A new governing strategy for the Conservative Party

The Conservative party today lies in tatters. A leader that has lost the support of the public and her party. A party that is seen as out of touch, ruthless and clueless by the British public and nations afar. A government that has no vision and an opponent that offers hope, change and momentum. A momentum towards a past that the Conservative party and its leaders have spent nearly 40 years fighting. Perhaps the only saving grace is that the Conservative party is not alone in its struggles.

Today we see in America, in France, in Italy and across the Western World, that the old political systems and their parties are collapsing. Some are being replaced by new liberal structures. Many are not. During the Cold War the terms of debate were clear and the enemy was clearer. With the end of the Cold War, liberal parties rejoiced in their hard one victory. But they got complacent. They ignored the people and they forgot that Liberalism is not a finite end in and of itself. Rather, it is a mechanism for helping those who govern to make choices for the future. But there was no plan for the future. No dream end game or envisaged utopia. In short, they forgot the most human of all things. They forgot that people need hope of a brighter and better tomorrow.

The problem of the Conservative party today is less the methods by which it governs, than it is about the vision and ideology which it has governed by. In 2010 the British public understood that sacrifices needed to be made under the banner of “Austerity”, but what no-one understood was what was supposed to come after Austerity. What was the reward at the end of the march? It is on this charge that the Conservatives failed to win a majority in 2010 and it is for this reason why the party is so rudderless today.

More than anything what Conservatives of all colours need to show is humility. We underestimated the deep sense of injustice and inequality within society and we did too little to address it. We let our overwhelming desire to replace New Labour cloud our vision of what our party stood for and its principles. As a party we lost track of the fundamental tenants of Liberalism, that a belief in the inherent good of human nature and freedom, requires us to do good to others with that freedom. The free market, if it ever can be said to exist, is not a thing of emotions. The free market is a mechanism that allocates resources to where their perceived value is highest. It does not exercise compassion, fairness, tolerance or diversity. It does not support those who fall or offer a hand to those who need a boost to get started. If Conservatism is to return to its values and principles it must start by recognising that the free market may create wealth but it is people who distribute it. If the wealth creators in society do not see the value in distributing wealth and in helping those less fortunate, then the system will not fix the problem. It was never designed to do so.

Despite her many failings as a leadership figure, Theresa May knew this. As did David Cameron’s team, with their talk of the “Big Society” and Ian Duncan-Smith’s work on benefit reform. Like many problems, it seems less an issue that the sickness hasn’t been diagnosed than a question of how to solve the ailment. It is precisely the failure of the Conservatives to find an answer, while Jeremy Corbyn does offer a solution, that may be the hammer blow for Britain. But all is not lost and the party that led us through our darkest hours in WW2, the financial crash of 1979, the Falklands war in 1992 and one of the strongest G7 recoveries after 2010 is not finished yet.

The Conservative party needs to start by being brave and being honest. It needs a full public confession and admission that it got things wrong. When you have wronged a friend, you do not explain to them your reasoning for why you behaved wrong before you apologise. You apologise first. The British public want and need that apology first.

Further, we need to recognise that if there is no single leader in the Conservative party today that can represent the party as a united body, then we should govern as a party and present ourselves to the people as a party. The Conservatives may not represent the nation perfectly, but there are MPs that represent women, ethnic minorities, different religious groups and sexual orientations. They need to be heard and they need to be seen. Rather than worrying about threats to the leadership, the Tory party needs to show that it is a party that is focused on delivering a better life and better opportunities for the people of the UK before the personal career interests of its own members.

Today the Conservative party must answer two questions: firstly, how would a Conservative government make the country happier and wealthier for all. Secondly the party must explain why Liberalism must be the guiding set of principles to achieve that end and not Socialism.  In the UK we have the ability to choose where our children study, where we want to live, for whom we want to work, the type of car we want to buy and how we want to allocate our pay check across these things at the end of each month. That is the freedom of choice which Liberalism gives us. The freedom to make decisions, both good and bad. But it also requires us to be responsible for the failures which we create ourselves.

