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:
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.
Someone needs to tell Tom Harris MP that the "Unionist" in the "Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party" referred to the Union with Ireland, not that between Scotland and England.
Equally, the fact that the Conservatives (in London) and the SNP (in Edinburgh) sometimes seem to be reciting similar talking points should scarcely come as any great surprise: the Labour party is their common enemy. True, the Conservatives oppose the Nationalists north of the border but as far as the UK party is concerned that's a secondary front and one, more particularly, on which there's little need for a fresh offensive this year.
If, as Alan Cochrane hints, the Scottish Tories have dropped "Unionist" from their name then fine, even if they might actually be better off dropping the "Conservative" bit. That remains a tainted, even toxic, brand in Scotland - not least because the electorate doesn't care that the Tories have spent the past decade on their knees begging forgiveness for their supposed sins. As is so often the case, the Bavarian model is the attractive one here.
Cochrane asks how the Tories are supposed to win back support if they don't distinguish their attacks from those salvoes the SNP are hurling at Labour. Well, the easy answer is that they can't and so they should concentrate on a) incremental gains and b) winning the Battle of Ideas. That means having some.
Since it is the nature of the electoral map that an SNP-Tory alliance is the safest, most natural way of defeating Scottish Labour, the Tory agenda should concentrate on developing policy ideas that, if implemented in coalition with the nationalists (a trick the Tories missed: Salmond is happier alone than he would have been in an SNP-Tory coalition) would move the governance of Scotland to the right and, theoretically, therefore in an encouraging direction.
Sure, there's the constitutional question, but the Tories ought perhaps to have some faith in the people: there might be some desire for the devolution of additional powers to Holyrood, but there is no massive groundswell of support for outright independence. At least not yet. But that's a battle and an argument for another day. The bottom line is that the Tories can't fight Labour and the Nationalists simultaneously. That means they need to be opportunists, shamelessly so in fact and take their chances wherever they arise.
I maintain however that the Scottish Tories should prefer a Nationalist ministry in Edinburgh to a Labour one. It presents greater opportunity (not least because there are, after all, quite a number of Tories inside the SNP, whereas there are none in the Labour party.)
There are times when it's good to be away from the hurly-burly of American politics. Doubly so when the subject of gay marriage comes up. Here, for instance, is a story it is hard to imagine happening in the United States: Nick Herbert, the Conservative party's Shadow Justice secretary has apparently become the second member of David Cameron's Shadow Cabinet, to enter into a civil partnership. It's hard to imagine too many senior gay Republicans feeling comfortable doing this, let alone doing so with the blessing of the party's leader and their constituency assosciation.
Then again, gay marriage in Britain has, generally speaking, been decoupled from religion. (Of course, some would say that everything else in Britain has been, so why not marriage too). Now maybe American conservatives (of one degree of religiosity or another) are correct that this sort of thing heralds the end of everything, but if so it's striking how relaxed their British counterparts, for the most part, are about this imminent descent to Sodom.
Best bits? The story of Herbert's marriage was broken by the Sunday Telegraph's diary column. That is to say it's gossip, not news. Better still? Herbert worked for the British Field Sports Society (ie, the fox-hunting and grouse-shooting lobby) for six years before entering parliament. Culturally at least, that organisation is to the Tory party rather what the the National Rifle Association is to the GOP.
On one level this is trivial stuff, but it's a reminder that the Republican party is increasingly out of step with its sister conservative parties around the world. That's not, in itself, necessarily a terrible thing but it ought to be borne in mind next time someone suggests that there are wholly applicable lessons to be drawn from Britain/Canada/Australia/Wherever. (You mean, pieces like this one? Er, yeah.) The fun lies in the differences, not the similarities - even if pundits are necessarily drawn to finding the latter and smoothing over the former.
Commenting on this post Ian Leslie - aka Marbury - argues that we're on the brink of a new era and that just as Callaghan was right to appreciate that one era had ended in 1976, so Darling and El Gordo may be correct to suppose that another has been shipwrecked now. Maybe.
Well, are the Tories really proposing "doing nothing"? Granted, their proposals haven't been especially persuasive either. But to say - for the sake of argument - that Labour's proposals are better than what the Tories have to offer is a long way from supposing that Labour's plans should be supported. A rotten plan is not necessarily better than no plan.
