Jeremy Lefroy on ways the next Conservative government can improve social stability
Whoever is in 10 Downing Street after the General Election, the Prime Minister will face a situation almost as tough as that which confronted David Cameron in 2010.
Despite the considerable economic achievements achieved by the people of the UK under the Coalition Government - record numbers of people in work, unemployment cut by more than 400,000 in the past year alone, and the deficit down from 10% of GDP in 2010 to 5.3% in 2014 (OECD figures) - he (for barring unforeseen circumstances, it will be he) will need to continue to keep a tight lid on public expenditure in the next parliament.
Yet, with a growing economy, people will be less understanding of austerity. They will ask why the government is not reversing at least some of the cuts in real public expenditure that were forced on it by the great recession, let alone continuing to make further cuts.
Listening to my constituents, I am clear that most do not seek ever-increasing prosperity. What they desire above all is stability in an uncertain world. That takes concrete forms like knowing that your income will meet your basic needs and a few extras, such as a holiday, believing that our health service will give you safe care of a high quality when you or your loved ones need it, and trusting in the standard of education which your children and grandchildren receive in our schools and colleges.
But stability is also more than that. It is a function of trust in the security and nature of our country, as a place where we are protected from criminals and terrorists who wish to harm us or destroy our social fabric and way of life. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Party leader and Prime Minster in the early 1930's, understood this. Faced with the great depression and the rise of extremism in Europe, he campaigned under the slogan, 'Baldwin's security mixture'.
Stability is, of course, not only the responsibility of government and the state. There are several ways in which as citizens we can contribute to social stability.
Firstly, we need to accept that social stability involves giving as well as taking. It is wrong to reap the benefits of a stable, peaceful society and yet not contribute your fair share of the taxes which underpin it. Tax is not a necessary evil, as some would have you believe. When it is charged and collected fairly, it is part of what builds a civilised and stable society.
Secondly, we all - not only the government - must confront those who would seek to use our open society in order to undermine it, sowing instability which affects everyone. When Karl Popper wrote his great work, The Open Society and its Enemies, the enemies he had in mind were communists. Today we face other extremists, racists and religious terrorists among them, who want to use our freedom to impose their hate filled ideologies on us all.
Thirdly, we can recognise the central role which marriage and family life play in creating and underpinning stability. It is not simply that the economic cost of family breakdown - estimated by the Centre for Social Justice at £40bn pa in public expenditure alone - consumes resources which could be used much more productively. It is the strength which stable family life and marriage adds to our communities and society.
Finally, we can both recognise and support those who do so much for our country and its stability, but whom we too often take for granted. They are carers and volunteers, looking after loved ones and friends, giving up their time to teach our children new skills and so much else.
Economic stability is much more fragile than social stability. When the economy broke down in 2008, society did not fall apart. However social stability, once destroyed, is much harder to restore; and it takes the economy down with it. So a political party which wishes to govern in the interests of the nation needs to take social stability very seriously.
That is why I wish to see the Conservative Party put both economic and social stability at the heart of its election manifesto. That means making it quite clear that all will contribute according to their means – “to whom much is given, from them much will be expected.” It means having no truck with those who try to use our freedoms to spread their poison.
Above all it means speaking up and acting for the huge numbers in our country who do not ask what the state can do for them, but quietly and responsibly give of themselves for others.
Jeremy Lefroy is Member of Parliament for Stafford