Picture credit: Carl Court/Getty Images

What Britain needs next

Whoever replaces Boris Johnson has to make radical change

Artillery Row

England’s test cricket revolution under its new coach Brendan McCullum has been so total, and so sudden, that it has been difficult to keep track of the various records tumbling under the might of his new administration. Amid the high-scoring chaos, Jonny Bairstow slammed England’s second-fastest test fifty. 

Not to be outdone by another burly maverick wrapped in England’s colours, Boris Johnson has smashed a half-century record of his own: he is the first prime minister to endure 50 MPs resigning from his government. 

When he finally departs, the next Tory prime minister will need an urgent reset to rip off the quilt of decline that has been gradually smothering the British state.

Before McCullum and the English captain Ben Stokes took the reins, English cricket had enjoyed just a solitary win in 17 tests. The team seemed tired — and it was tired — but only mentally. The sudden change that has seen England secure five wins from five, with mostly the same players, has proven the value of leadership and an elite winning mentality. Britain’s conservative political order needs to adopt the same shift in mentality.

For too long, our movement has been blighted by disarray and delay, by ineptitude and the careless squandering of an enormous mandate for revolutionary Tory change. Boris had everything and he neglected it for nothing. Brendan McCullum forced his rapid turnaround through a total change in direction with new ideas: hard-hitting, urgent cricket had to replace the unconfident malaise that had afflicted the national team. 

As in cricket, political shifts are achieved through ideas that translate into action. Whoever next assumes power will need some easy wins. It is time to realise the changes that the electorate expected, and that the country needed, but that a prime minister who was too busy courting the press and dealing with internal controversies failed to make.

There is already talk of a caretaker prime minister slotting in while the party prepares to conduct its all-too-regular internal election psychodrama. Whichever minister is given the Tory Sam Allardyce role, they can get the party, and the government, back on track with these suggestions.

Firstly, and most importantly, there must be a renewed focus on economic growth. In the dying weeks of the second Johnson ministry, government insiders told me that the PM had hosted one-on-one meetings with external but Tory-adjacent policy wonks to help refocus the government’s focus on growth. While Johnson won’t have the opportunity to push through some of the suggestions they made, they are urgently needed, as Britain is currently languishing well below its economic potential.

Growth is what allows us to spend more

Riddled by poor policy and confused regulation, twelve years of confused Conservative thinking has prevented us from getting better jobs and living more prosperous lives. Growth is what allows us to spend more on the public services people need, so here are a few quick wins to kickstart the revolution.

Why not raise the stamp duty land tax threshold to £1 million? This highly damaging tax creates a huge disincentive to downsizing in the housing market, preventing the freeing up of bigger homes occupied by just one or two people, and making the housing market more volatile and illiquid. 

Why not eliminate the 60 per cent tax rate between £100,000 and £125,000 that was caused by the personal allowance withdrawal? This absurdly high rate was introduced by Gordon Brown in April 2010. No Tory chancellor has had the sufficient minerals required to remove it — especially not the pointless Rishi Sunak.

The next prime minister should commit Britain to having the most startup-friendly stock option policy in the world. Startup employees often get paid in risky stock, which we then tax as if it is equivalent to income. But it is much riskier than cash, and taxing it so heavily puts people off joining these high-growth companies. Treating these gains as capital gains rather than income would mean a lower tax rate that would make setting up a startup in Britain much more attractive than in places like Paris or Berlin. 

We risk slipping behind in startups — the companies that really drive growth and innovation. This would put the British economy at risk of stagnancy not only in growth, but in intellectual terms.

For now, we are still leading the way. Of the record-breaking 83 new billion-dollar tech firms created in Europe in 2021, the UK claimed 23. But France is racing ahead. In 2019, France only had 11 “unicorns” — tech companies with over $1 billion valuation — and Macron pledged to get it to 25 by 2025. They hit the target earlier this year. A tech policy insider told me that 100 by 2030 is not impossible.

Rishi’s legacy of tinkering and taxing must be undone at once. Indexing tax thresholds to inflation would go a long way to achieving this. Inflation drags all earners’s incomes into higher thresholds without them getting any better off in real terms. Further down the line, the next government should consider a “double lock” on tax brackets so that the thresholds rise in line with overall wage growth and inflation. When the 40p rate was introduced by Nigel Lawson it affected 5 per cent of taxpayers; today it’s over 15 per cent.

New housing is desperately needed

Our constrained housing policy alone is squashing GDP by some 10 to 20 per cent. In a devastating commitment to economic self-flagellation, the Conservative failure to build more homes is worsening productivity, suffocating consumer spending, reducing fertility rates — which places higher expectations on immigrant workers — and worsening everyday life for millions in a myriad of other ways. New housing is desperately needed, be it through the innovative “Street Votes” policy proposal or through a national house building effort in areas where people actually want to live. 