At times like these it doesn't really matter what the opposition hae to say: after all they're in no position to do anything. It's rather like the ERM debacle* - the electorate rightly viewed Britain's ejection from the system as a humiliating defeat for the government and a repudiation of their claims to sound economic management and so on. Never mind that the Tories were vastly less enthusiastic about joining the exchange rate mechanism than were Labour. The opposition's policy was revealed to be even more lumpen and untenable than the government's but because they were the opposition they got away with it. And that's more or less how it should be.
Perhaps Brown's gamble will work, but I'd be more enthusiastic about it if he hadn't told a bunch of lies while selling it. Also, I'm peeved, once again, that taxes on booze and tobacco are going up. Again. Nearly 80% of the price of a packet of cigarettes now goes to the government - a rate that would be considered immoral and confiscatory if applied to income - so if there are any Russian/Polish/Balkan smugglers reading this, well, do get in touch...
*Norman Lamont, the hapless Chancellor presiding over the disaster was, like Alistair Darling, schooled at Loretto, a smallish Scottish public school outside Edinburgh. Can this be a coincidence? I think not. The lesson is obvious: never appoint a Lorettonian Chancellor.
At Culture11 today, I've a piece offering, however impertinently, some advice to the Republican party.That is to say, I suggest five lessons they could learn from the Conservatives' revival in Britain. The extent to which they are applicable, let alone replicable, in the United States, may differ of course. But they are notions, not policy prescriptions, broadly summarised as:
Check the rest out here.
As expected, David Cameron's speech has been well received. In the Telegraph, Iain Martin says this was the moment Cameron "came out as a Conservative". Indeed so. But amidst the sobriety and the resolution, there were moments of populist blue meat too. The BBC's mini-focus group particularly loved this passage:
For Labour there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance. You cannot run our country like this.
It is why, when we look at what’s happening to our country, we can see that the problem is not the leader; it’s Labour. They end up treating people like children, with a total lack of trust in people’s common sense and decency. This attitude, this whole health and safety, human rights act culture, has infected every part of our life. If you’re a police officer you now cannot pursue an armed criminal without first filling out a risk assessment form. Teachers can’t put a plaster on a child’s grazed knee without calling a first aid officer. Even foreign exchanges for students…you can’t host a school exchange any more without parents going through an Enhanced Criminal Record Bureau Check.
Exactly. When you hear about this sort of stuff, you do not need to be a Daily Mail reader to scream "What is wrong with this country?" I'd assumed that this nonsense about criminal record checks had to be made up. But no, it's actually true. Then again, why should I be surprised? This summer a school-teacher told me that "Health and Safety" regulations meant boys could no longer practice in the cricket nets absent adult supervision.
Cameron may have (mistakenly) disavowed libertarianism yesterday, but this is fertile territory for the Tories, appealling to the British version of the Leave Us Alone coalition. There are plenty of votes out there in Why-oh-Why land. Heck, even Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South, seems to despair of the culture his party's government has fostered. As I say, this is a subject the Tories should return to time and time again. Are you mad as hell? You should be. Are you going to take it anymore? You damn well shouldn't...
Ben Brogan suspects the financial crisis is an advantage for Gordon Brown. Perhaps it is. In the short-term. Make that in the very short-term. But in the medium to long-term it's another millstone dragging him to the bottom. Danny Finkelstein is, I believe, correct:
This election will not be fought in the middle of a crisis. It will be fought in the depressed aftermath that results from the crisis. The politics of these two moments are quite different.
In a crisis people will be small 'c' conservatives, clinging to experience. They fear losing what they have got. But the literature on loss aversion suggests that in the depressed aftermath, when things are already bad, they will take a risk, and plump for change.
So even if I were inclined to believe that the electorate are willing to give Brown a second chance - which I am not - I don't think Labour can win using experience against change.
David Cameron's speech to the Tory party conference was many things: sober, calm, astute, sophisticated. But most of all it was the kind of speech that can only be given by a politician who knows he's ready to win. He framed the Experience vs Change argument well, putting it in terms that anyone who has been following the American presidential election closely will understand:
But this is a country not a television station. A good government thinks for the long term. If we win we will inherit a huge deficit and an economy in a mess. We will need to do difficult and unpopular things for the long term good of the country. I know that. I’m ready for that.
And there is a big argument I want to make – about the financial crisis and the economic downturn, yes but about the other issues facing the country too. It’s an argument about experience. To do difficult things for the long-term or even to get us through the financial crisis in the short term what matters more than experience is character and judgment, and what you really believe needs to happen to make things right. I believe that to rebuild our economy, it’s not more of the same we need, but change. To repair our broken society, it’s not more of the same we need, but change.
