Theresa May has vowed that “a change is going to come” as she set out her plan for the Conservatives to occupy the centre ground of British politics and create “a country that works for everyone”.
In her keynote address to the Tory Party conference in Birmingham, the Prime Minister spoke of her determination to make Britain into a “Great Meritocracy” based on the values of “fairness and opportunity”.
She made a bold bid for traditional Labour territory, branding Jeremy Corbyn’s party “the new nasty party” and declaring that the Tories were now “truly the party of the workers, the party of the NHS, the party of public servants”.
And in a sharp break from small-state Conservatives such as Margaret Thatcher, she insisted that it was right for Government to use its powers for the public good by intervening to rein in “dysfunctional” markets and support key industries.
Conservatives should value not only wealth creation and success, but also a “spirit of citizenship” and a “sense of public service” that respects “the bonds and obligations that make society work”, she said.
She hailed the example of triathlete Alistair Brownlee, who helped his exhausted brother Jonny across the finishing line, as a demonstration of the “essential truth, that we succeed or fail together, we achieve together or fall short together”.
“That’s why the central tenet of my belief is that there is more to life than individualism and self-interest,” said Mrs May.
“We form families, communities, towns, cities, counties and nations. We have a responsibility to one another. And I firmly believe that government has a responsibility too.”
Mrs May said that the vote for Brexit in this year’s referendum reflected not just a desire to quit the EU but a “deep, profound and ... justified” sense that the world works for a privileged few but not for ordinary working-class people.
Describing it as a “revolution”, the Prime Minister said: “It was a vote not just to change Britain’s relationship with the European Union, but to call for a change in the way our country works - and the people for whom it works - forever.”
Acknowledging public frustration over unaffordable housing, stagnating wages, insecure jobs and pay undercut by low-skilled immigrants, she warned: “If we don’t respond - if we don’t take this opportunity to deliver the change people want - resentments will grow. Divisions will become entrenched.
“And that would be a disaster for Britain.”
Too many people in positions of power see themselves as part of an “international elite” and have little in common with those they employ or live among, she said.
In a message to well-paid bosses who fail to look after their staff or allow pension funds to go bust, multinationals that dodge tax and tech giants who refuse to co-operate with the authorities in the fight against terrorism, she said: “I’m putting you on warning. This can’t go on any more.”
She hinted at action against energy companies which put customers on overpriced tariffs and firms which exploit complex pricing structures to inhibit consumer choice.
“Where markets are dysfunctional, we should be prepared to intervene,” she said.