A friend of mine, once armed with impeccable progressive credentials, recently came out s a Conservative - much to the bemusement of his family and many of his friends. With Neill's permission, here's the explanation he published on his Facebook page. Sure, this is just one person's story, but I wonder how many other people might have come to similar conclusions after 12 years of Labour government. Anyway, I think this a pretty persuasive critique of Labour in power:
I joined the Labour party at university in 1997 - think Spice Girls, Austin Powers, black-and-white photography - and campaigned enthusiastically for Labour in the May landslide. I became Chair of my university Labour club, secretary of the local branch in Leeds, got active with the Young Fabians and Young Labour. I looked forward to the progressive consensus and hoped that - in the words of the slogan - economic progress and social justice would go hand-in-hand. On so many issues I cared about, the Conservatives were on the wrong side: Bank of England independence, the minimum wage, devolution, abolishing section 28, higher spending on health and education.
After I left Leeds in 1999, I got a bit of a shock. Now in the workplace, I experienced some of the negative effects of government policy first-hand. Working on diversity for a multinational, I saw how official family-friendliness was undermining the business case for flexible work and actually hurting families. Running charity projects in Scotland, I saw how welfare spending was being wasted on a merry-go-round of short-term programmes. Setting up a small business, I experienced the burden of paperwork and tax which prevented us from growing and employing more people. The gap between rhetoric and reality was enormous.
By 2005, I knew I was in the wrong party. The war on terror was being used as an excuse for relentlessly attacking our freedoms. An obsession with top-down targets was distorting public services but costing taxpayers more. Headlines, personalities and electoral strategy were all that was driving policy. After a long period of angst I finally left.
I hate political inactivity - in fact, I think it's immoral. But in the last four years, nothing has happened to make me reconsider. Labour has revealed its true colours: it is an authoritarian, high-spending, command-and-control party. Under Brown, it has even distanced itself from its few achievements, for example, watering down the Academies programme which has given such remarkable opportunities to kids in the inner-cities.
In modern terms, I would describe myself as a liberal conservative. I believe that people must be free if they are to make the moral choices which give life value. Our economy should be founded on sound money and living within our means, not bouts of debt funded by taxpayer bailouts. Schools and hospitals should be accountable to local families, not Whitehall box-tickers. Poverty must be addressed at its roots, rather than cynically skimming employable people into work and shouting "success". The constitution must be repaired from recent vandalism to protect our democracy and fundamental liberties.
Needless to say, I pretty much agree with all of this. Lord knows, the Tories will disappoint us in the future, but for now that's less important than defeating the current government.