Sunday, December 30, 2012

Which way forward for the Conservatives.

Ex Tory MP, Paul Goodman is a insightful writer. He believes the 2015 General Election is already lost to the Conservatives - which seems to me a quite ridiculous thing to say, with 2yrs and 4mths to go. Does he not remember the landslide victory that was there for Gordon Brown until he chickened out of an Oct/Nov election in 2007. 2/3 years is an age in politics. But bearing in mind polls which are currently putting Labour around 10% ahead, Conservative appeal to the voters must be a matter of growing interest to us. And its against this backdrop that I read Mathew d'Ancona's observations in today's Telegraph.

To summarise - Mathew believes that the Prime Minister has turned his back on 'modernisation' of the Conservative Party - "the Tories' worst strategic error since the poll tax". These seem to me strange words to write. Lets start with this concept of 'modernisation'. I'm just not sure what it is. Of course there's always a danger of a political party not adapting smartly enough to keep pace with the people it wants to govern, but the Conservative party has always changed. But not just to satisfy short term fashion. That's how we were so successful through the last century. Its still changing. Nothing wrong with a few PR initiatives, but there's no point in carrying on with policies which we can see are damaging to the country and the party. For example, its right that we make commitment to international aid, and make certain its to alleviate suffering or develop capacity for self-help. Its right that we develop renewable energy, but not just chase the cheapest options, sacrificing rural Britain to the Philistines. Its ridiculous to believe open neck shirts and recycled trainers are anything more than a one-day-wonder - a passing fad.

I don't dismiss what Mathew d'Ancona writes. Not at all. Image does matter. The message matters as well as the policy. What matters is that we choose the right message. For example. Personally, I cringe every time I here a Conservative speaking derogatorily of benefit recipients. The reality is that the welfare budget has to cut big-time - but the best way to give credence to a 'nasty party' image is to bang on about 'shirkers' etc. Ian Duncan Smith uses the right language of helping people out of dependency. And its also illogical and self defeating to do anything other than treat our Lib Dem coalition partners with genuine respect. Nick Clegg took a painful and brave decision, for the benefit of country over party, setting aside the cynical opportunism that had typified Lib Dem tactics for decades, and we should respect that. If they renege, it will be them who will be damaged. And there's plenty more.

But then, there is the EU, where its anybody's guess. Prime Minister would find herding cats easier than developing policy on this issue. But I do think clarity will emerge. Its just that the gestation period is longer than we would like. There will be some renegotiation of our relationship with the EU. Germany and France will accept a degree of realpolitik over this. And there will be an in/out referendum on the renegotiated position. The questions are when this will happen and who will be leading the Gov't which arranges it. I am far more optimistic than Paul Goodman that it will be David Cameron.

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