The world is not fair, nor equal and in the absence of intervention these market failures will not be improved. Liberalism in the 21st century must begin with this realisation that the public will no longer accept the trade-off of total freedom of choice in exchange for personal accountability of all outcomes. Instead, people believe there are some things that they will always need help to protect themselves against. Modern psychology seems to agree. Study after study shows that life in poverty reduces the most intelligent people into making seemingly irrational decisions, as people are forced to make decisions to live day by day. The ability to plan for the future is a luxury for those starving today. Society needs a basic safety net of human decency and when over 2,000 food banks exist in one of the world’s richest nations, we can safely say that the basic net is not being provided. A new compassionate Liberalism needs to start by understanding that for people to make rational choices they have to be in a position to think rationally.

The Conservatives have always been called the “nasty party” because they have never been afraid to let people fail. But the biggest problem has been that not enough are succeeding. A Conservative party that can breathe life into the promise of Liberalism, with an understanding that no society can be called rich when its poorest must rely on charity to eat, has a chance to turn the tables on the false promises of Labour today.

Make no mistake, today Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is a populist one and it will not be beaten by patronising it or dismissing its central arguments alone. Instead the Conservatives must show the British public once again that they are the only adults in political room that can deliver a better Britain for all. Showing more humility, compassion and humanity would be a welcome place to start.

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Exploring the commercial viability of integrated DER solutions in NY state 2016-17

Over nine months ago, myself and three fantastic colleagues Max Stadler, Fujia Zhang and Xitong (Kathy) Gao began work on researching distributed energy resource solutions for higher education institutions in New York state. The project was a collaboration between Johns Hopkins SAIS ERE department and Power Capital, a UK based Energy Consultancy.

Many wonderful people have supported our efforts and listened to the team drone on about this project. So as a small thank you, I have included a final version of our report here. It is available to be read, but the intellectual property remains with myself, Max, Xitong and Fujia so please contact us if you wish to use the content first.

Our project examined whether a new energy services compnay model was viable for the New York market and what sorts of market/regulatory pressures ar affecting these customers. We believe it is the firts report of its kind on this segment and market.

It has been a pleasure to work with such an exciting group of people on such a wonderful project. I hope others also find it of interest.

Exploring the commercial viability of integrated DER solutions in NY state 2016-17

Why is it so difficult to be a Conservative?

The election today represents a reversion to the mean for British politics. For the first time since 1992, the voters of the UK face a clear choice between Labour and Conservatives. For many this is unsettling. My generation grew up with the Centre Ground. A place where limited ideologies existed and variations between the parties were driven more by local issues and individual biases than existential differences in party governing ideologies. This is how the awfully phrased “millennials” think of politics. A choice between technocratic governments with different faces. Until today.

Today ideology is back, and as I have written before, this has been a shot in the arm for the health of UK democracy. The Brexit referendum marked the first nationwide turnout above 70% in 30 years and repeated polling suggests that the 18-24yr old turnout will be a record 60% or better. But with ideology and passion comes clear winners and clear losers. In part that is why this election is so much harder than those before. There is a trade-off and whoever wins the election will change the face of Britain.

I grew up hearing the phrase that “if you don’t vote for labour when you are young you have no heart and if you don’t vote conservative when you are older, you have no brain”. The polls seem to reflect this adage. Only 17% of 18-24yr olds are due to vote Conservative today, yet over 40% of 65+ voters will vote Conservative. So today I am in a minority in my nation and my generation. As I was for Brexit. So why be the contrarian? Why stand against your own generation and be different? Surely, they can’t all be wrong? And with all of these thoughts comes the question, why would anyone be a Conservative at all?

The charges against the Conservative party are steep. Consistent cuts to mental health, hospitals, schools and police for nearly 7 years, a Brexit campaign fought with no plan B and a leadership election straight after when leadership was most needed. A party that tacitly supports foxhunting, that supports nuclear weapons that could kill millions. A party that cuts taxes on businesses while reducing welfare to those most in need. A decade of lost wage growth and declining real incomes and a boom in food banks. Surely, my generation asks, it is time for something different.

