us getting older and fewer being born” and it is a “ticking time bomb” for the economy.

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