28 Mar 2010

Persuading Belief in the Conservative Facade

I don't usually review the columns in the daily papers, but this one in The Telegraph, “The Conservatives have The Vision but not the Nerve", caught my eye and I decided to have a thorough critique.

The gist of the article is that Conservative members are in some way intimidated or inhibited by the media labour and the public and are therefore failed to reveal their policies cohesively or sensibly, when in fact the policies they have are rather good.

In other words, it is an entirely subjective article attempting to persuade the more intelligent voter why voting Conservative is a good thing! Can you hear me champing at the bit?

Upholding My Own Disbelief In the Validity of Tory Policies

Believe it or not, the Conservatives actually have quite a compelling vision for government, in which spending cuts could be made to play a constructive role, public services would be more responsive to the real needs of the people who use them, and the state would be an enabling force rather than an oppressive one.

Personally I would say that the Conservatives are playing down the details of their policies in order to generate the idea that they are demure and humble, lacking in the arrogance, and indeed hubris, that the Conservative Party after usually associated with.

The concept that spending cuts would play a “constructive role” begins to unravel when interviews such as Andrew Lansley MP's on the Today Programme identify an across-the-board 10% spending cut within almost all public services. If spending cuts were truly constructive, and indeed, a compelling vision, then the cuts would differ according to the needs of the various departments. Money would be reinvested according to the needs of people, and they would be determined to cut the bureaucracy and consultancy that dominates public services and wastes so much of this money.

However, given the Andrew Lansley repeatedly used the phrase “spending restraints”, it is clear that the party has no intention of reducing buzzwords, bureaucracy and confabulation within public services.

This in turn indicates that Public services are not going to be more responsive to the real needs of people who use.

As for the state providing an “enabling force”, the Conservative track history on a refusal to allow democratic participation are both at local level and at national level, makes the statement almost laughable. As indeed the campaign Vote for A Change identifies, the Conservative party are keen to push the agenda to vote for change but they are not willing to hold referendums to allow the people to decide to change.

An Innovative Philosophy?

Honestly. The reason that you are almost entirely unaware of this philosophy is because the party thinks that you will either be frightened by it or that it will be too difficult for you to understand.

No, quite simply the reason that we are unaware of this philosophy is because it doesn't exist.

Apparent Fear of Criticism

Very occasionally, they allow you a glimpse of an aspect of their programme: Michael Gove's plan for "free schools", or the "co-operative" model in which public agencies would be run by their own staff. But then some television interviewer starts to ask wider questions, or a Labour frontbencher tosses out some predictable, brain-dead jibe, and the shutters come down.

The glimpses that have been provided of the Conservative programme have been contradicted at every turn by Conservative Members of Parliament. Such as providing inconsistent arguments for getting people back to work while supporting those who need to be benefits, a desire to invest in during joining the European Union combined with a desire to protect the British public from the European Union.

For a snapshot of these inconsistencies have a look at the Conservative website “Responsibility Agenda”.

The only thing I can determine from this is that the entire party is confused as to where they would go if they were in government.

The Tory spokesman who had, ever so cautiously, begun to hint at what could be a genuinely progressive new relationship between the state and the people, scurries away into the darkness again, like a small animal terrified of being caught in the open.

A Tory spokesperson who ha,s ever so cautiously, hinted at a genuinely progressive relationship between the state and the people would probably be considered an epiphany within the centre-right party.

Indeed the ones that have, seemed to have come to this conclusion and joined the Liberal Democrats.

The result? The Tories look vacuous: like a party with half-hearted convictions, half-baked policies and with no overarching theme to distinguish it in any fundamental way from Labour.

And indeed Nick Clegg stated yesterday following the strange political speech stand-off between Brown and Cameron that their election pledges were “vacuous”. This is not a result of a humble Tory MP concerned that their opinions may scare the public, this is because they do have half-hearted convictions, half baked policies and no true substantive difference from Labour's pledges.

And so, ironically, a leadership that is so afraid of damaging questions leaves itself wide open to the most dangerous ones of all: what real difference is there between you and your opponents, and why should anyone be inspired to vote for you?

Again, I reiterate, if Cameron and his party had leadership and inspirational qualities, they would not be afraid of any questions, they would appeal to the intelligent voters and they would present substantial arguments in the face of criticism from the press and from the other parties.

A Truly Insulting View of Voters

”You may be asking yourself at this point whether the patronising assumption that you are either too timid or too dumb to grasp the potential of this message is actually justified.”

I'm just confused by the assumption that this is the real reason for the Tories inability To communicate their election pledges without discrepancies, contradictions or confusion. This has nothing to do with my intelligent, nor any other member of the public's.

Apparently, the crux of the argument is;

Janet Daley goes on to state that the apparent reasons the Conservatives are unable to respond coherently to questions about their policy is because they are aware the “government run things badly”.

If that was truly their position than they would be proclaiming, as indeed the Liberal Democrats are stating, that they would review the way in which the government runs things and how this filters down to public services. If they had confidence in their argument then this would not mean a difficult announcement to make.

