Book Review: Britannia Unchained by Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss

By Matthew Gass

It’s that time of year again. Rumours of a post summer Cabinet reshuffle are in the air. Returning with them is the debate over whether preference should go to the longer serving MPs who did the heavy lifting in opposition or if it’s time to promote some of the younger, more media savvy intake of 2010.

If the latter route was chosen, the authors of Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity, a group of freshman MPs who are part of the influential Free Enterprise Group of MPs, would be at the top of anyone’s list.

One of the authors, Elizabeth Truss, already made a splash shortly after the books publication as Children’s Minister fronting the Government’s push to make childcare more affordable. The others, Chris Skidmore, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Kwasi Kwarteng, have also maintained a high profile since taking office.

Their on-going literary efforts have been at the heart of this group’s continued recognition. Their 2011 book, After the Coalition, made it clear the group was already looking to the future, setting out issues and policies for the Conservative Party to address to ensure it maintained its own identity in the Coalition and continues to promote a free enterprise agenda.

Britannia Unchained follows on from this discussion with a deeper look at Britain’s place in the world economy, the weaknesses which are holding it back and strengths opportunities which, if properly seized upon, will propel it into the years ahead. The book is organised into chapters which apply this formula to issues such as education, deficit reduction and enterprise. This approach presumably the product of a division of labour, allows each author to focus on their strengths while collectively strengthening the credentials of the group as a whole.

The book is very heavy on stats and citations (from a glace at my Kindle’s tracking the citations took up over 30% of the book’s length). This has the effect of making the book feel shorter than it appears. That said they might be able to teach Chris Bryant a few lessons in fact checking after last week’s immigration debacle.

If the book has a weakness it is that at times the multi-author, multi-issue format can make it seem disjointed. The chapters are better seen as standalone articles or manifesto passages. It also means that, while each passage is thoroughly researched, they can feel quite thinly spread. This book will not make you an expert in any one issue. It will though give readers a good idea of the challenges facing Britain in the globalised economy and a free market approach to how these challenges should be met.

The running theme that binds the work together is clear – that serious liberalising reforms are necessary to reverse a decline in international competitiveness and avoid what the author’s describe as “an inevitable slide into mediocrity”.

Just as Michael Gove borrowed from Sweden with the Free Schools policy, the authors borrow liberally from experiences in other countries which Britain could learn from, be it the venture capital model that has turned Israel into a technology hub or Canada’s experience with deficit reduction in the 1990s.

For almost each problem mentioned it is possible to point to work the Coalition is doing to address it. A large portion of the section on education deals with grade inflation and the proliferation of easy appearing subjects with little relation to an eventual career. This past week’s A-level results show that progress is being made here.

However Britannia Unchained argues that there is a lot of work left to do, and that the Conservatives have no shortage of talent to tackle these problems.


Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity is published by Palgrave Macmillan

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