Experience is the excuse of the incumbent over the ages. Experience is what they always say when they try to stop change. In 1979, James Callaghan had been Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chancellor before he became Prime Minister. He had plenty of experience. But thank God we changed him for Margaret Thatcher.
Just think about it: if we listened to this argument about experience, we’d never change a government, ever. We’d have Gordon Brown as Prime Minister – for ever.
Gordon Brown talks about his economic experience. The problem is, we have actually experienced his experience. We’ve experienced the massive increase in debt. We have experienced the huge rise in taxes. We experienced the folly of pretending that boom and bust could be ended. This is the argument we will make when the election comes. The risk is not in making a change. The risk is sticking with what you’ve got and expecting a different result. There is a simple truth for times like this. When you’ve taken the wrong road, you don’t just keep going. You change direction – and that is what we need to do. So let’s look at how we got here – and how we’re going to get out.
Was it a perfect speech? No. Did he have to be mean (and inaccurately so, to boot) about libertarianism? I wish he hadn't. But then again there's not a great constituency for libertarianism here. Still, overall, it was a fine effort and streets ahead of anything El Gordo (or, for that matter, John McCain) can offer right now. It was, dare one say it, a rather Thatcheresque speech, albeit Thatcherism retooled for the 21st century. Tough, but ambitious; sober yet audacious. Above all, it screamed: it's time for change we can all believe in.
Notice what's missing from this Guardian scoop?
A third runway at Heathrow airport would be scrapped by a Tory government that would instead build a £20bn TGV-style high speed rail link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
In one of David Cameron's boldest moves on the environment, the party will today unveil plans to cut 66,000 flights a year from Heathrow by tempting passengers on to the first new rail line north of London in more than a century.
Well, working on the dubious presumption that this track will actually be built (let alone that it will be delivered on time and on budget), you'll notice that these new lines don't run as far as Glasgow and Edinburgh. Perhaps there's a sound economic case for restricting high-speed rail to the English midlands and Yorkshire and Lancashire. But politically, you'd have thought the Conservatives - still, supposedly, a Unionist party - would have seen the upside to including the great frozen north in their plans.
And it's not as though you couldn't have better transport links to the south. At the moment it takes, if you're lucky, 4 hours and 20 minutes to travel 394 miles from Edinburgh to London by train. By contrast, the 307 miles between Paris and London can be completed in as little as 2 hours 15 minutes, thanks to the high-speed Eurostar service.
How will Lbour fight the next election? Stupidly, it seems. According to a briefing paper obtained by the Guardian, Labour "has decided to attack the Conservatives at the next election as an unreconstructed, dangerous rightwing party that is only masking its true instincts behind slick positioning." Oh dear. Labour argue that:
I have no idea what the final sentence means, but many people must look at this "analysis" and sigh, "If only that were true..." But it isn't which, from an electoral point of view, suits the Tories fine. Has the party really changed? By which I mean, has it paid its penance for the mistakes of the Major years? Yes. Not to the extent that those errors have been entirely forgotten - though Cameron's decontamination project has been remarkably successful - but sufficiently for the public to consider the Tories the lesser of two evils now that the Labour brand has become deathly toxic itself.
How can one measure these things? Well, fluff like this story in Tatler helps show the way in which the wind is blowing. And yes, it's PR nonsense - but meaningful PR nonsense nonetheless. Five women, a Sikh, a black chap and another with family in the West Indies. This is not, even at the PR level, your daddy's Tory party.
Labour seem to think they can destroy the Tories. Well, they probably have to if they're to have any hope of avoiding humiliation: but these are the tactics of a party that's run out of ideas or ambition. It's the tired tactics of a tired party that can no longer answer the question what are we about?
As if to underline this, consider that it was the Tories who ran an advertising campaign with the terrible slogan: New Labour, New Danger. Now the Labour party seems determined to make just the same mistake. On the one hand they're claiming that the Tories haven't really changed - though the public thinks they have, just as the public was smart enough to realise Blair was not a Kinnock or a Foot or even a Smith - on the other they're acknolwedging that there is something new about the Tories. You cannae have it both ways Gordon.
