Conservative Party Conference was widely seen this year as a tussle between Boris Johnson and Theresa May. By popular acclaim, the Prime Minister took the accolades, perhaps for the first time in her premiership, and Boris let his chance slip through his fingers. But for all the sudden burst in support for Theresa, her speech, good in rhetoric though weak on policy, will simply buy her a month or two. She may ride a wave of unity all the way to Brexit, but her Premiership has been all to toxic for her to survive far past March 2019.
James Forsyth wrote a fantastic piece in the Spectator arguing that the Tories are crying out for a domestic agenda. He’s right. The main argument now is where post-Brexit Britain can go – seize the opportunity to encourage innovation, cut taxes and increase personal freedoms, or continue this ridiculous anti-immigrant rhetoric, bow to Labour’s calls for tax and spend, and continue to exacerbate the housing crisis by refusing to accept wholesale planning reform. Will Tanner, director of Onward, made an interesting point on Twitter this week concerning where he thinks the Tories should go next. He argued that the right can’t win over millennials with an appeal for individualism and free markets – that a generation who didn’t live through the winter of discontent won’t be sold on the arguments. Matthew Parris made a similar point in his recent Times column: “we won’t win by pitting ideology against ideology, or by pushing free-market, liberal politics – but by raising an eyebrow at Corbyn and suggesting that voting Tory works.”
If you were at Conservative Party Conference this year, or have flicked through the coverage, you’ll know that whilst the main hall was half-full at best, even for the likes of Sajid Javid and Ruth Davidson – the fringe events promoted by free-market think-tanks were queued for around the block. Whilst older members settled in to hear the Home Secretary call for a crackdown on middle-class drug users, the (surprisingly large) younger contingent clamoured to get a seat at events run by the Institute of Economic Affairs and TelegraphRefresh – the paper’s free-market liberal opinion platform. Perhaps I’m biased, but it seems to me that if the Conservatives want to build a Britain ‘fit for the future’ and win over students and young people, then they should see which issues and which people young Tories are voting with their feet for. The overwhelming darling of this youth-dominated, radical liberal fringe – Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss.
It’s often said that generations must rediscover free markets for themselves – and that a battle must be fought more than once in order to win it. I’m a young person myself – and I know that the oft-peddled ‘fact’ that we’re all red-in-tooth-and-claw socialists is a myth. Young people embrace innovation and entrepreneurship – we thrive in the gig economy and recognise that new technology is improving lives. The difference is that young people insist on the worse-off being protected, an end to crony capitalism, and that the rewards of the free market are fair. This doesn’t amount to a frothing desire for nationalised industries, but something of a return to liberalism Lloyd George-style. Individualism, an ideological belief in free trade and globalism, radical social liberalism and free markets.. Liz Truss knows this about the young generation – she described my generation on Twitter as ‘#Uber-riding, #Airbnb-ing, #Deliveroo-eating, #freedomfighters.’
It’s surprised me that, after all of the lessons of recent times, commentators still seem adamant that the next Conservative leader and by extension, probably the next Prime Minister, is going to be one of the front-runners. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn all came from slightly lower down the internal hierarchy - in Corbyn’s case, the far, far fringes. I don’t see any reason why the next leadership challenge should be any different – once Brexit is in the rear-view mirror and we’re building post-Brexit British society, voters won’t want a dogmatic Brexiteer like Jacob Rees-Mogg, a steady ‘more of the same’ hand like May, Rudd or even Sajid Javid, but a dynamic, fresh politician. Truss has an eye for social media, a wealth of ideas and the ability to win over young voters – as well as solid Cabinet experience through a trying time for the country, which can’t be said for the likes of Mogg.
The thinktank world was the driving force behind Thatcher’s reshaping of the British economy – and the UK, alongside Reagan’s US, was the power behind free-market liberalism which has raised millions out of poverty, driven up living standards and wildly increased employment. Liz Truss, and the young Tory grassroots understand this, and the importance of engaging with their liberal policy recommendations – whilst Theresa May does not. When Brexit day is behind us, the Conservatives will need to put forward a liberal, fresh domestic programme for Britain; Liz Truss should be the person to deliver it.