One Purpose. One Party. One Nation.

17th June 2017

Introduction

We gather this weekend to consider the right Conservative response to the election.

But we do so in the shadow of the horrific tragedy of the Grenfell Towers inferno just a few miles away on the other side of this city…

…and on the anniversary of the horrific murder of Jo Cox by a political extremist.

As we consider her inspiring message of More In Common, it’s critical to understand the mood of our Nation.

The country is divided and bruised. Frustrated, disillusioned and fearful. 

Never has this county and Party more needed our One Nation message of Compassionate Conservatism.

To state loud and clearly: We ARE Better Together. 

The real damage of the woeful Conservative election campaign wasn’t just that we lost the Government's majority…

…as well as 30 excellent Members of Parliament.

Appalling though that was.

I believe the worst of it was this:

The Campaign let down the Prime Minister and the Party by detracting from her electrifyingly message on arriving at No 10 last summer.

That inspiring crusade against social injustice.

A Reluctant Remainer summoned to office by a nation in its hour of need…

…completely reconciled to implementing Brexit…

…with a deep personal and political commitment to One Nation Compassionate Conservatism.

I strongly supported Theresa May last summer, and I still do, because I believe those instincts are exactly those of the mainstream majority of the British people.

The proud tradition of One Nation Conservatism holds the key to the renewal of the Conservative Party.

Harnessing the national mood and finding a new mandate to govern.

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Our challenge

But we have a problem.

In the last six months, and especially the last month of the election campaign, people have come to wonder if there aren’t just Two Nations…

…but also Two Tory Parties.  

The truth is simple.

Unless we can come together as a Party, we have no chance of bringing the country together. 

The Election result was a very clear sign that the national mood has changed very considerably since the EU Referendum in June 2015.

We - the Conservative Parliamentary Party in Government - have to recognise that.

We must show we have listened, and signal very clearly that we have got the message, respect it and will act on it.

Brexit was supposed to be about Parliamentary sovereignty.

But the electorate has given us an inconvenient answer with a hung Parliament.

We can’t carry on regardless.  The people are clearly trying to tell us something. 

I believe Theresa May is right to try and see through her duty to provide a stable government.

It is the job of all of us as democratically elected Parliamentarians to try and represent the will of the people we serve.

But one thing is certain.

We couldn’t reject the results of the EU Referendum.

Nor can we reject the results of this General Election explicitly called to secure a mandate for a Hard Brexit. 

There are many - now well documented - reasons for what went wrong.

A woeful campaign…

…a shambolic Manifesto process…

…the undemocratic concentration of power in the hands of an unaccountable and unelected narrow inner circle.

When a Manifesto is produced without having even being seen by Cabinet Ministers…

…or myself as Chair of the Prime Minister’s Backbench Policy Board…

…it shows a dangerous contempt for Parliamentary opinion, which the Prime Minister has rightly been appalled by. 

So the Prime Minister is right to move fast to acknowledge that…

…change her team and hopefully signal a step change in the way the Government is run.  

The restoration of Cabinet Government…

…the appointment of Damian Green as First Secretary of State…

…and a Parliamentarian as Chief of Staff.

All are key first steps.

But we must go further than that. 

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The next step

Politics didn’t stop on the day of the EU Referendum.

This new Conservative Government needs to look hard at what drove the Corbyn surge.

And redouble our commitment to tackle the deep grievances it spoke to.

The British people have sent some clear messages. 

First, they do not trust any single party enough to give us the blank cheque on Brexit and austerity we asked for.

After two successive Conservative Prime Ministers have chosen to outsource difficult decisions and 'ask the people', the people are signalling they'd like us to sort it out.

They want Parliament to do its job.  They will not thank us for another election or Referendum until things are a lot clearer. 

No one in the country who has our nations’ best interests at heart seriously wants another election or Referendum any time soon. 

We need to show we are listening, and acting to reflect the national mood.

A less partisan politics of national renewal rather than party advantage.  

Second, we must look at the shift of so many who voted for Brexit to Corbyn's Labour Party…

…those voters in former Brexit stronghold seats…

…those who defied the complacent assumption in the Conservative campaign that people who voted Brexit would *obviously* vote Conservative…

…those attracted by Corbyn's strong message on the limits to austerity and the critique of 'crony capitalism'.

