Friday, September 07, 2007

The time has come ....

...for the Conservative Party to give us all some idea of what it stands for and on what platform, broadly speaking, it intends to fight the next election (now even less likely to happen this autumn). David Cameron has now been leader for almost two years and he has spent a great deal of time proclaiming his desire, readiness and ability to reform the party, to go forward, to change things if needs be.

Yes, yes, yes. But what are those new ideas that are going to carry the party and its supporters forward into power and thence into the history books to rival Margaret Thatcher’s well assured position?

Well thanks to the editor and deputy editor of the Toryboy blog we have been directed to David Cameron’s speech today in Millbank Tower, delivered to CCHQ staff, candidates and journalists.

In the subsequent discussion on the blog, the Deputy Editor, one Sam Coates, dismissed criticisms with the words “give the cynicism a break, this is exciting stuff”. I like the lad but I do think he should get out more. As I have already pointed out, cynicism is the new favourite accusation levelled by Tories at anyone who raises objections. They are all turning into Madeleine Bassetts. (Mind you, when I mentioned this wonderful role model to wannabe Tory Mayoral candidate, Andrew Boff, when he asked me why I was so cynical, he assured me that he had never heard of her, never read any books and did not believe in book-learning. What an example to us all.)

So, believing that it is time for the Conservative Party to come up with some answers to those troubling questions we all keep asking (they want our votes so they do have to come up with some answers) I read the speech through, line by line. Actually, there are not that many lines in it, as the Boy-King’s speeches abide by the normal political pattern of short sentences and wide spaces between the lines.

I can see why he might need to have it typed up like that for the delivery but why keep it like that for those who might want to read it? Perhaps, because he assumes that none of us can read very well and need all the help we can get. I suppose we ought to be grateful the speech is not all in capitals.

Actually, it is well constructed, so somebody in his team has finally grasped the rules of rhetoric. There is a hypnotic repetition of “You don’t need a Citizens [sic] Jury for that, you just need a Conservative Government” and an apostrophe but let that pass.

Citizens’ Juries are fair game, being one of Gordon Brown’s dafter ideas among his so-called constitutional reforms.

Another hypnotic repetition comes towards the end. I don’t mean the several references to “that’s modern Conservatism”, a statement that remains meaningless, especially with the word “compassionate” pushed in there. We really do not need your compassion, young David. Nobody does. But there are several references to Conservatives believing in freedom, which is the only way one can have responsibilities as well as rights.

Goody-goody I thought. I must have missed the explanation of what the Boy-King meant by freedom in the speech. So, dutifully, I went back to find it. Frankly, if young Tories like the Deputy Editor of Toryboy blog, find this stuff exciting, we really are in trouble.

The dullest, vaguest, most generalized political burble it was, giving a little bit here and a little bit there but never anything new and exciting. Goodness me, what’s with these youngsters? Don’t they want any genuinely radical ideas?

It is the job of the Leader of the Opposition to sneer at and attack the Prime Minister and, to be fair, the Boy-King does it with some panache. Then what?

He tells us about the country as it is likely to be under a Conservative government (shades of that unfortunate Hague speech):
But I want you to imagine an education system where parents have a real choice of strong, independent schools within the state sector that set their own rules on discipline …

… where the teachers are happy and proud to do their jobs without interference from on high …

… where the kids are well behaved because the parents have made a commitment to that school and a real emotional investment in it.
Does this mean some kind of a general reform is being envisaged that will change the entire educational system? Well, errm, no. As we know from previous pronouncements, Our Dave is not really interested in doing anything except tinkering at the edges – those failing schools – and supporting the City Academies introduced by Labour.
Imagine an NHS …

… where you can go to your GP and they have the freedom to get the best care for your needs instead of being bogged down in rules and regulations …

... where the local hospital is being saved and improved instead of being closed down …

… and where the doctors and nurses have the time and the energy to treat you like a king instead of having to give you the brush-off because of all the red tape and targets they’re drowning in.
Are we to expect a radical reform of the health service in this country turning it from the old-socialist creaking machinery into a new and capable one, worthy of this country and of the amount of money that is being spent on it? I think not.
We don’t need Citizens Juries to work out what to do about social breakdown - everyone knows what needs to happen.

You start with strong families, and then you need discipline in schools, active policing on the streets, strong communities with things for young people to do.

You need welfare reform to get people off benefits and into work, tough punishments
when people break the law, and every citizen to play their part in delivering it.

Imagine a world where you know your local police officer and they know you because they’re out there in the community, free of all the ridiculous targets and paperwork and accountable to you because you voted for their boss.
Tax reform to ensure that those on low income do not pay any and, therefore, do not have to claim benefits? Not that I know of. In fact, do not mention tax reform or public sector reform. The Tories are committed to spending as much as Labour on the public sector. Probably more.
Imagine local councils that are free to respond to the needs of the local area because they have real power instead of being secondguessed by Whitehall the whole time.

They know their areas, the problems, the opportunities … give them the money, let them get on with the job and let the local population use the ballot box to reward the good and chuck out the bad.
Give them the money, eh? So, we are not looking at any ideas of locally raised taxes to spend by local councils to be accountable to the local population? Doesn’t look like it. No freedom there, folks. We’ll tell you the extent of that freedom and how much money you can spend.

This must be the most puzzling of all the statements:
Imagine a Britain where a government says to its people we want you to keep more of the money you earn to spend as you choose …
because we will share the proceeds of economic growth instead of spending all the money ourselves.
Call me old-fashioned but I have always assumed that the best way for people to keep more of the money they earn, thus taking responsibility for many more parts of their existence, is …. errm …. not have that money taken away in tax to “share the proceeds of economic growth”. What on earth does this mean? Who is this we? Is the government responsible for economic growth and the money one earns? Are we entitled only to the share the government decides we should have?

Oh and by the way, how’s that about not spending all the money ourselves? Matter of semantics maybe but it seems to me that if you decide how the money, which is not yours, is to be shared out, you are spending it yourselves.

Still, apparently, it’s OK to bang on about Europe now.
Forget about those on the left who say I shouldn’t talk about Europe, crime or lower taxes …

… or those on the right who say I shouldn’t talk about the NHS, the environment or well-being.

That is a false choice and I will not make it.

All these areas of policy matter to people in Britain today and they are all long overdue for the modern Conservative freedom and control agenda.
It was just those nasty people on the left. Our Dave always wanted to talk about Europe. Well, not too much, you understand but certainly a call for a referendum, because it has been promised. Sufficient unto the day, I suppose.

Of course, it is nonsense to say that people on the right do not want him to talk about the NHS or the environment. What they would like to see is some new and radical ideas not that hokum he keeps coming up with, which involves more tax, more regulation and no freedom from the state run public sector.

As for well-being, I really do not see who on any side of the party wants him to talk about it. Sadly, it reminds me of Stalin’s triumphant pronouncement: “Zhit’ stalo lutchshe, zhit’ stalo veselee”. Life has become better, life has become happier. What kind of an idea is that for a Conservative leader to aspire to?

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