Osborne must be bold to show the Tories are not "the party of the rich"

The Chancellor should use his Autumn Statement to reward families on modest incomes who have quietly endured squeezed living standards during austerity.

Come on, George. Be bold. Today, the Chancellor needs to throw caution to the wind and announce bold policies that reward families on modest incomes who have quietly endured squeezed living standards during austerity.

The polling is clear; sceptical voters, especially on more modest incomes and outside the Tories' southern heartlands, still suspect that they are 'the party of the rich'. The politically flawed decision to reduce the top rate of income tax to 45% didn’t help. Electoral progress is thwarted by this deep-seated perception of the party. We need game-changing policies that convince people otherwise. No calculated triangulation. No clever traps for Labour. Enough of all that. Osborne needs to deliver an Autumn Statement which ordinary folk up and down the country will remember.

Same-sex marriage, of course, was meant to make people think twice about the Tories, to demonstrate that the party is comfortable with modern Britain and compassionate; concerned about more than just money and self-advancement. To complement this social modernisation, we now need economic modernisation: which shows the Tories are behind those people trying to keep their heads above the water, who have had to put up with stagnant wages and rising prices fornearly a decade. Time to really support them.

Conservatives should be behind those people working hard to get into the labour market, onto the housing ladder and succeed in the world of business. Behind those knocking on the door, not those sat in their armchairs of privilege. So, drop the clampdown on those on working-aged benefits. For it will backfire, as the growing sympathy towards the unemployed in the British Social Attitudes survey demonstrates. Instead, set out a positive vision that helps people really trying to get in, and then get on in, work.

Some repeat claimants of jobseekers allowances should be rewarded with a financial bonus from government for securing employment within a shorter time period. Pay for this carrot by means-testing universal benefits such as free TV licences and the winter fuel allowance, something even the majority of pensioners now want.

All families who work should have 85% of their childcare costs covered by the government through Universal Credit, including those currently excluded because they are earning below the personal tax allowance. Similarly, basic-rate taxpayers should be eligible for a higher proportion of their childcare costs than the 20% to be covered through the new tax free childcare voucher scheme. These could be paid for by reducing the number of extremely high earners eligible for the new scheme.

Continue to raise the personal tax allowance; commit to it being £12,500 in the next parliament. Increase the income threshold for employee National Insurance contributions. And, do something the public would not expect Tories do to: raise the minimum wage, significantly and sensibly, for certain sectors and businesses.

Get behind those young people wanting to get on the housing ladder. Reduce stamp duty significantly for less expensive properties. And demand local authorities guarantee enough land for the self-building of houses, and encourage it within their area, or else lose their veto over new developments.

Finally, get behind the entrepreneurs, the small business owners working day and night to balance the books and really get the company off the ground. Exempt small businesses from rises to business rates. And increase the Employment Allowance for employers’ contributions to National Insurance.

We need to show the Conservative Party is gunning for ordinary folk wanting to get on in the labour market, the housing market and the world of business.

Ryan Shorthouse is director of Bright Blue

A television camera films speeches in the Manchester Central venue during the Conservative Party Conference on September 29, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ryan Shorthouse is the Director of Bright Blue, a think tank for liberal conservativism 

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.