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In this week’s newsletter

  • A make or break week for the Government
  • Research: Conservative economics, school enrichment and R&D funding
  • Upcoming event on the crisis of masculinity

A big week. Make or break moments come round in Westminster more than they used to. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement this Thursday is another one. Jeremy Hunt needs to close a £55 billion gap in the public finances while keeping the public, the Conservative Party, and the markets onside. It’s hard to tell at this point which will be the trickiest customer. One thing is for certain: there is no public appetite for a return to austerity.

Honesty is the best policy. The most important economic task is restoring credibility. The most important political task is rebuilding the Government’s reputation for honesty. Onward’s recent polling found that the three words most associated with the Conservatives are “untrustworthy”, “dishonest”, and “self serving”. So sticking to manifesto promises will be important. While the policy case for the pensions triple lock gets weaker by the day, the political case remains strong: the Government needs to show it will keep its word.

Truly Tory? Just because the Chancellor will raise taxes on Thursday doesn’t mean his approach is un-Conservative. In a paper published by Onward last week, Tim Pitt set out the four principles that emerge from the long tradition of Conservative economic thinking: pragmatism, stewardship, One Nation, and empowerment. The Chancellor should build from these foundations when he steps up to the dispatch box. Tim’s paper received generous write ups from columnists including David Smith, Stephen Bush, and Martin Wolf.

Going for growth. The only way to get Britain out of our economic mess in the long term is boosting productivity. Investment in R&D is crucial to that mission – but the UK only spends around 2.4% of GDP on innovation, compared to over 3% in Germany and the US, over 4% in South Korea and over 5% in Israel. Public investment is only a small part of the answer – the Chancellor needs businesses to be investing in R&D. New Onward research this week looks at one step to turning those figures around: reforming R&D Tax Credits. The Treasury already spends a whopping £9 billion on these reliefs, and our paper sets out how to squeeze value out of every penny. 

Public Services Announcement. It seems the Chancellor will not make immediate cuts to departmental budgets. That’s the right call – although inflation will do some of that work for him.  Our polling has shown that improving public services is voters number one priority, and as the graph below shows that’s even higher among voters that have abandoned the Conservative Party. So how can public services get better with limited cash? Another new paper from Onward (yep, we’ve been busy) offers an answer in the realm of education: school enrichment. After-school clubs have proven benefits for grades and work readiness, but access is unequal by income and region. So Government needs to boost provision, harnessing the energy of parents and charities. As the Prime Minister looks beyond the Autumn Statement towards 2024, these sorts of positive policies should be a part of his vision.

What would you say needs the most improvement in Britain?

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Source: After the Fall, Onward 2019. Note: ‘Defector’ refers to a voter who has switched allegiance from the Conservative Party to another party, ‘Con 2019 > Don’t know’ refers to those who have switched to don’t know and ‘Core vote’ refers to Conservative voters.

News and media

Conservative economics. Onward Policy Fellow Tim Pitt’s paper on Conservative economic policy sparked much debate in the media, including columns from David Smith, Stephen Bush, Martin Wolf and David Frost

Going for growth. Onward Head of Science & Technology Matt Burnett wrote for City AM and PoliticsHome calling for the Government to maintain its commitment to R&D spending in this week’s Autumn Statement.

Upcoming events

Gender equality debates have historically focused on women and girls: their performance at school, participation and progression at work, and the gender pay gap. But growing evidence suggests that it is boys and men that we should be worried about. 

This “in conversation with” event will explore why boys and men are being left behind at school and in the workplace, the parallels between the US and UK contexts, and what policymakers can do to create a positive vision of masculinity that allows boys and men to flourish in modern societies. 

Sign up here.

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