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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Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear