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Howard Flight: The time has come to hold a referendum on our EU membership

Flight_howard_2 Howard Flight was MP for Arundel and South Downs between 1997 and 2005, is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is now chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund.

Ben Brogan wrote about the need for a “national restoration project” in his Telegraph column a few weeks ago.  Implicitly his point was also that the country is crying out for political leadership to tackle our problems and restore economic prosperity.  What I believe this means is facing up to the problems and communicating a clear message about both the radical reform of the public sector required and brave policies to get the private sector economy recovering and growing much faster.

All political leaders cannot avoid using focus groups to test public opinion.  The problem with this is, especially if the wrong questions are asked, that it can ‘frighten off’ being brave and principled.  The crucial thing with focus groups is to ask the right questions.

Everyone will say they are very keen on health and education spending, but if they are asked whether or not they think the country needs tough leadership over the next few years and to “cut its coat according to its cloth”, the response will be overwhelmingly Yes: if you then ask if they think the public sector is wastefully run and by how much, they will respond with an overwhelming Yes and a figure of around 20% (as several polls have reported); if you ask whether they would like their taxes to be lower and their earnings to improve, there would also be an overwhelming Yes.

The task is to get the electorate to understand – as I suspect they already do intuitively – that these things can be achieved by down-sizing bloated and inefficient public sector expenditure – both to correct the disastrous state of the public finances and also to free up the resources and climate for businesses to prosper in the UK.

It is also important to remind people that it has been the policies of the Labour Government over the last decade which are responsible for wrecking the UK economy.  The British economy was in fine shape in the years leading up to 1997.  Then there was an adequate level of savings both to finance productive growth and to provide adequately for people’s retirement.  Labour has squandered a fortune in nearly doubling public sector expenditure in cash terms, producing only a small increase in the services out put provided.

Their much boasted monetary policy has been a disaster.  By allowing credit and monetary conditions to be much too lax for far too long, this produced the credit and banking bubble which then burst.  Banks always lend foolishly if there is too much money around.  Technically, the mistake was to target cost of living inflation which tends to remain low if an economy like the UK is open: excess money supply and credit goes into sucking in imports and asset (largely house) price inflation.  This was happening as long ago as 2003/04.  It is no excuse, that at huge cost to future generations, (as a result of misguided policies over a decade), Labour propped up the banking system just in time to avoid a total collapse.

A problem area is the EU, apparently not high on the list of people’s political priorities.  But with the undemocratic implementation of the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU now has more power to dictate laws and rules which bind all EU Members in which citizens have no effective say.  Much of them are likely to serve to hobble the UK economy, as we are seeing already with the EU attack on the City of London.

In my view the time has come to hold a referendum on our EU membership – are people happy with things as they are, or do they want an open free trade relationship with the EU, but not to be rolled into a European State?  The EU is the “elephant in the room” which I do not believe can be ignored for much longer – especially if an incoming Conservative Government wants to introduce deregulation and measures to free up the productive private economy to prosper.


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