Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The facile "principles" of David Cameron's "New" Conservatives

Whilst nothing in politics is absolutely certain the high probability is that David Cameron’s Conservatives will win a comfortable majority in next year’s UK General Election – the Tories first taste of power since 1997. Analysing the reason for electorates’ choices in free and fair elections keeps psephologists happy and busy for years but it is reasonable to predict that the expected Conservative victory will be put down to three main factors. Firstly there is the “time for a change” imperative. One Party in power for longer than twelve years is rare in any proper democracy and Britain is no different. Second there is the Brown factor. He is not a popular Prime Minister and he doesn’t have the charisma to rally his own troops let alone the uncommitted. Thirdly there is the understandable feeling that there are just too many policy issues on which Labour has failed and that there is nothing to lose in giving the other lot a go. Fatigue, a leader with an unattractive personality and dissatisfaction with performance – a powerful negative cocktail against the incumbents.

Note that none of these factors is remotely ideological. Labour is not unpopular because it is too left wing any more than the Conservatives will be rejected because they are too right wing. Ideology will not drive the next election and on policy there will allegedly be precious few differences between the two main parties. Back in 1966 Alf Ramsey won the World Cup with an England football team dubbed the “wingless wonders” – his team rejected the old-fashioned style of having a left wing and a right wing whose jobs it was to belt down the touchline and cross the ball. And so it is with the wingless wonders of modern British politics. Tony Blair wasn’t left wing – not a bit. He played somewhere in the midfield and sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left. He was pretty good at it too and defenders found it difficult to stop him scoring goals – three election victories pay tribute to that. David Cameron admires Blair – as well he might. On the face of it Cameron will occupy the same part of the field of play as Blair did - another wingless wonder. Or is he?

Whilst the Conservatives have been out of power the party has been quietly shifting and doing this with absolutely just one objective in mind – to regain power. That means, of course, that the changes are principally about presentation and managing public perceptions. It is all very calculated and careful – even bland. The people are tired of the present lot so let’s not give them any reasons not to vote for us. Safety first! Remind you of anybody? It’s pure Blair/Campbell/Mandelson. So there is little or no playing down the right wing – at least not in the brightest spotlights of the stage on which the drama will unfold. But back in the dressing rooms and in the playwrights’ garrets some pretty nasty things are actually underway – this next Conservative intake, the new MPs who will give Cameron his majority, have some decidedly dodgy policy ideas in mind.

Let’s take as an example of the new Tories the man who has just won the right to stand for the party in Bracknell – a solidly safe seat. His name is Dr Phillip Lee a hard-working youngish (39) and popular General Practitioner in the town. Sounds a good choice doesn’t he? Someone who has done a noble and proper job – unlike his party leader, who faffed around in a phoney role with Carlton, a trashy TV company, before politics took over. So what are Mr Lee’s politics – well his website will tell you. His “guiding political principles are:

1. The value of small government
2. The value of low taxation
3. The importance of personal responsibility
4. The value of liberty
5. The supremacy of the Nation state

I wonder how many Tory candidates at the General Election will be standing on a similar facile, empty and prejudiced platform. These bland “principles” aren’t principles at all – they are ignorant right-wing claptrap. Why? Well let’s briefly take them apart:

1. Insufficiently interventionary Governments caused the financial crises in the United States and Britain. Smaller government would have made this worse not better.

2. Everyone would like “low taxation” but in a mixed economy taxes have to be at an appropriate level to maintain life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all – and you can’t leave those things to the market!

3. “Personal responsibility” is easy for those like Mr Lee who are professionals, personally committed to public service and comfortably off. It’s a bit more difficult for an ill-educated and socially-deprived single mother on a sink estate.

4. “Liberty” is a subjective concept. A basic principle of any society is that freedoms have to be curtailed to some extent. And that is the job of Government. To “value liberty” is a platitude – to propose where the line between personal freedoms and the public good should be drawn is much more difficult. Real Politik!

5. The “Supremacy of the Nation State” is another platitude and facile code for being a Eurosceptic. At the heart of the modern world is the principle that whilst the Nation State is of course supreme there is an unavoidable need for partnerships across national borders. Whether it is the UN or NATO or the EU some surrendering of national sovereignty is not just essential - it is morally right.

Mr Lee doesn’t seem to be an extremist and I don’t doubt that he will be a good consistency MP. But do we really want a parliament dominated by people with the type of politics that allowed him comfortably to secure the Conservative nomination from the good burghers of Bracknell? It’s Thatcherism if you think about it – Mrs T would have no problem with any of Mr Lee’s “principles” – and we need the return of Thatcherism in Britain like we need holes in our heads!