Theresa May has 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, the Prime Minister spoke of her determination to make Britain into 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”.
‘The spirit of citizenship’
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 Mrs May.
“We form families, communities, towns, cities, counties and nations. We have a responsibility to one another. And I firmly believe that government has a responsibility too.”
Brexit is a ‘revolution’ for Britain
Mrs May said that the vote for Brexit in this year’s referendum 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.
“And that would be a disaster for Britain.”
Savers could get a boost
Pensioners could see the value of their savings increase Theresa May admitted that the Bank of England’s policy of quantative easing had had “some bad side effects”.
Quantative easing – or QE – allows central banks to create new money which is then swapped for debt in a bid to stablise economies.
QE has been blamed by critics for keeping bank interest rates low, hitting savers in their pockets.
Mrs May told the party’s 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. People with mortgages have found their debts cheaper. People with savings have found themselves poorer.
“A change has got to come. And we are going to deliver it. Because that’s what a Conservative Government can do.”
May: I want to set us on path to new centre ground of British politics Play! 01:40
Tackling big businesses
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 allow pension funds to 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 hinted at action against energy companies which put customers on overpriced tariffs and firms which exploit complex pricing structures to inhibit consumer choice.
“Where markets are dysfunctional, we should be prepared to intervene,” she said.
“Government must recognise the huge commitment that nearly all businesses make to their communities, to their workforce, and to our national success.
“The task ahead is to make the big decisions that matter to our future, whilst avoiding populist measures that may have adverse consequences for business investment or job creation.
“In a period of historic change, business communities all across the UK need to feel supported, not alienated, so that they can confidently seize opportunities and deliver growth.”
‘Theresa May shifted to the right, not the centre’
Jon Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Minister without Portfolio, has responded to Theresa May’s speech:
“This should have been the conference where Theresa May outlined a detailed plan to secure British jobs and prosperity in face of Brexit. She failed that test. Instead we have seen divisive offensive wedge politics and a drive into a ‘hard Brexit’ that risks jobs and growth.
This week was about Theresa May finally outlining her vision. It’s now clear what that vision is not optimistic about the future but small, mean and nasty. This is not a shift to the centre ground but a shift to the right.”
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, also agreed that the party had shifted to the right:
“Regardless of the rhetoric, the Conservatives have moved to the right. The Prime Minister’s words about a pitch to the centre-ground are utterly divorced from her party’s actions over the last few days. The Conservatives are reckless, divisive and uncaring.
They are the fence-building, snooping-on-your-emails, foreign-worker-listing party and that is something that most people will be revulsed by.”