The Tory manifesto has consigned Thatcherism to history and replaced it with what the press calls Mayism. The new ‘ism’ turns its back on the belief in individualism and free markets. The manifesto reads: ‘We must reject the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and instead embrace the mainstream view that recognises the good that government can do… We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism.’ She promises energy price caps and work place protections and calls for corporate pay restraint but has abandoned David Cameron’s pledge not to raise taxes. Speculation is that the short rein of the relatively free-market chancellor Philip Hammond may come to an end. British business has reacted with predictable scepticism, concerned about the anti-business tone of the manifesto.
And there is cause for concern. Big government and interventionism is always a bad idea, but this turn in rhetoric is especially ill timed. A year after Brexit presented an opportunity to break free from the restraints of EU bureaucracy and embrace free trade, there is now no voice in Westminster defending the virtues of free market capitalism. While institutions such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Adam Smith Institute attempt to fly the flag of economic liberalism in the public debate, none are on offer in the voting booth. The UK has no Freedom Caucus, a grouping of Republican members of the US Congress who adhere to and are willing to stand up for free market principles.
Though the manifesto puts into writing the possibility of a hard Brexit (‘no deal is better than a bad deal’), a hard Brexit will only be a success if coupled with business friendly policies, certainty of tax regime and a reduced regulatory burden. To succeed business needs low taxes, freedom to operate and ability to hire from a global labour pool. No matter what the outcome of the coming Brexit negotiations, the idea that an interventionist government who believes in price controls, a strict immigration policy, tight labour market regulation and higher taxes is going to create the economic environment for Britain to prosper outside the EU is absurd.
The Brexit vote came with no manifesto. It was at vote to leave the EU, but not a vote for a specific alternative. The vote presented an opportunity that could be used or wasted. This Tory manifesto indicates that it will be wasted.