The voters who are driving a deep sea change in British politics.

This is something I have been warning of for the last decade and a half. Through my ‘Mind the Gap’ campaign in 2003, ‘Positive Politics’ in 2004, and my ‘Unaccountable Elites: the new dividing line of British politics’ memo in 2011.

In many articles and speeches since 2008, I’ve set out how British politics in in the grip of a volcanic realignment.

Something which is changing all the traditional rules of engagement.

It seems to me clear.

The Brexit vote was as much about a roar at a broken model of political economy: party politics, growth, immigration and public sector austerity, as it was a principled view on our appropriate relationship with Europe.   

If we are to tackle the root causes of the angry insurgency sweeping British (and Western) politics we need to understand and respect them, and put them at the heart of our programme for Government.

We must acknowledge the position we are now in.  

Seven years of difficult cuts to many public sector budgets and ring-fenced protections for others…(though often with 'net' increases like the 1% pay cap below the rate of cost of living inflation)

(or 'increases' which don’t keep pace with the rising level of demand, for instance in healthcare).

It’s clear: we need a new approach to the all-important task of restoring our public finances to health.  

Of course we mustn’t abandon the goal of eradicating the deficit.

But we can take a different approach without spending more.

We need to shift the focus of Austerity 1.0, which the public have clearly run out of patience with to a new model of “Recovery 2.0.”

So here are three reforms that would drive a more inspiring, productive and transformational model of growth and public sector efficiency.

 

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Incentives

First, let’s replace the 'one size fits all' Whitehall model of 'top down' cuts which cascade through the bureaucracies and take effect on the front line.

We need to cut wasteful Government bureaucracy, quangos and the whole paraphernalia of 'initiatives'.

Putting in place a new framework of rewards and incentives for public sector leadership and innovation.

Under the current approach, if a hospital or school or council delivers 'more for less' we give them...less.

Imagine if we had a New Deal in which the Treasury only took back, say, 50%, of efficiency savings.

Allowing local frontline service leaders to reinvest them in better efficiency.

The evidence is simple: incentives work. 

The private sector delivers higher productivity every year not because all the people in it are geniuses, but because of the simple genius of a system hardwired to promote and reward those who deliver ‘more for less’. Guess what? It works.

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New revenue

Second, why don’t we allow and encourage our most globally acclaimed public sector organisations…

…bodies like the NHS, NICE, and other internationally respected quangos like the Health and Safety Executive, Food Standards Agency, Forestry Commission and Met Office…

…to generate a new stream of revenues from the fastest emerging global nations.

In my fifteen years working with NHS research medics to create some of the UK's fastest growing companies, I have seen first-hand how the private and public sectors can work powerfully together in partnership for the national interest.

If we adopted that approach in Government, we would be surprised what people are capable of. 

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Shared Ownership and City Infrastructure Bonds

Third, why don’t we allow our newly elected Mayors like Andy Street in Birmingham, Andy Burnham in Manchester and James Palmer in Cambridge to raise City Infrastructure Bonds on the global stock markets.

And allow local citizens and taxpayers to take a stake in mutualised services like Mutual Regional Rail companies, local energy cooperatives, and infrastructure development companies. 

We need to inspire people that we have a vision and Plan for British economic renewal which ALL can benefit from.

To drive a sustainable recovery we need our private and public sectors to be similarly energised.

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Public and private

In this campaign, we managed to alienate both business AND frontline public servants. 

To make a success of Brexit, tackle our deficit and productivity crisis we need to mobilise BOTH. 

The Corbyn surge was fuelled by a young millennial cohort and by a massive vote by public service professionals…

…doctors, nurses, teachers and even the police fed up at the prospect of indefinite austerity.

If we look like we are intent on balancing the public finances on the backs of public sector workers, we risk losing them for ever. 

We need to properly set out a positive 'offer' for public service reform and leadership…

…and an offer FOR the under 30's which reflects their reality on a lack of affordable housing, and our broken public finances.