“by cutting back the power of central government and making the agencies that deliver services accountable to the people who use them rather than to politicians, we would get better, cheaper and more productive results”

If this was truly the case, then I would not have issues in my area is where public services without contracted to the cheapest company thereby causing and perpetuating the suffering of people who require carers. This is the extent of the Tory policy proposals on “coalitions”.

Out contracting services and minimising government input so the government can not be held responsible when people are harmed as a result.

Community Engagement?

”Second, the more power and authority that the state seizes, the less people feel the need to take responsibility for themselves and for each other. Many of the problems that now corrode the quality of life in Britain – anti-social behaviour, irresponsible parenting and the feckless refusal to accept any idea of civic duty – have their roots in the emergence of government as the only source of moral authority and the only provider of social protection.”

Ah. What this convoluted statement actually means is that the Conservatives feel that Britain has become a overly left wing nanny state. And how do they propose to challenge that? Well the arguments they present so contradictory, I genuinely cannot tell.

”Communities, families and individuals, whose ethical judgments are likely to be more sound and more effective, have been dwarfed by the gargantuan intrusiveness of this expensive, impersonal monster which, as often as not, interferes without understanding and meddles without sensitivity. So by pulling central government's tentacles off the most personal and local areas of people's lives – by giving them the power to run their neighbourhoods, schools, health services and benefits agencies according to their own priorities – we can restore self-determination and pride while improving public services.”

And at what point disease differentiate from Brown's pledge Fairness in the Community? Indeed, where local public services have been allowed to grant more responsibility communities, we have seen an upward rise in charity is funded entirely by public state grants which, while being run on a not-for-profit basis, are concerned only with the bureaucracy and illogical targets and public services provide.

One example that I continuously come across is Illogical use of volunteers within the public-and- charitable sector. Company-cum-charities are encouraged to let go of the little old lady who gives an hour of her time once a week because the younger person to give four hours and be far more productive. Or the funding that they are granted is so heavily ringed fence that it sits in bank accounts the years until the exact measurement of the grant is decided to be met at the funding can be released.

The only way to prevent this getting worse, and, hopefully repair it, is to allow a greater hold over local public services by the government, to allow the government to supervise the implementation of these ideas and ensure that people are in fact benefiting from community initiatives, engagement and social cohesion.

Privatisation by Any Other Name

”When it comes to public services, the independent local outlet could offer a relationship of trust, familiarity and understanding to the consumer, and greater efficiency and productivity to the taxpayer.”

The only reason that the party is so “timorous” about these ideas is because they realise that the reality for people who use the pavement everyday is not as simple as saying we will enlist a separate body to provide good quality cheap services.

Anyone who has watched Panorama will be aware of diabolical care services where the business is out-contracted. Or how about the changes to waste collections by Borough services, based on productivity of the neighbourhood?

In a lot of cases central government is the last resort for those campaigning for a return to fair services, as my work with Sheltered Housing UK identifies.

Indeed Janet Daley herself acknowledges that “Only central government, the Left argues, can enforce uniformity and prevent disadvantage.” But she then goes on to say that Labour's approach has indeed been to this aim. When in fact, the opposite is true. Labour has actually increased opportunity for the poor, aided social deprivation with the introduction of tax credits and support, but at the same time has failed to address its use with local councils and local public services having so much control without any government input. There is also been too much of an emphasis on Labour's Park of providing everyone with the same benefits and matter what their background. This has led to middle-class mothers storing up Child Tax Credits for their summer holidays and rich students investing their student loans in tax-free isas. The only logical way to proceed is to introduce a more thorough means testing, rather than providing everyone with the same, provide those who are in the most need with what they need.

But the Conservatives are not pledging this. The Conservatives are pledging severe cuts across all public services, a fast repayment of debt without foresight or strategic development as to how this will impact on our economy.

Oh That Old Chestnut

Finally, for the article to bring up the embarrassing concept of “class war” that appears to divide both the Media support and the party squeeze tactics, is nothing short of ridiculous.

While there probably is something to be vindictive in the squeeze tactics between the two major parties and the presentation of a two horse race, there is a growing consensus amongst the public that they would like to hear less about whether their MP went to Eton or Joe Bloggs Comprehensive, are more about what they plan and how they plan to do it.

And, ultimately, how society as a whole will benefit.


  1. Hi. Vote for a Change isn't a Lib Dem campaign. We're cross party, and even former Tory MP Michael Brown - now of the Indy - joined our launch letter. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/24/letters-mps-expenses
    We wish the Tories would realise that they're refusal to countenance any change means millions of the their voters in Wales, Scotland and across England - particularly inner ciites - are disenfranchised. We're currently gathering signatures to get BBC cameras into the wash-up process where Tory opposition may shoot down the referendum in secret. here's the letter http://www.voteforachange.co.uk/cameras, and here's a piece from our supporter Martin Bell in today's Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/28/pre-election-parliamentary-wash-up

  2. My apologies, I have editied accordingly.

    Thank you for the link, I am a supporter of all your campaigns.


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