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A Conservative Party that doesn’t appear to be passionately in favour of free enterprise and wealth creation lacks credibility and authenticity.  With a Labour leadership overtly hostile to capitalism and globalisation, in the recent election noone was making the case for open markets and private enterprise.  The Chancellor, who is an articulate advocate for the market economy, was seemingly locked in a cupboard for the duration of the campaign; and with no frontline economic spokesman on the airwaves the case went by default.  This was an especially severe failure because unprecedented numbers of younger people are – even if they don’t think of themselves in this way – entrepreneurs.  The so-called gig economy thrives on people having chosen to work outside the formal structures of conventional employment.  A Conservative Party seeking to re-engage successfully with younger people needs to be able to connect the way many of them live their lives and make their livings with what Conservatives believe and Labour hates.

I took no part in the EU Referendum campaign last year.  I thought both sides were wildly exaggerating their case and that the arguments were quite finely balanced.  I thought a vote for Brexit meant some certain short-term downside – and the short-term is by no means over yet; but that it would open up some longer term upside opportunity.  I stress the word ‘opportunity’.  It is by no means a given.  Yes we have to negotiate free trade agreements – neither the walk in the park Brexiteers boast nor the eight year nightmare claimed by Remainers.  But if we are “taking back control” then we need to use it to make Britain unequivocally the best place in the world for people and businesses to put to work their money, ideas, talent and energy.  We’ve been pretty good at that – among major economies the best at attracting inward investment.  But part of that has been the certainty that locating an activity in the UK gives certain access to the European Single Market.  I think that is likely to continue but the inevitable uncertainty means we need urgently to signal that Britain will be a uniquely advantageous destination for investment and job creation. Yes we have lots of advantages: brilliant universities and science; the language; the time zone; and much else.  But we need to show that we will be ready to make changes that give Britain decisive advantages over our competitors: advantages that will outweigh the disadvantage wrought by Brexit uncertainties.

So I worry when I read headlines like ‘We won’t be a tax haven after Brexit’.  Well, I certainly don’t want us to be a jurisdiction where businesses can avoid tax; but I emphatically want us to be somewhere people and businesses don’t mind paying tax.  And I do emphatically want us to have a regulatory regime that is simple, sensible, pragmatic and proportionate.  Noone wants the approach that the European Commission offensively call ‘social dumping’ – but there is little point in having “taken back control” if we don’t use it to optimise the business environment.  We know that excessive and disproportionate regulation stifles innovation, deters investment and destroys jobs.  Disasters like the Grenfell Tower horror inevitably make us anxious about deregulation – but we best honour the suffering of those families by finding the right answer, which is not necessarily the most regulatory answer.

Most current explorations of the future for the Conservatives talk about the need for ‘reform of capitalism’.  We need to be careful about this.  This notion can easily find expression in rhetoric that sounds quite simply anti-business.  This is lethal to us, and serves only to feed our opponents.  Of course there are abuses and failures; but the capitalist system is unequivocally the best motor for social progress and wealth creation.  So we can reform capitalism piecemeal and pragmatically, addressing specific issues as and when they arise.  But for Conservatives to believe that their political revival depends on the contention that current capitalism and globalisation are deeply flawed is both wrong and daft.  Free enterprise, based on a capitalist system, is at the core of conservatism, and without it as our backbone we slump.  And for the twenty- and thirty- something generation, for many of whom doing their own thing is the new normal, this is how we can reconnect them with our party.

Lord Maude is the former Minister of State for Trade and Investment and a member of Bright Blue’s Advisory Council. This is an article from Bright Blue’s latest magazine ‘Capitalism in crisis?