Once we have left the EU

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I know it has become all but impossible to think about Conservatism in the UK once we have left the EU but with the 31st October bearing down on us we need to lift our heads to a time beyond Brexit and what the post Brexit Conservative Party needs to stand for.

Of course there is no escaping this overarching priority, that delivering Brexit is critical to the future of the Conservative Party and a failure to leave would render all discussion of domestic policy pointless. Most importantly, the Brexit Party’s support would again rise as the public realised once again they had been duped. No amount of explanation would change that and Peterborough would loom larger and larger in our rear view mirror. What happened to us then would be repeated all over the country and the fracturing of our once proud Party would leave domestic politics but a sorry pipe dream for many of us. Worse, as Peterborough showed, a Corbyn Government of nasty, angry Marxists installed through a split vote would reduce this country to an imitation of Venezuela.

However let us assume, as I fervently believe, that we leave by the 31st of October; that the steely resolve of the Prime Minister holds and with one, (overly long), bound, we are free. At that point it will be vital we reset the political compass of the Party from the dull and tortuous meanderings of the May government. As one colleague muttered to me in exasperation after another vote, ‘I thought we defeated Ed Miliband in 2015, if so then why is this government trying to implement The Miliband manifesto?’ Quite.

The purpose of a Conservative government is and always has to be, to set people free to run their own lives in the best way they can, free from the control of government. At the heart of that sits the need to leave families with as much of their own money as we can, driving the burden of taxes down. Managing the economy well paves the way for that to happen. Most Conservatives would agree with that. Yet there is more to our Credo than just the drive to keep taxes low. We are a party that works with the grain of human nature, we are optimistic about people’s desire to do better for themselves, their families and those they know and care for. Burke’s little platoons are as important to modern day Conservativism as they were all those years ago.

He knew, as we must, that the most powerful social networks on which we depend are not run by the state but are freely created by us as we go through life. When individuals meet, get married, start a family, work hard and join forces in the pursuit of shared objectives with their neighbours, they are creating and re-creating those natural networks of inter-dependency. Their individual drive creates wealth, their desire to improve the lot of their families creates new businesses and those businesses create new opportunity for others around them. In turn, free people create Social groups, charities, even political Parties to help create communities of common interest and these are the little platoons Burke spoke of.

At the same time we should remember that these networks are massively strengthened by the free market. Adam Smith, by creating the free Market, passed real power to individuals, who in turn used that power to create and strengthen these natural ties. It is perhaps difficult to comprehend just what a revolution this was. The birth of consumer choice massively shaped the world we live in today and alongside free markets, free trade has done more to reduce poverty and inequality in the world than all the socialist interventions put together. It is vital as free markets and free trade come under attack that Conservatives are unequivocal about their support for them and the benefits they create.

However, I also believed, when I set up the Centre for Social Justice that ‘a rising tide doesn’t raise all the boats.’ There are some whose own lives leave them vulnerable because they are not able to play a full part in that process. I reasoned that a set of negative pathways had reduced some people’s capability to take advantage of the choices life brings. Five such pathways seemed to stand out, Failed Education, debt, family breakdown/dysfunction, drug/alcohol addiction and worklessness. So many of those permanently trapped in welfare dependency needed support to break free. The CSJ found that small community groups across the country, who were already developing programmes to change the lives of those trapped in that vicious spiral. The CSJ, working with those groups is engaged in a very conservative process, helping people to help themselves.

An example of this approach is the deeply worrying rise in violent street gangs and the way they trap young children into an early spiral of crime and violence. This has become a very challenging issue for far too many communities across the UK. Bearing down on the gangs by strong police enforcement tactics, is as all Conservatives understand, vital if we are to bring this under control however, that alone will not resolve this issue. This is because the young children drawn to these gangs these are predominantly the product of dysfunctional, broken homes with low self-esteem. Even if we are successful in arresting the leaders of the gangs, there will always be more to fill their place. To get on top of this we need to get the young people out of the gangs and work to change their lives in a positive way. Without the children to move drugs, money and weapons around the gangs break down. Finding ways to re-engage the children in remedial activity becomes an imperative, every bit as important as policing.

To that end I took Priti Patel the Home Secretary to visit one of the Onside Youth Zones. Already in existence in a handful of places, these are places where children can go to play sport, learn new skills or just seek support that isn’t there in their home lives. They involve the local communities and charities who know that for many of these children who use these facilities the alternative is that they will be snapped up by the gangs and end up in crime. Yet where these have been built, anti-social behaviour and violence have fallen dramatically. Yet perhaps the most important feature is that they were started by business leaders, wanting to put something back and now are the product of the private sector, local community groups and local authorities sharing resources to solve a problem. This is a brilliant example of those little platoons in action.

The Conservative Party must undoubtedly be the party of liberalism and free markets, giving people greater control over their own lives. However, that will not be enough. For the Party of Wilberforce and Shaftsbury and of Burke, it is worth reminding ourselves that we also have an obligation to ensure that we work to leave no one behind. We do this, not sustaining them on government dependency but by changing lives so that they are able to improve their own lives through work. For it still remains the single most important tenant, that the surest way out of poverty is a job.

Conservatives in the future as they lay claim to their belief in free markets must remember that it is integral to our DNA that we also hold firm to our belief in Social Justice.

Iain Duncan-Smith is the Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, former leader of the Conservative Party and Chairman of the Centre for Social Justice. Follow him on twitter: @MPIainDS

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