The best Brown can hope for is to make this a replay of 1992. Then another unelected PM, new to the job, defied the pundits and won a surprising endorsement from the electorate. Of course, in the long run this proved a good defeat for Labour and a rotten victory for the Tories. And in the unlikely event Labour do scrape a victory next time around, it will prove every bit as poisonous to Brown as winning did to Major. But it's also unlikely: Major was a fresh fce who, to the public at least, exhibited a rather old fashioned, very English, brand of petit-bourgeois decency. People liked him, found him nice, even if they couldn't quite understand why. Only later did they start to see this decency as weakness. Brown, by contrast, has been at the heart of government for more than a decade. The voters know what to think of him. They have delivered their verdict: guilty.
Labour say that the Tories are "opposed to strong, active government" which is only sort of half-true at th ebest of times. The public, however, is more likely to point out that mere competence would represent a hefty change from the nonentities and numpties currently mismanaging affairs. In the end, unless the opposition is unusually loopy (hello, 1983!) elections are won and lost on the government's record. It's not a good sign when the party in power is reduced to running a witlessly negative campaign. Not a good sign for that party, of course, rather different for the rest of us.
Since Camilla Cavendish makes some points in her Times column today that are similar to some I made about David Miliband's leadership challenge yesterday, I obviously think she's written a fine, penetrating piece. As she says,
In policy terms, it is the Conservatives who have so far seemed optimistic about the ability of people to make decisions for themselves, and Labour that has made devolving power to a few hospitals and headteachers look like an am-dram production, involving more histrionics and agonising than Racine. The irony is that where it has devolved most power - to Scotland and Wales - it has let nationalists hollow out its core vote.
This last point - about devolution - is not quite right. I was discussing this with my father the other night, as we recalled that it's often forgotten that the Tories were devolutionists before Labour were converted to the idea of Home Rule. Now, of course, the Conservatives retreated from Ted Heath's Declaration of Perth while Labour slowly - very slowly in fact, once you remember that the 1979 referendum was effectively killed by a Labour amendment - moved in the opposite direction.
But Labour moved, not because it wanted to do anything in Scotland but because it wanted to stop things from happening. Labour's support for devolution was essentially negative: a parliament in Edinburgh would spike the nationalists' guns and, just as importantly, protect Scotland from the supposed ravages of Thatcherism. In that respect, Labour stood athwart the constitution and yelled "stop". Out of power at Westminster and menaced by nationalist snipers, the Scottish Labour party cut itself off from its allies south of the border (presuming, arrogantly, that the English had no say or interest in constitutional matters) and retreated into its compound with no clear idea of what it wanted to do in power but very firm convictions as to what it was against.
This being the case, it's hardly a surprise that the party's performance in power proved so disappointing. (Not helped, of course, by the fact that most of Labour's A-List talent resided at Westminster not Holyrood). Labour seemed more interested in office for the sake of office. Power predicated on a negative programme for government can only be sustained for so long before the voters lose patience. And that is exactly what has happened.
The Tories, of course, were slow to realise that, no matter how much they disliked the idea, devolution was here to stay. But localism and subsidiarity should be Tory principles, leaving the door open for a revival of centre-right politics in Scotland. They blew that opportunity, of course, leaving the door open for the SNP to advance.
Then again, as I've written before, outside the constitutional question, there was an opportunity for the Tories to form a de facto alliance with the nationalists that could have, if they had been bolder or more imaginative, revived centre-right politics in Scotland while also limiting the nationalists room for manoevre. But it wasn't to be, though of course it may yet come to pass in the future. At some point conservatives in Scotland may have to ask whether the Union is more important to them than a centre-right revival. That's a matter for another day, however...
If [David] Cameron embraced an agenda like the one outlined in Grand New Party, he would likely be accused of being a libertarian radical hellbent on destroying the most cherished parts of Britain’s welfare state.
This, alas, is true. Too bad. Which reminds me that I've been lax in not blogging about Messrs Salam and Douthat's new book. Will rectify that shortly. But not today, as the city calls. All of which is to say: buy the book. It's excellent.
Everyone agreed that David Davis's resignation yesterday was extraordinary political theatre and that it would be a rash man who predicted its consequences. Some pundits were prepared to acknowledge the bravura - even the foolhardy courage - of Davis's decision to risk ridicule and disaster on a supposedly quixotic personal crusade but, as the presses rooled and Friday's editorials and analysis columns were pinged onto the internet, something remarkable happened: after a day spent wondering how brave a man must be to predict the consequences of Davis's actions, the Westminster press corps and its gaggle of pundits and metropolitan swells came to a single conclusion: David Davis must be mad.
