A year ago the leader of the British Conservative Party gave a passionate and adroit speech in which he outlined his guiding principles – those which, he said, would underpin Conservative policy and legislation if they come to power. These are some of the statements from that speech:

“Every generation of Conservatives has to make the argument all over again for free enterprise, for freedom, for responsibility, for limited government.”

“I don’t believe in an ever larger state doing more and more.”

“…this new world of freedom is having huge effects on business and our economy. Big business can now locate anywhere in the world, small businesses can find customers anywhere in the world and Britain has some great advantages in this globalised world. Not least because of the changes we made 15 or 20 years ago.”

“And I know that business wants to hear from the Conservative Party how we will reduce regulation and reduce taxation to give them more freedom in this new world… and we heard from Alan Duncan how we will introduce regulatory budgets to cut that regulation…”

“[We will] get tax and regulation down for the long term good of our economy and that is the modern Conservative change for this new world of freedom.”

These verbatim quotes (there is more of the same if you want to read the speech in full) reveal beyond any reasonable doubt that the Conservative economic ideology of the Thatcher years is alive and well in the modern Conservative Party – indeed Cameron says as much in the third of the quotes I have listed above. A year ago Cameron clearly thought that to restate these principles would secure him electoral advantage – today they look as wrong-headed, shallow, uncaring and irrelevant as it is possible for policy to be.

The cataclysmic global and national financial markets problems of today can be traced back to the implementation of deregulation on both sides of the Atlantic in the Reagan/Thatcher years. In Britain the Thatcher “Big Bang” accelerated the deregulation of markets and the cumulative effect of these and subsequent deregulation has brought us all into Queer Street. And yet David Cameron and his free market Tory allies want more not less deregulation – they want the corporate world which has sailed us into today’s financial black hole to be freer not more controlled! It defies belief. 

Winston Churchill once famously said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” We might paraphrase this saying and say that “Capitalism is the worst economic system; except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” But in doing so we need to acknowledge that unbridled capitalism leads to excess – be it Victorian industrialists employing children, the Rockefellers creating monopolies – or the greedy and irresponsible financial magnates of today driving our monetary institutions onto the rocks in pursuit of their own personal advantage.

The events of the last few months have shown undisputedly that what the corporate world needs is not, as Cameron tried to lead us to believe, less regulation but more. He was mistaken and the evidence of his error is all around us. It will be interesting to see if Cameron has the good grace to admit how wrong he was a year ago when he returns to Conference this week. A bit of humility would be welcome.

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