Free marketeers must keep up the fight to win the war of ideas
BY LEWIS FEILDER
At the risk of sounding like a doomster or gloomster during a period of well-deserved celebration, free marketeers should take note of the reasons why the Conservatives won the general election and why Labour lost, for it presents a complex picture.
Socialism has been stopped, but for how long? This election was not the triumph of the obvious successes of the free market over the long history of socialist failures we might like to think it was.
Opinium asked voters across the country on polling day why they had not voted Labour. Mr Corbyn’s leadership was by far the number one reason. Labour’s confused Brexit policy trailed behind as the second greatest reason. But, languishing in a distant third place was ‘their economic policies’.
Let’s briefly remind ourselves of what those economic policies were: re-nationalisation of utilities and the railways, mandatory worker representation on company boards, rent controls, higher taxes, massive government spending, a £10/hour minimum wage and “free” broadband for all. Anyone with a GCSE in economics will be able to tell you why every one of these policies is a terrible idea and often achieves the opposite of its intended outcome. They have all been tried in various guises around the world over the past century, inevitably with terrible results.
San Francisco’s $15/hour minimum wage hike has destroyed jobs as restaurants can no longer afford to employ waiters. When British Telecom was government-run, it took six months to get a phone line installed. British Rail had a major fatal accident on average every two years; post-privatisation, the UK has the safest railways in Europe.
Yet, these outdated socialist policies remain remarkably popular. When polled, two-thirds of the British public back rent controls, 56% of people support nationalising the railways, 54% back worker representation on boards and 62% support the roll-out of “free” broadband. The percentages opposing these policies are usually in the teens, with the remainder unsure. Why is this?
Clues lie in the split in voting patterns that has opened up between the generations. Detailed research by the think tank Onward earlier this year found that young people are deserting the centre-right in their droves. In this election, Labour did well in constituencies with the youngest average ages. Overall, more than half of 18-24 year-olds voted for Labour, with only 19% voting Conservative. “But the young have always been idealistic Lefties – they’ll grow out of it once they start paying taxes!” you may say. The evidence suggests the opposite. The ‘tipping point’ age, at which a voter is more likely to vote Conservative than Labour, continues to rise, from 47 years old in 2017 to 51 years old in 2019.
Perhaps, this is due to the younger generations having no first-hand experience of socialism in the UK (and the failure of the education system to teach the horrors of the 1970s) and their being too young to remember television scenes of life behind the Iron Curtain. But why do modern day instances of socialist catastrophes in Venezuela or North Korea do little to dissuade them?
Perhaps, it is due to a widespread feeling of unfairness – of the system not working for young people anymore. Their parents could leave school, get a good job, buy a house and a car, raise children and go on foreign holidays twice a year, all on an average income. That’s now a pipedream for most young people.
Either way, what is to be done about it?
It could be that this Conservative government seizes every opportunity over the course of this Parliament to redress the balance and takes on the feeling of ‘unfairness’ head-on, broadening opportunities, building millions of homes, reducing the cost of living and enabling the creation of new, meaningful jobs across the country. It may also tackle the institutional grip of the Left on schools and universities, allowing the young to learn about centre-right politics as well as Marxism. But, I don’t think politicians have all the answers.
Others must also take up the mantle. Impressive and effective online operations like PragerU, which produces pithy social media videos aimed at U.S. university campuses, excoriating the history of socialism and highlighting its contradictions, must be brought to the UK. Philanthropists must fund academics and budding young centre-right thinkers, to develop new and attractive ideas. Responsible journalists must cover the lives improved by free market government policies (drawing the sometimes not-so-obvious links) and contrast this with how things would have looked so very different under a Corbyn-led government. Philosophers must set out new cogent frameworks of morals and ethics for centre-right politics for the next generation, as Sir Roger Scruton has done for this one. And the young must set out their own belief in the free market in outlets like Free Market Conservatives.
We now have a period of five years to reclaim the narrative. If we don’t, horrors greater than Corbyn and McDonnell will await us at the next election and we will be powerless to stop them.
Lewis Feilder is on the Conservative Party’s Parliamentary Candidates’ list and works as a management consultant in London. Follow him on twitter: @LewisFeilder