David Davis MP writes about what the next Prime Minister must focus on


As published in The Telegraph:

Never before in modern times have we seen quite such a dramatic shattering of a government. The abject collapse of Boris Johnson’s premiership now triggers a whole new series of problems. Notably the extent to which he will be allowed to continue in office until a replacement is found. Whoever that replacement may be, they will face extraordinarily difficult challenges.

They will have a cost of living crisis to contend with. They will have a war in Ukraine to cope with. And they will have to find a way to finish Brexit in the best way possible. When I was walking the streets of Wakefield, half of hesitant Tory voters were angry not simply about the PM’s behaviour, but about our failure to pursue proper conservative polices: low taxes, low regulation, a smaller state, increasing free trade abroad and fostering freedom under the law at home.

Instead, they saw a government focussed on fashionable London causes that didn’t matter to them. What really matters to people up and down Britain is how much money the Government is taking out of their pockets, how good their children’s schools are, and how safe their local hospitals are. But for too long Boris’s Government was failing to listen. It is time to change gear.

The economic strategy that Boris spearheaded over the past three years was flawed. Remember, his replacement will not only be Prime Minister – they will be First Lord of the Treasury. They must do two things. Inflation must be dealt with. That means interest rates must rise, and soon. We have printed too much money. That must be corrected. That correction will be painful and difficult.

The Bank of England and the Treasury got their inflation predictions massively wrong and have been far too slow and timid in their reaction. Frankly, I think it is time for a new Governor of the Bank of England who better understands the monetary landscape and who is able and willing to take the difficult decisions to correct past mistakes. The Treasury has also made mistakes on the fiscal front. They materially underestimate tax revenue and have set taxes far too high. As a result, they have helped trigger the recession we are now facing.

Growth is the principal answer to the economic problems we are facing. Today, the first tenet of any tax policy must be to engender growth, therefore taxes must be cut across the board. The planned corporation tax rise must be cancelled to encourage investment. Vat on fuel must be removed – a post-Brexit freedom we are yet to realise. That will help ordinary families cope with the cost of living.

All increases to personal taxes must be scrapped, that includes Rishi’s National Insurance tax hike. The Treasury’s IR35 policy is causing huge damage to small businesses in every part of the UK. That must be shelved. We should also reinstate indexation of allowances. Keeping allowances frozen in times of high inflation is nothing less than a pernicious stealth tax, punishing ordinary people for what is often state failure.

The Government has also failed to properly finance the Covid crisis. During the pandemic, the Treasury ignored calls from a number of us to institute a war loan strategy to finance the more than £400bn spent on Covid support. We could have raised 50 year plus loans at very low interest rates – near one per cent. We have missed out on this very cheap money. But, there’s still a chance, we could create some very long terms loans at rates that, while much more expensive than last year, will seem dirt cheap in the months and years to come.

The UK’s economy is on life support – the next Prime Minister needs to create an environment in which it can breathe and begin to grow. It is not just the approach to the economy requiring a reset.

Our next leader must look outward, protect personal freedom and avoid being led into headline-grabbing culture wars. It is time free speech is put back at the centre of the offer Conservatives will make to the country. That includes rethinking much of the Online Safety Bill which I know worries many of my Conservative colleagues. At the core of our offer is access to opportunity, something Boris Johnson at least understood, if failed to deliver.

His levelling up strategy needs to be completely overhauled. The white paper, published only a few months ago, could have been written by Harold Wilson. It was incredibly complex and, as it stands, veers too close to pork barrel politics. If the next Prime Minister genuinely wants to level up the country, they must focus on social mobility, on creating a genuine meritocracy as well as on correcting the historic under investment in public services outside the south-east of England.

Delivering great schools, great jobs and great opportunities is the best way to increase living standards in the deprived communities across the country. When the country next goes to the polls, the health service will still be failing to deliver for patients.

The next PM will need to be honest with the public about the challenges facing the NHS: huge waiting lists, poor outcomes and an aging population. Pouring more and more money into the health service will not fix the problems – they will need to think carefully about the type of healthcare system this country needs in the 21st century. I called years ago for a Royal Commission on health: it is past time we instituted it.

This new leader, whoever they are, could have nearly two years before an election. In that time, they must focus on delivery. On delivering what the people of this country really want: a truly Conservative government.

In 2019, it was the Conservative Party that won 14 million votes and 365 seats on a clear cut, conservative manifesto. Boris, of course, played his part in that victory but what I heard most on the doorstep was fear. Fear of Jeremy Corbyn and tax hikes. That is why we now need to focus on the Conservative vision that this country voted for. Low taxes. Low regulation. More free trade abroad. And a commitment to free speech at home. That is the way to a brighter future.