It's time for the Tories to go beyond deficit reduction

Cameron must use his speech this week to promote growth and job creation.

Over the next week, David Cameron will want to portray an image of strong leadership and firm resolution to the party and to the country. They will want to be reassured that the Government has a grip on the multi-faceted social and economic issues that the UK faces. And he will need to make clear that the Government understands the day to day concerns of ordinary people and is prepared to take decisive action to meet these concerns.

He also faces the challenge of broadening the Conservative appeal and moving the party's message from a negative one of deficit reduction to a more positive one of economic growth and job creation.

More than anything else, this week's Conservative conference, and David Cameron's speech in particular, needs to spell out what the Government's plans are to boost jobs and deliver growth.

Twelve months ago, when the Conservatives met in Birmingham, there was a feeling that implementing a deficit reduction plan had got the hard economic spadework out of the way. Now, with stuttering growth and rising unemployment, it is becoming clear that a deficit reduction plan is only a small, albeit necessary, part of an economic strategy.

The Tories will need to reassure the party faithful and the country at large that they have a coherent plan for growth and job creation and that the UK is well placed to ride out the continuing global crisis. Cameron will need to set out a passionate belief in reforming the economy to create jobs and tackle economic insecurity.

Such a plan for growth needs to include bold measures to encourage enterprise and job creation, further develop infrastructure, and pursue bold reforms to the planning system and the labour market. The Government also needs to take more radical steps to reform welfare and increase incentives to work, through promoting more conditionality and reciprocity in the system.

A conference focused on jobs would help the Conservatives address one of their fundamental political difficulties. Recent research for Lord Ashcroft showed that only 27 per cent of voters polled believe that the Conservatives are "on the side of ordinary people." The party needs to set out that it is on the side of ordinary people and will be taking measures to address their everyday concerns.

By setting out a strategy for jobs, Conservatives will begin to reach out to the ordinary voter worried about job security and the rising cost of living. Emphasising job creation and measures to help low and middle income earners squeezed by the economic situation would help Cameron to show that his Government is in touch with the real concerns of ordinary voters.

Whilst showing that he understands the needs of ordinary voters and is taking measures to boost growth, the Prime Minister must also carve out a more hopeful and positive message, against a difficult backdrop. He needs to make clear what the Government is doing to change the country for the better and that his party remains a positive and progressive one.

This might include setting out how reforms, in education for example, will improve outcomes for those from more deprived backgrounds. He also has to make clear that progressive reforms, from the pupil premium to gay marriage, aren't just Liberal Democrat inspired.

This party conference isn't set against an easy political or economic backdrop for the Conservatives. It is, however, their chance to set out a positive vision, with a broad appeal, of growth, reform and greater opportunity.

David Skelton is deputy director of Policy Exchange

 

David Skelton is the director of Renewal, a new campaign group aiming to broaden the appeal of the Conservative Party to working class and ethnic minority voters. @djskelton

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.