Back in March, on my second day with UKIP, Nigel Farage asked me to become the Party’s spokesman on Industry & Energy. I was delighted to accept, as I’d been intensively engaged in the energy and climate change debate for a number of years. But I have to admit that in the last six months, I’ve done a great deal more work on the energy side of the brief than on broader industrial policy. (Of course energy policy is a sine qua non for industrial policy — there’s no separating the two).
In fact I’ve been gestating a UKIP Energy Policy statement, which is due to be launched at our Party Conference in Birmingham in a couple of weeks. (Taster: “Renewables are not about green jobs. They’re about green unemployment”).
So I was pulled up short when asked to reply to an enquirer wanting to know about UKIP’s Industrial Policy.
It would be premature, in the current state of play, for UKIP to spend time developing a detailed, sector-by sector policy for industry. But on the other hand, our members, sympathisers, voters — and indeed our opponents — are entitled to know where we stand, and what broad principles we would pursue in order to achieve recovery, growth, employment, competitiveness, and sustainable (in the original sense, not the green subversion) prosperity.
So I replied to our enquirer in the following terms:
I rather like a quote from an American politician: “We don’t need to teach the grass to grow — we just need to get the rocks off the lawn”. Take away the obstacles, and industry will flourish.
Our starting point for an industrial strategy would be first of all, to re-establish British independence. We are currently so bound by EU law that all we could do now is heavily circumscribed. Outside the EU, we should save not only the £20 bn or so in direct EU budget contributions, but we should also relieve the British economy of a large part of the estimated £100 bn cost of EU regulation
We need to deregulate radically, especially in employment law. Of course no one imagines that you can run a modern economy without any regulation at all. But in our view, current regulation (and especially EU regulation) is grotesquely burdensome and largely unnecessary.
We also believe that current levels of taxation are a disincentive to investment, risk-taking and entrepreneurialism. We want to see lower and simpler taxes, both for businesses and individual tax-payers. We believe that this in itself will promote growth, and all the experience around the world suggests, counter-intuitively, that flat tax systems actually generate more revenue than the onerous system we have today. There are also zero- or low-cost moves that the Chancellor should be making today: cutting the 45% Income Tax rate; NI holidays for new hires (and as part of tax simplification, we need to see NI merged with income tax).
Another key area is energy (and UKIP will launch an energy policy booklet at Party Conference later this month). Currently energy prices in the EU are too high, largely as a result of our “green” policies. We are driving energy-intensive businesses off-shore, along with their jobs and investment. We are seeking to compete in the global market place against America, which has cheap shale gas, and against India and China, which are rapidly building cheap coal-fired power stations. Our UK energy policy enshrined in the 2008 Climate Change Act, and of course imposed by Brussels, is practically suicidal. It must be changed.
We need to rationalise the banking system. At the moment we are asking banks (A) to lend more (although excessive lending created the current crisis); (B) to rebuild their balance sheets; (C) for those who were bailed-out, to repay government loans. Clearly they can’t do all those things at the same time. We need to prioritise.
You will see that the emphasis is not on new government initiatives to stimulate business, but on getting government off our backs: we believe that industry will flourish if we take away the road blocks.
But that is not to say that government has no positive rôle to play. There is a huge job to do on raising standards in education (and to be fair, this is one area where the current Coalition has made some progress). We should also be raising the status of vocational education, and encouraging apprenticeships.
These pointers are not, of course, a detailed programme for government, so if and when we approach a rôle in government, much more work will need to be done. Nonetheless, I think we have a clear and radical framework for economic recovery.