May pledges ‘a great meritocracy’ and stakes political centre ground for Tories
Theresa May set the agenda for the next General Election today, firmly claiming the centre ground of politics for the Conservatives and promising a new deal for “ordinary working class families”.
Winding up the Tory conference in Birmingham, Mrs May sought to stamp her own beliefs firmly on party policy, offering a “country that works for everyone” based on the values of fairness and opportunity.
It was time to reject “the ideological templates provided by the socialist left and the libertarian right and to embrace a new centre ground in which government steps up – and not back – to act on behalf of us all”.
She promised to work towards “delivering a country of decency, fairness and quiet resolve”.
She summed up her philosophy:
I want to set out my plan for a Britain where everyone plays by the same rules and every person has the opportunity to be all they want to be.
It’s a plan to tackle the unfairness and injustice that divides us, so that we may build a new united Britain, rooted in the centre ground.
A plan that will mean Government stepping up. Righting wrongs. Challenging vested interests. Taking big decisions. Doing what we believe to be right. Getting the job done.
Because that’s the good that Government can do. And it’s what I’m in this for. To stand up for the weak and stand up to the strong. And to put the power of Government squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people.
Mrs May told her audience that advancement in Britain was still too often determined by “an accident of birth rather than talent”. Her vision was to deliver “a great meritocracy”. She added:
I want us to be a country where it doesn’t matter where you were born, who your parents are, where you went to school, what your accent sounds like, what god you worship, whether you’re a man or a woman, gay or straight, or black or white.
All that should matter is the talent you have and how hard you’re prepared to work.
The Prime Minister spoke of Britain’s “quiet revolution” in which millions of citizens used the European Union referendum to protest and say they were not prepared to be ignored by the Government any more.
Much what Mrs May had to say was a rehashed version of speeches she has delivered consistently since becoming prime minister:
I want to set our party and our country on the path towards the new centre ground of British politics built on the values of fairness and opportunity where everyone plays by the same rules and where every single person – regardless of their background, or that of their parents – is given the chance to be all they want to be.
Our society should work for everyone, but if you can’t afford to get onto the property ladder, or your child is stuck in a bad school, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.
Our economy should work for everyone, but if your pay has stagnated for several years in a row and fixed items of spending keep going up, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.
Our democracy should work for everyone, but if you’ve been trying to say things need to change for years and your complaints fall on deaf ears, it doesn’t feel like it’s working for you.
The EU referendum marked a turning point for Britain and a “once in a generation chance to change the direction of our nation for good”, she insisted. Mrs May continued:
Change has got to come because as we leave the European Union and take control of our own destiny, the task of tackling some of Britain’s long-standing challenges – like how to train enough people to do the jobs of the future – becomes ever more urgent.
The referendum was not just a vote to withdraw from the EU. It was about something broader – something that the European Union had come to represent.
It was about a sense – deep, profound and let’s face it often justified – that many people have today that the world works well for a privileged few, but not for them.
It was a vote not just to change Britain’s relationship with the European Union, but to call for a change in the way our country works – and the people for whom it works – forever.
And the roots of the revolution run deep. Because it wasn’t the wealthy who made the biggest sacrifices after the financial crash, but ordinary, working class families.
There was a sustained attack on the super-rich who needed to be “put on warning” about their obligations to society.
Mrs May praised the Conservative party’s commitment to “the spirit of citizenship”. She said:
That spirit that means you respect the bonds and obligations that make our society work. That means a commitment to the men and women who live around you, who work for you, who buy the goods and services you sell.
That spirit that means you do as others do, and pay your fair share of tax.
But today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street.
So if you’re a boss who earns a fortune but doesn’t look after your staff, an international company that treats tax laws as an optional extra, a household name that refuses to work with the authorities even to fight terrorism, a director who takes out massive dividends while knowing that the company pension is about to go bust, I’m putting you on warning. This can’t go on anymore.
On the thorny matter of Europe, Mrs May promised to trigger Article 50 for Britain’s exit from the EU no later than the end of March.
A Great Repeal Bill to get rid of the European Communities Act – will be introduced in the next Parliamentary session.
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