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Tory leadership

The last thing we need is a smaller state

Right at the time: Margaret Thatcher addressing the 1986 Tory conference. David Levenson/Getty

The ghost of Margaret Thatcher is haunting the Tory leadership contest, says Clare Foges in The Times. The contenders cannot resist echoing her cry to “roll back the frontiers of the state”. Perhaps this is music to the ears of Tory members, but the “ideological obsession” with shrinking the state is the last thing Britain needs. Have the candidates tried to get a driving licence or passport lately? Ambulance crews are taking an average of 51 minutes to reach heart attack and stroke victims; autistic children are “waiting five (yes, five) years for a first appointment”; police are solving their lowest proportion of crimes ever. Right now, the “imperative” isn’t to shrink the state, but to make it work properly.

Then there’s the future to contend with: in 20 years there will be more than one pensioner for every three people of working age. War is raging in Europe, Chinese ambitions are expanding and unknown disasters are lurking perpetually just around the corner. We should be building a strong, resilient state to meet these challenges, not plotting to slash taxes “so more middle-class people can afford Nespresso machines”. A few tax cuts won’t “unleash growth” anyway: Britain’s main economic drag is “dire productivity”, which can only be fixed with investment. Small-state Tories are “intellectually bereft” and out of step with public mood, not to mention economic reality. Thatcher’s prescription “was broadly right for her time”, but we need a new one for ours.