Wednesday, August 10, 2005

 

Can the Conservatives arise from the ashes?

It's an odd irony that Mrs Thatcher aimed to destroy Labour but succeeded only in destroying socialism while her unlikely heir, Labour PM Tony Blair, has not only finished the job of burying socialism but has also done a fair job, to date, of destroying the Conservative Party. Are they completely finished? The recent report from the Policy Exchange was fairly damning but did hold out the possibility of resurrection if urgent changes were made. However it didn't specify what changes were needed. So I'll have a modest stab at it, just out of interest as I'm a Labour supporter myself of course.

1. Managerialism. Much has been written about refining a new Conservative ideology but I think this is a red herring. To the extent that there is an ideology, Labour has already usurped and colonised much of what passed for Conservatism, though with essential differences which I expalin below. Rather, we seem to live in times where ideology is not much in dispute; efficient managerialism is what politics is currently about.

2.What is this consensus?
a)acceptance of a mixed economy with an emerging emphasis on service rather than manufacturing industries.
b)low inflation via the mechanism of an independent Bank of England.
c)employment laws which favour the employer much more than under previous Labour governments.
d)public services which are funded to a level approximating to the average in the EU i.e. much higher than under the Conservatives. This effectively rules out taxes much below 40% of national income.
e) acceptance of privatisation and of internal markets in many public services as the most efficient way of 'reform'.
e)an attitude to the EU which is at best 'arm's length' and at worst 'eurosceptical'.
f)a supportive attitude to the USA in most of what any president might wish to do.
g)an atittude civil order which is less liberal than in the past and might even entail the ignoring of the Human Rights Act.

3. Blair and the Middle Ground
One of the superb graphs and tables produced by the Policy Exchange revealed how voters perceive themselves, the parties and their leaders on a scale of 100 points to the left and 100 points to the right. Howard and Tory MPs was seen as 52 points to the right with Ken Clarke on 24. Gordon Brown was seen as 22 points to the left, Labour MPs as 25, Charles Kennedy at 15 but where was the Prime Minister? Perfect positioning at 4 points to the right. He has assiduously worked his way into a place which dominates the centre ground, where most elections are won and, for the Conservatives, lost.

4. Way Ahead for Conservatives.
a) accept the new consensus- as Labour did the essence of Thatcherism during trhe nineties. But don't try merely to emulate Blair
b) Drop any attempt to reduce taxes dramatically.
c) Concentrate on ineficiency and value for money issues on which there is good potential for public support. The James Report before the last election was a sound idea but was presented in a way Labour could either rubbish or steal.
d)work on policies attractive to women and younger voters e.g. initiatives to make mortgages cheaper for public sector workers. [I recall a similar scheme in 1974 which convinced some friends of mine to vote Tory, even though they were inclined to be Labour supporters.]
e)Rebrand the party to lose its backward looking, intolerant, old fashioned image from which the Policy Exchange report so graphically revealed it as suffering. This is a difficult task but will entail: more women and ethnic minority candidates,less Eurobashing rhetoric and- the crucial first step- a younger, more empathetic leader.
f) if all the above are not possible, then disband the party and advise members to join Labour.

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