Dissenting voices are hard to find. Almost to a man (and woman) Westminster has a) acknowledged that this takes us into unchartered waters and b) declared this a disaster for David Cameron, C0 an invitation to humiliation for David Davis and d) a blessed relief for Gordon Brown. Even if there were no other factors to consider, this stunning example of the herd mentality in action should give one pause to ponder whether, hardly for the first time, the Westminster pack may be wrong.
I do not say that it is, merely that the view from inside the Westminster bubble is not the only view. This is especially true when the herd finds itself in unfamiliar territory. The temptation is always to follow the pack for fear of being left behind; isolated, alone, foolish. I do not mean to be critical here; after all, some of my friends run in this pack. But the lobby, like all organisations, is vulnerable to groupthink and it is at least possible that, for understandable reasons, its members have in this case sought comfort from the body-heat of the political herd. In America this might be called "Beltwayitis" and it's scarcely unknown for sufferers of this particular affliction to be surprised by the public mood. Fraser Nelson and, remarkably, Simon Heffer see to have been among the few who have survived this virus.
But, say Labour and some pundits, the public supports Gordon Brown on 42 Days! Of all the topics upon which to oppose the Prime Minister, David Davis has picked the one in which, almost uniquely, Brown has the upper hand! What further proof could there be that egomania has caused some kind of seizure in the Davis cranium? Well, perhaps. But then again, perhaps not. These Labour sods should be careful what they wish for. In the short-term they have avoided the Sunday newspapers focusing upon the bribery of MPs, but is that enough?
The public, or at least a goodly swathe of it, may give Davis credit precisely because he has, on the face of it, put himself on the supposedly unpopular side of the argument. In a cynical age in which voters have become accustomed to discount everything politicians say as being no more than the product of focus groups and an innate, oleaginous desire to pander, there's much to be said for a politician who, by deed as well as action, cuts through the chaff of spin and declares in yeoman fashion: This is who I am, this is what I believe. Sceptics will say the public won't wear this, but even sceptics are sometimes wrong.
I have some, admittedly anecdotal, evidence to support this view. It was striking, yesterday, how many of my friends declared themselves impressed by Davis's "stunt". "Brilliant" and "inspiring" said one, "Bloody hell... [I] always sneakily liked David Davis" was another's opinion. "I never thought I'd see the day where I am speechless with admiration for a Tory Shadow Home Secretary" was one view; another was the declaration that "I am trying and failing to reconcile 'The only good Tory is a dead Tory' with David Davis's apparent good health". Now, yes, these people are my friends, but they are, in these instances, friends who vote Labour or Liberal Democrat. A tiny, unusually well-educated and in no way respresentative sample for sure, but not, as the Americans say, chopped liver either. Merely the chuntering of the elite? Well, perhaps, but I rather suspect the public (whom I have mocked on this issue) may grant Davis a better hearing than the punditocracy has seen fit to do.
And consider too that the reputation of parliament - and parliamentarians - is at a low ebb. The public has good reason to view MPs with suspicion. Scarcely a week goes by without fresh revelations about MPs lavish expense accounts or their ability to put close relatives on the gravy train payroll. All this brings parliament into disrepute and rightly so. And now here's David Davis resigning from parliament on a point of principle. How refreshing! What a change! How admirable! There will, I bet, be many voters who might not agree with Davis on much, or indeed anything, who find themselves drawn to the idea of a politician who risks his career for a point of principle. The electorate is fed-up; it is in a sour, rancourous mood. The suspicion politicians must learn to endure is curdling into revulsion, creating a situation in which an honest man can earn lavish, even embarrassingly generous, garlands simply by virtue of standing upon principle. Is it really too far-fetched to suppose that David Davis might in some way benefit from this public mood?
David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, resigns his seat to fight a by-election on the principles of liberty and justice. A startling move, by any measure. And one worthy of respect. If he wins - and the Lib Dems have said they will not put up a candidate to oppose him - then, happily, he'll make it harder for the Tories to succumb to their worst instincts and backslide on the repeal of 42 Days and other intrusive government legislation, once they return to power.
Politics is about both measures and men. Labour is over-obsessing about one man instead of asking whether our measures make sense. Any prime minister in office today would feel the voters' anger as they see their cherished plans to spend their own money as they see fit destroyed by rising prices combined with the insatiable greed of the state in all its manifestations to take the people's money for its own, often incompetent and counter-productive ends.But it's rather more surprising to see that the author is Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham. Now, it only the Tories could learn from the pugnacious Mr MacShane...