So why don’t we reinvest in our once great public sector training Institutes…

…harness the huge growing global market for training in public administration…

…and create new accreditation and freedoms for our top public sector leaders.

Head teachers, hospital CEOs and others who have shown how to lead 21stC public services.

Giving them the freedom and powers to take over and turn around less successful organisations. 

And ending the 'apartheid' between public and private which has dominated Conservative economic thinking for so long…

…globalising our public services…

…linking our Aid, Trade and Security to allow for deeper partnerships with the emerging markets.

We could unleash a new cycle of global economic investment and export driven trade.  

As the Parliamentary Conservative Party convenes this week…

…we need to show fast that we have listened to the British public…

…that Parliamentary democracy is alive and well…

…and that we trust the people and their elected representatives. 

Nowhere is this more important than Brexit.

 

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Brexit

That is, after all, what Brexit was supposed to be about.

So let’s commit to an 'Open Brexit' based on much greater Parliamentary scrutiny, debate, and a democratic mandate.

The British people have told us they want a new relationship with the EU, in which we are outside the existing political union, and controlling our immigration in our own national interest.

But they have also told us that they are alarmed by the language of hard Brexit they have heard since the Referendum…

…that they want a new approach to public service austerity…

…and a more inspiring economic vision for how this country gets out of debt and creates and spreads opportunity.

They did not vote for a Brexit which makes us poorer or less secure.

This new Conservative Government must not ignore that plea.

Fail to capture the mood of the nation and we risk gifting the keys of No 10 to Jeremy Corbyn.

Not to mention his hard left union barons and class warriors in Momentum waiting in the wings.

So we need a Queen’s Speech which reflects what the electorate are trying to tell us. 

I worry that a hardline Brexit coalition with the DUP risks backtracking and sending the wrong signal.

Let us signal, instead, a commitment to reach out across Parliament and redouble the domestic reforms we need to tackle the grievances underlying the Brexit vote.

Providing answers for the big challenges like social care, intergenerational fairness and mental health.  

The mandate is in Parliament now. By building alliances to address the grievances of the electorate, I believe this new government can secure the mandate it deserves.

The Country calls out for a New Generation of less tribal partisan politics to address:

- injustice tackling
- Brexit healing
- opportunity spreading 

We need Compassionate Conservatism now more than ever.

Let us rise to the Call.

Let us be the change.

Let us reach out in our own Party and help to build a New Generation Conservatism that does just that.

To some, we appear to be more driven by the language of Hard Brexit rather than One Nation Conservatism.

So let us come together and show a Conservatism that can heal the divisions of Brexit and austerity and renew a sense of national identity that works for all.

Let all of us who voted Remain accept that the British people have voted for a new relationship with Europe. There’s no going back.

We need to reach out to a new generation of Eurosceptics who share our Compassionate Conservative credentials.

Great Colleagues like Steve Baker, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and Rishi Sunak.

And the many others in our Party who are deeply committed to the cause of national renewal.    

But let us also make clear that the EU Referendum wasn’t the last word in British politics.

That voting Remain is not, and must not be allowed to feel like, a mark of shame.

That the concerns of Remainers MUST be heard.

And, above all, that we will not allow a Brexit that undermines our hard-won economic stability and recovery. 

We need to show a worried nation that the Conservative Party hasn’t become a single-issue Party of Austerity Brexit.   

For me, Conservative politics has always been a patriotic movement of the national interest which puts People and Place before Party.

A Party that understands that responsible business and enterprise are the keys to a united and prosperous nation.   

Let us unite around this commitment.

Pledging that this will not be the moment we turn our back on our compassionate One Nation domestic reformism.

This will not be the moment we turn our back on Europe.

This will not be the moment we turn in on ourselves as a Little England, and become the single-issue party of Brexit.

Instead, this will be the moment we embrace the real challenge of defining an inspiring notion of responsible citizenship.

Here at home, and globally.

A vision of Britain as a responsible global citizen of the world.

Using our Aid, Trade and Security budgets to make the world a safer and more prosperous place.

A vision of Britain as a place with a renewed sense of citizenship for ALL our citizens.

A safe home to citizens of the world who come here to contribute and enrich our society…

…the doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists and students we need. 

