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Lucius Winslow: Polly Toynbee is right. A growing population is good for Britain.

Screen shot 2013-08-09 at 11.14.51Lucius Winslow has been a Conservative Party member since the age of sixteen, is an MA Politics student, and is now working to become a solicitor. He also contributes to the non-party political website Open Unionism.

Lord Faulkner, a former Northern Irish Prime Minister, once mused that what made an Ulsterman an Ulsterman was that he was willing to travel 50 miles just to be offended. Clearly, I am of that stock. Sometimes I like to go to The Guardian website just to get myself angry at their stupidity.

This is odd enough. But what was truly mind-boggling was that whilst distracting myself in  this way during the early hours of this morning I found  a piece with which I actually agreed. And not just any page, a page on Comment is Free (but facts are cheap). Even more astonishing, the piece was written by no less a conservative bête noire than Polly Toynbee. Polly. Toynbee.

Her central case was that, contrary to most public – and much political – perception, population growth is good news for Britain. And she is utterly correct. As Toynbee points out ‘new life, new workers, new consumers’ are bringing promise to the economic wellbeing of the country.

Of course I am being a little too generous to Toynbee. She was able to observe a phenomenon as a good thing, but she couldn’t resist the urge to wreck it: she demanded a living wage, higher taxes, and more money spent on libraries (has she never heard of Kindle, or Amazon?), the NHS, and a thousand other flailing institutions. She also assumed it would be an answer to our Ponzi-scheme of a welfare system, so she obviously doesn’t know some basic mathematics. At best it is a way of delaying the inevitable. So I suppose in the end it’s just one hip for Polly, and certainly no hurray.

But that shouldn’t distract us. My own take on the population growth is somewhat different. Firstly, it will increase the absolute size of the economy by increasing the number of constituent parts. This is good, because economies of scale work for UK Plc as well as FTSE 100 companies. Furthermore, other things being equal larger countries have a greater diplomatic weight which is granted by their population. Britain has always been able to punch above its weight, but it would certainly be good if we could continue to add to the scales. Already the gap with Germany for example is fast-closing.

Secondly, as has been noted on Conservative Home and elsewhere, each generation is now less collectivist than the last. The young are embracing the values of conservatism; greater individual responsibility, greater individual choice, and greater individual freedom. The faster we can transfer the demographic (and electoral...) balance towards this generation the better, for our party and our country.

Thirdly, this increase is disproportionately occurring in London (and the South). An increase in the size of London is in Britain’s best interests, because cities produce a disproportionately larger amount of GDP. Furthermore, London is in its own global race with the world’s other economic centres. Increasing its size will help it maintain its place as the number one global centre for business.

More than that, though, I feel we should welcome the immigration aspect of population growth. What could be more inspiring that individuals coming to improve themselves through hard work? Our problems previously have been an overly generous welfare system, and a culture where integration isn’t necessarily as good as it could be. The inevitable downsides of these have served to poison immigration in the public mind. But those are not problems with immigration, those are problems of poor government policy, and could be fixed without setting arbitrary caps on people coming to settle.

The argument that the United Kingdom is full is, frankly, tosh. Japan has a population twice Britain’s in an area considerable less than twice the size. But this is not to proclaim everything rosy. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to make sure we cater to our expanding citizenry.

For one thing, with the Green belt in place, land has been artificially restricted. I would not for one second permit a relaxation of the green belt. We are conservatives, it is our job to conserve. But we shouldn’t, and can’t, be complete NIMBYs. It is time to loosen up restrictions on high rise buildings in London. As The Shard, the Gherkin, the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ and a hundred other skyscrapers show, building up is always an option. Higher rise apartments can accommodate a higher population.

Secondly, it is imperative that we better target government resources towards the areas where the population is rising fastest. The south does badly out of government allocation of resources, and that balance is getting worse every year.

So there is much to be done, but we should not see a rising population as anything other than good. Britons are special. Why wouldn’t we want more of them?


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