Beyond the economic sphere, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on tackling crime. It should be a natural and uncomplicated area of successful, commonsense policy for the Conservatives, but again it is an area where they have fumbled. In March 2020, 45 per cent of all respondents told YouGov that the Tories were the party of law and order, with 13 per cent believing that Labour owned that title. Skip forward to June 2022 and the disparity sits at just 26 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. 

There is no doubt that the partygate dilemma damaged Conservative credibility on crime, but their dip in popularity will also be due to the disturbing rise in violent crime. Violent crimes in England and Wales have been surging since 2014/15 and, according to police recorded crime statistics, reached more than 1.77 million offences in 2020/2021. This represents a ginormous increase of more than 1.1 million recorded violent crimes over the period 2012/13, when 601,000 offences were noted.

To remedy this dire record and ease the state of anxiety that infects much of Britain— and especially its urban centres in the evenings — the Conservatives must redirect more cash, planning and impetus to policing.

This transition to a new Conservative focus on tackling crime should be started by the founding of a new criminal sentencing commission to investigate whether longer sentences would reduce crime, as research suggests. 

Vicious offenders repeat their crimes

The study should involve victims of crime and professors with evidenced views — not ideologically pro-crime criminologists, who lean towards excusing criminality in almost all cases.  Options for policy reform should include the removal of automatic release, introducing statutory minimums for serious offences, and a new sentencing guideline that means 10 convictions equals an extra 10 years in prison. All too often we endure horrible stories of vicious offenders repeating their crimes under a naive criminal justice system that misunderstands the nature of reoffending.

Magistrates must be able to hand down jail sentences for longer than a year for violent crimes. To ensure that our crumbling prison system is not overwhelmed by these changes, more cash must be pushed into building more and bigger prisons, which need to be redeveloped to prevent the overcrowding and shoddy conditions currently felt by thousands of prisoners. No one wants them to be uncomfortable, we just want them to be prevented from causing harm.

Other criminal reform policies could include a new focus on CCTV and lighting in criminal hotspots or areas of risk to reduce the opportunities afforded to violent offenders. The police should be allowed to keep DNA data for longer so it is easier to catch criminals, and driving licences should be revoked for those convicted of any vehicle-enabled crime, such as moped robbery or supply-related drug offences for two years. 

Businesses should also be allowed to fund local officers, reinforcing the bobbies on the beat in areas that attract the criminally minded. The Westfield shopping centres in London currently pay for their own police. Private officers patrol the areas around Harrods in Knightsbridge. More places should be free to do the same.

The national police computer system is currently in disarray, running on a 50-year-old mainframe with tape drives that cannot store photos. Under the current plan, it is set to be replaced by 2030. It should be done more urgently than that as it contributes to the clogging up of police pipelines.

The more firebrand archetype of Tory MPs regularly take aim at “woke policing” on social media but are either too ignorant or cowardly to focus their ire on the cause of cops running after tweets: legislation. The next prime minister must put an end, for example, to section 127 of the Communications Act (2003) that criminalises “grossly offensive” speech and other rules and regulations that put pressure on the police to “monitor” Twitter for content it feels may be so distasteful as to warrant arrest. 

And once the woke policing drama has been quashed, the new executive must turn their attention to the universe of funding and structural benefits enjoyed by some in the ecosystem of British conservatism’s leading opponent: the Blob.

Plenty of those firebrand MPs who take a swipe at police officers wearing rainbow hats or driving gay pride cars will also tweet more generally about “political correctness gone mad” in government policy. But few of them point out that these situations, such as millions of fresh funding for UK Research and Innovation going on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) schemes, are the direct consequence of the government’s own policy.

For twelve years, the government has presided over a wild expansion of EDI policy as required by the Equality Act (2010), with ministers and MPs regularly expressing frustration about “whites need not apply” public sector job adverts and piles of cash being wasted on “race strategies” in government departments. Yet none of them have the self-confidence to call for the Equality Act to be abolished, no matter how divisive and evil its effects become. Kemi Badenoch was influential in tackling blobbish overreach in Johnson’s government, and is now tipped to take a shot at the leadership. Even if she doesn’t win, the next prime minister must give her a slot in the cabinet and a licence to kill.

There are dozens more suggestions that I could make in a range of areas crucial to Britain’s security and prosperity — such as trade, immigration, defence and transport — but radical change across all sectors of British life depends on Boris Johnson’s successor making a confident and innovative start.

If the next Conservative prime minister takes my advice on tackling crime, beating down the woke menace of their own making, and issuing an urgent economic correction, Britain will soon grow richer and safer. 

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover