Liz Truss knows Brexit is time for us to change, says John Hayes
However, politics, while guided by all things historic, must never be dominated by old arguments. Too often, debates about our future are overshadowed by the politics of the past. Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair still provide the framework for how many commentators and politicians see the world.
However, the challenges the UK faces now are very different from those of the 1970s and even the 1990s.
This is not the first time the general public, aware of this transformative difference, realizes that things have changed dramatically long before most political elites have done so.
People know their own lives have changed, but often not for the better. The majority voted for Brexit because they recognised and accepted the need for fundamental change.
Yet this support for a new approach has been repeatedly thwarted by a liberal establishment that clings to the assumptions of another era.
Triangulation – a strategy developed by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton – continues to be seen as the “smart way” of doing politics.
The strategy includes both a free market economy and an expanding state. Underpinning Blair’s “third way” is the assumption that a globalized and growing financial services industry will always pay the bills.
The 2008 financial crisis should have taught us that too much dependence on one sector of the economy is destabilizing. In practice, Blair’s dogmatic embrace of globalization has hollowed out our economies, our communities, and ultimately, the lives of most people.
Importing cheap goods from countries like China that lack even basic worker rights standards has done far more damage to our manufacturing base than the necessary reforms of the 1980s. In fact, manufacturing declined much faster during the Blair era than during Mrs Thatcher’s time as prime minister.
The biggest tragedy is that many of these jobs could have been saved.
Businesses come to an end, not because they are inefficient, but because they are not allowed to compete on anything like a level playing field. After all, it is impossible to contend with reckless, ruthless, ruthless Third World tyrants.
In the end, Blair’s policy failed because the triangulation was based on a lazy acceptance of the infiltrators of the existing debate.
Politics has become dominated by problems of the past and personalities of the past that would have been unthinkable forty years ago, precisely because the “third way” has left politics short of new ideas.
Most relevant to the current Conservative leadership debate over Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is how truly radical and innovative her ideas were in their day.
Much of the agenda known as “Thatcherism” was set by Sir Keith Joseph, who saw an obsession with a “middle ground” – the “lowest common denominator”, by “dividing the differences between Labour and the Conservatives” “To define – has a corrosive effect.
What really matters to people are their shared values, hopes and fears. Joseph calls it “the common ground.” In the 1980s, Thatcherism reinvigorated our politics and our economy because it was built on the values and aspirations of our people.
However, simply going back to the politics of the 1980s will not solve the challenges we face today.
Unabashed free trade may be in our interest as we often compete with highly developed democracies whose standards are similar to our own. Now, in a world economy increasingly ruled by dictatorships and ruthlessly exploited for labor, that makes less sense.
Furthermore, the pandemic and war in Ukraine have shown the folly of relying on increasingly long, insecure supply chains for essential goods and services.
At home, Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph would recognize that the enormous challenges we face today are both economic and social.
Rampant careless individualism and identity politics are undermining social solidarity.
Conservatives, however, are often reluctant to engage in social issues, fearing that progressives will be angered when they point out that children benefit greatly from married parents or that community cohesion is undermined by high levels of immigration.
As long as we maintain contact with foreign courts through the European Convention on Human Rights, we will not successfully challenge the orthodoxy of selfish individualism.
When governments fail to control our borders to keep (often made!) promises to reduce immigration, it’s no surprise that people lose faith in politics.
As Attorney General Suella Braverman has made clear, the Strasbourg court’s recent decision to block the deportation of illegal immigrants to Rwanda demonstrates the urgent need for radical reform.
Boris Johnson rightly recognises that there is a desire for a government that understands the importance of a sense of place and community. The conservative must not abandon his agenda in the name of laissez-faire.
Experience has long shown that markets alone cannot provide a rebalanced, more resilient economy. Recent opinion polls show strong public support for policies that “enhance” growth and communication opportunities in the UK.
As Liz Truss recognises, Brexit presents us with an exciting opportunity – but it is an opportunity for change, not an answer in itself. If Leeds becomes our new Prime Minister, as I hope, she must start running the country knowing that the politics of the past cannot meet the challenges of the future.
The British people know instinctively that a fundamental change is necessary – as is the need for a paradigm shift towards a post-liberal future.
Pragmatism is not enough, as Sir Keith Joseph appreciates. We need political talent, foresight and decisiveness to reconnect politics to our core values to unite the British people on a “common ground”.
Failure will disappoint those who hoped for more, whether they voted to leave the EU or not.