A safe home for those who do the unglamorous work low paid work we so urgently rely on…

…cleaning our hospitals and schools, back-breaking seasonal work in the fields picking our food, and caring for our sick and elderly. 

The British people have signalled that they want stronger and fairer immigration control.

But they have also signalled that they don’t want the lower standard of living and deepening austerity which closing our borders would inevitably mean.

Phillip Hammond is right to signal that we MUST make sure that Brexit does NOT damage our economy.

So we need to approach Brexit in a One Nation spirit.

Putting the needs of Business, Public Services, Social Justice, and Parliamentary Scrutiny, as our guiding principles. 

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A united party for a united country

If we want to reach out and offer some hope to a New Generation of voters in a new world order of 21stC challenges…

…to heal the wounds of a divided nation…

…we need to do it in our own Party first. 

This is a seismic moment in our national story.

We have a chance to shape our destiny.

The choice is clear.  And stark.

Is this the moment we rise to the challenge of our debts, disillusionment and divisions…

…embarking on an inspiringly uncompromising and ambitious programme for national renewal?

Or the moment we throw in the towel and accept a much reduced status…

…a burnt out, ageing, indebted and increasingly inward looking tired old nation that can no longer pay its way and accepts gradual decline?

Will our children look back in 50 years and say…

…that was the moment we reshaped our destiny as global citizens in a rapidly developing world…

…in which we embraced a new model of innovation in our dynamic private sector AND our public services…

…in which we became the crucible of the technology and innovation a fast developing world was hungry for…

…in clean-tech, agri-tech, bio-tech, digital medicine, automotive technology…

…the moment we attracted the inward investment and export revenues from commercialising our innovation, taking it to those global markets?

Or was it the moment that anyone with any get up and go did just that?

Left the UK to become an ageing dormitory island of lonely pensioners, nostalgia and a low wage and low hope service economy for the global elite.

Let this be a moment when we unleash the creative genius of these islands…

…the talent of a New Generation of entrepreneurial businesses, scientists, artists, doctors, teachers, conservationists and development leaders…

…help the developing world go through the agricultural and industrial revolutions we pioneered 300 years ago…harnessing new technologies in bioscience, cleantech, digital health and agritech to drive a more sustainable model of growth that takes 30 instead of 300. 

This is the great challenge of our times. 

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Conclusion – where next?

Our future and our destiny is not written in the stars.

It is in the hands of a New Generation of Brits on the New Frontier of a New Global Age. 

Let us inspire, equip and support them to shape our destiny, in the interests of us all. 

So let it start here. Now. 

Let us send a signal…

…to the whole Conservative Party…

…to our embattled Prime Minister (someone whose Compassionate Conservative crusade so electrified the nation less than 11 months ago)…

…and to the Country.

We are ready to rise to the challenge.  

Yes, we need to negotiate a new relationship with Europe.

But we must also redouble our commitment to tackle domestic social and economic injustices…

…the injustices which fuelled that Brexit roar last summer, and the Corbyn surge during the Election.  

Let us be the Generation who do for this Party and Country what Disraeli did 150 years ago, defining the notion of an aspirational, philanthropic, progressive Conservative Party and Country.
 
Let us make this the moment we embrace a similarly inspiring vision of Britain in the 21st Century.

One Purpose.

One Party.

One Nation.

Publications

6th July 2017 Enterprise in the public sector is the way to end austerity. by George Freeman | The Times


12th June 2017 Where is the mandate now? In Parliament. And why we need a Government that shows it’s listening... by George Freeman | The Telegraph


29th September 2016 Theresa May's big thinker - an interview with George Freeman. by George Eaton | New Statesman


5th July 2016 It’s all about economic confidence and leadership now, so I'm backing Theresa May to be Prime Minister. by George Freeman | The Telegraph


22nd June 2016 Jo Cox was the flag carrier of a new generation of MPs. by George Freeman | The Times



Times Higher Education

7th March 2016 Ban academics talking to ministers? We should train them to do it. by Ben Goldacre| Times Higher Education



The House interview: George Freeman MP

11th March 2016 George is interviewed by Liz Bates of The House magazine. | Read more