Over the course of the next two weeks, ConHome are setting out what they think a legislative programme might have looked like with a Conservative majority. This “Majority Conservatism” offers “popular, pro-poor and broadly-based legislation” and so far we have had the pleasure of three proposals: a British Bill of Rights, a Promotion of Competition Bill and a Rail Improvements Bill.
1. A British Bill of Rights
Tim Montgomerie writes “the problem is not the European Convention on Human Rights… but the expansionist agenda and flawed decisions of the European Court of Human Rights”; he rightly notes that since 2008 the ECHR has blocked over 900 attempts by Britain to deport foreign criminals and suspected terrorists in addition to telling parents how to discipline their children and attempting to give prisoners the right to vote. Despite the EU’s apparent concern for the rights of its citizens, it has simultaneously allowed successive UK governments to legislate against basic civil liberties via control orders, extended detention without charge and retaining the DNA of innocents. He claims that this Bill of Rights would replace the Human Rights Act, allowing Britain’s courts to make their own judgments much like those of France and Germany do; gone would be the kowtowing to Strasbourg and in its place would be a more democratic and balanced piece of legislation, protecting the fundamental freedoms of British citizens.
My first thoughts are positive — indeed UKIP supports leaving the ECHR and scrapping the Human Rights Act, and we have made a formal submission to the Commission making the case for a British Bill of Rights. However, this was one of the first proposals Cameron dropped after entering into the Coalition and I fear he did so all too easily.
2. Promotion of Competition Bill
The second proposal would be for a piece of legislation encouraging competition; it would “introduce competitive challenge to all water companies, by making the pipe network a common carrier system”. Furthermore, the Bill would require the government to promote more banking competition and create smaller challenger bank status with lower cost set up regulation, to allow small challengers to emerge. It would also take any necessary powers to split up RBS, creating new competitor UK clearing banks out of the assets and liabilities of that Group.
While this alternative manifesto started well, I am less enamoured by this second idea. I am a firm believer that a government cannot legislate for freedom, including economic freedom. If we are to increase competition we must reduce protectionism, and the first place to look is the EU. If we want to promote competition — and at the same time reduce food and energy bills — we need deregulation, not more legislation. One place to start would be the Common Agricultural Policy, a protectionist (and wildly expensive) piece of legislation designed to defend European producers from cheaper products outside the EU currently costs the UK 10bn per year — that’s £398 per household — and adds around 17bn per year to UK food bills. This hits the poorest hardest, the same poor that this “pro-poor Majority Conservatism” ideology purports to protect. Unless Bill Number 4 is “Stop pushing the Climate Change Agenda” via subsidised wind farms and taxes that cause energy bills to soar, tinkering through a Competition Bill is an absolute waste of time. Through leaving the EU, we could rid businesses of vast swathes of protective bureaucracy and open the door to competition and prosperity.
3. Rail Improvements Bill
This proposal rightly highlights the monstrous cost (£33bn or £1,000 for every family in Britain) of HS2 which Nigel Farage has called ‘disastrous’. UKIP is the only party which opposes HS2 which will desecrate our countryside for very little economic benefit – much like wind farms.
I look forward to seeing the next twelve proposals and if they carry on echoing UKIP’s manifesto perhaps the leadership should take note, although I’m sure David Cameron isn’t listening.