Monday 26 February 2018

All change: May sets out vision for Brexit revolution

British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her speech on the final day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham yesterday. Photo: Reuters
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers her speech on the final day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Michael Wilkinson

British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday vowed that "a change is going to come" as she set out her plan for the Conservatives to occupy the centre ground of British politics and create "a country that works for everyone".

In her keynote address to the Tory Party conference in Birmingham, she spoke of her determination to make Britain a "great meritocracy" based on the values of "fairness and opportunity". She said: "Come with me and seize the day."

She made a bold bid for traditional Labour territory, branding Jeremy Corbyn's party "the new nasty party" and declaring that the Tories were now "truly the party of the workers, the party of the NHS, the party of public servants".

In a sharp break from small-state Conservatives such as Margaret Thatcher, she insisted that it was right for government to use its powers for the public good by intervening to rein in "dysfunctional" markets and support key industries.

Conservatives should value not only wealth creation and success, but also a "spirit of citizenship" and a "sense of public service" that respects "the bonds and obligations that make society work", she said.

She hailed the example of triathlete Alistair Brownlee, who helped his exhausted brother Jonny across the finishing line, as a demonstration of the "essential truth, that we succeed or fail together, we achieve together or fall short together".

"That's why the central tenet of my belief is that there is more to life than individualism and self-interest," said Ms May.

Ms May said the vote in favour of Brexit reflected not just a desire to quit the EU but a "deep, profound and ... justified" sense that the world works for a privileged few but not for ordinary working-class people.

Describing it as a "revolution", the prime minister said: "It was a vote not just to change Britain's relationship with the European Union, but to call for a change in the way our country works - and the people for whom it works - forever."

Acknowledging public frustration over unaffordable housing, stagnating wages, insecure jobs and pay undercut by low-skilled immigrants, she warned: "If we don't respond - if we don't take this opportunity to deliver the change people want - resentments will grow. Divisions will become entrenched."

Ms May also admitted that the Bank of England's policy of quantitative easing had had "some bad side effects".

Quantitative easing (QE) allows central banks to create new money, which is then swapped for debt in a bid to stabilise economies. QE has been blamed by critics for keeping bank interest rates low, hitting savers in their pockets.

Ms May told the conference that the government will aim for a "balanced budget".

She said: "To build an economy that works for everyone, we must also invest in the things that matter, the things with a long-term return.

"That is how we will address the weaknesses in our economy, improve our productivity, increase economic growth and ensure everyone gets a fair share. And that's not the only reason. Because while monetary policy - with super-low interest rates and quantitative easing - provided the necessary emergency medicine after the financial crash, we have to acknowledge there have been some bad side effects.

"People with assets have got richer. People without them have suffered.

"A change has got to come. And we are going to deliver it. Because that's what a Conservative government can do."

Too many people in positions of power see themselves as part of an "international elite" and have little in common with those they employ or live among, she said.

In a message to well-paid bosses who fail to look after their staff or let pension funds go bust, multinationals that dodge tax and tech giants who refuse to co-operate with the authorities in the fight against terrorism, she said: "I'm putting you on warning. This can't go on any more."

She also hinted at action against firms that exploit complex pricing structures to inhibit consumer choice.

Businesses have reacted with concern to her speech, accusing her of trying to "dictate" to them.

Adam Marshall, acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Firms across the UK recognise that government itself can play a strong and positive role in creating the conditions for growth.

"Yet we need government to act in partnership with business communities, not dictate to them - so that businesses in turn can deliver both opportunity and prosperity. Government must recognise the huge commitment that nearly all businesses make to their communities, to their workforce, and to our national success." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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