Today stands Jeremy Corbyn as that “different”. An insider of parliament for 30yrs, yet an outsider in his party for most of them. An avowed pacifist, active human rights campaigner and strong defender of minorities. Especially immigrants and religious communities. A brand of politics where all are equal. A deal for the nation – a new social compact for the people. Sounds appealing doesn’t it?

It is difficult to be a Conservative because at its core, Conservatism is about faith. Not religious, though for some it may be. Rather, Conservatism is about faith in people. To be a Conservative means placing your faith that individuals excel when given the freedom to act and the opportunities to improve their own lives. Being a Conservative means holding a belief that it is not the State that can help an individual to find the drive, passion and bravery to excel in their lives. It is people themselves.

This election is about ideology and for many of my generation the wrong conclusions have been drawn. Conservatism is not about every man and woman for themselves, a free market gone wild. Rather, Conservatism is a belief that people know what matters to them more in their own lives than the state does and that people are better able to decide how to use scarce resources to improve their lives than the State.

In the UK today deep inequality and poverty exist. The question is how do we make them better. It is easy to talk about incomes and to compare ourselves to wages in Europe. This is deeply misleading. There is a reason why people from Europe have been desperate to come to the UK, USA and Germany. That reason is jobs. The UK Unemployment rate hovers around 5% and at around 11% for specifically the 18-24yr old range. In France those figures are around 11% and 20%. In Greece, they are nearer 25% and 40%. This is Conservatism in action. A belief that State intervention in job markets and in regulating businesses heavily, will more often tend to privilege a few rather than helping the many. This is the effect of Unionisation across Europe. Lower jobs and fewer opportunities for young people, to protect the few who have succeeded.

If you want to remove inequality and poverty you need to start with jobs. You also need to start by realising the nature of inequality. Today in the western world inequality is different to the 1980s and before. If you look at the houses of millionaires in London, the Home Counties and other leading cities across the UK and you’ll notice something quickly, many are no longer owned by Brits. The rich across the world are not defined by their nationalities. They move freely between nations depending on where they enjoy the highest quality of life for themselves, their families and their careers. London is a symptom of this, but no different to New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong or Geneva. The wealth that this group enjoys cannot be amended by new national taxes or by restrictions on investment. They simply move, as many did from France under President Hollande. No one from the France became richer since then and no-one in the UK will become richer after Labour’s tax raids either.

It is difficult to be a Conservative because people belief that Conservatives lack compassion. It seems brutal, shocking, barbaric and wrong to let people fail, communities fail and businesses fail, while allowing old beliefs and prejudices to exist. In the mindset of Labour and Socialism, this is why Conservatism is so deeply unpopular in public discourse. It is also why Conservatism and right-wing ideologies are so unpopular in the arts. Bands, dance troupes, painters, poets, writers, singers, all rely and draw from a deep community of people who broadly seek to expose the flaws in the world and to dream of better futures. Critiques of the past and a desire for a new idealist future is what drives concepts like Socialism, Futurism and Idealism. The present is awful, but the future can be better. Who doesn’t want a better future? Who is perfectly happy with the present? Often very few.

In the election today these ideas were barely discussed. The campaign focused on personal histories and efforts to show who would be better to handle Terrorism and Brexit. For many, myself included, our votes will have been cast without much enthusiasm. But our votes do matter and will have consequences. I voted Conservatives today because while Theresa May is our PM today, the Conservative party itself is over 100 years old. The belief that individuals can and should be trusted, supported and given the freedom to make a better life for themselves, rather than a patronising, paternalistic hand of the State determining the terms and conditions of our future, remains the core reason behind why I remain a proud Conservative.

Sometimes the right decisions are the most difficult ones. It is easy to be led by the heart and seduced by dreams of a better utopia. But life is about making tough choices and when it comes to determining who governs our nation in its period of deep transition, I put my faith in a party whose ideology is driven by trust in people. Being a Conservative isn’t easy, but it remains the right choice.