Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Thinking the unthinkable?

"By the time we're thirty five we'll all be voting Conservative anyway."
The Realist, some bar or other, University of Manchester, 1994(ish)

Thus did The Realist drop this devastating bon mot into a lively conversation we were having about . . . something or other. Five or six of us, all lefty/liberal students, doing what lefty/liberal students in the early to mid-1990s were wont to do: sit around drinking beer, smoking fags and talking about politics (or music). That is, when we weren’t getting stoned and watching Going For Gold studying really hard at John Rylands Library. Not sure about students today though. They’re probably all on the game or selling their kidneys to pay off their tuition fees. Hey, it’s a hard life.

Of course none of us were prepared to countenance the idea of voting Tory at the time (in humanities student circles in the early 90s, having sexual yearnings for the dead was probably less of a faux pas than admitting to being a Conservative voter), but I’m sure we were all aware of the following adage (usually attributed to Winston Churchill, although its actual origins are disputed):

If a man is not a socialist when he is twenty, he has no heart.
If a man is not a conservative when he is forty, he has no brain.

A gross simplification but, as with all clich├ęs, an element of truth lies therein. I don’t think I’ve ever considered myself to be a socialist, though I’ve certainly always veered towards the left on most issues. But, over time (I’m currently in the mid-point of the above age range), I’ve come to believe certain things that, in my late teens, I would have considered “right wing”.

For instance: privatisation was necessary - state managed economies simply don’t work (see: the former USSR, North Korea, Cuba, France); capitalism isn’t “evil” - it’s just a question of degree; the welfare state, while an inherently good idea, is abused by a sizeable number of people; the trade unions did need to be taken on; further integration into Europe would not improve democracy in this country; US military power, far from being “hegemonic”, ensured freedom, peace and prosperity for all of Western Europe for fifty years (please, spare me the revisionist arguments).

And several others.

One of the many confusing features of getting older (and perhaps wiser) is that nothing is clear cut any more. The Realist and I have discussed this on several occasions. Back then, in those carefree student days, it was simple: the Tories were a bunch of bastards and as soon as Labour got into power things would be much better. Blue was bad and Red was good. And that was the end of the matter. But I don’t know anyone (well, maybe a couple of people) who can now say this with any certainty. In any case, at the last election, apart from some half-hearted Tory bluster about reducing public spending (but not reducing taxes?) and that old party favourite, immigration, both parties were virtually indistinguishable.

So my point is this: if I’m no longer driven by ideological conviction, if I’m no longer party aligned, could I {whisper it} become a Conservative voter at some point in the future? It’s a good time to wonder. It’s conference season, there’s a leadership election imminent: the very soul of the party is up for debate in a way that it hasn’t been for nearly thirty years. Bruised and browbeaten from three consecutive election defeats, they are in desperate need of a new leader, a new image and a new direction.

So, how could you Conservatives win my vote? Here are a few suggestions that might just make me consider you next time.
  1. Try to elect a leader that doesn’t make me gag. You’ve got Ken Clarke or David Cameron, and that’s it. Davis, Fox or Rifkind would be terrible choices.
  2. Flat tax: it’s an interesting idea that needs investigation and a proper debate. The arguments for it are intriguing indeed and if you advocated this, while also selling the idea that it does not have to amount to tax cuts for the rich coupled with deflated treasury budgets, you could guarantee several million more votes in one hit.
  3. Do a "Clause IV": Blair saw the ditching of Clause IV – which theoretically committed the Labour Party to nationalisation of all industry – as a major symbolic step, ditching irrelevant historical baggage. You should do the same with your own equivalent: social conservatism. This is what repels me from your party most of all – the sheer contradiction of promoting individual choice and personal freedom, but only in the economic realm. It’s all or nothing with me. The bottom line is this: you’re politicians, not moral arbiters. Be the party of low taxes, minimal government and individual freedoms.
  4. Draw from your Thatcherite legacy and take the notion of meritocracy one step further: reform the upper chamber and make the House of Lords elected. Scrap the royals too (well, we can but dream).
  5. The first past the post electoral system is stacked up against you these days - dare to reform it. Become a real agent of change and renewal.
  6. Restrain the extremists of your Europhobic wing. Forge a sensible policy towards the EU where we can be a strong influence. Talk of leaving the EU entirely is just silly.

There, just a few ideas that would get me interested. It won’t happen of course, but that’s fine – I’m happy to continue my lifelong boycott of your party until it does. In the meantime, the first party to incorporate the above has my attention.


ph said...

Ah! Manchester- the old Alma Mater, although it appears that I was there a handful of years prior to you.
I was leftwardly inclined prior to my arrival at Manchester University, but after one term's exposure to the unthinking mantra chanting of other leftie students I moved swiftly rightwards.
Some of those who spouted the most rubbish are now keen members of the Bliar government.

Anonymous said...

My! That's a big one!

Citizen Sane said...

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for! What was your field of study?

Sure was a big one wasn't it? Glad some people could be bothered to read it!

Anonymous said...

It has to be Clarke with Cameron as deputy - he's a leader-in-waiting, but is he ready now?

Can't see anything else - Davis may just be tolerable - but that depends a lot on what he says in around 5 minutes time!

However, it looks like the only two that will accomplish at least three of your six points will be Clarke and/or Cameron.

One thing I have noticed about the Tory conference this week: It's been the most honest, energetic conference in a long time. They are at least beginning to look - once the leadership bloodbath is over - like they want to win again. And they've been very good at that in the past.


laura said...

Wow! Damned good entry there fella! But remember... it's all about the micro

Hobbzee said...

This is all v interesting but what I wanna know is who would actually ever admit to voting Tory!? However the Tories try to modernise themselves I can’t imagine there being a time when it's ever viewed as 'cool' to vote Tory. If they are to attract a new generation of voters when the blue rinse brigade elevate up to that big Tory rest-home in the sky the party will then be in dire need (if not already) of a new image.I think they will need to create a new ‘brand’ of Conservatism rather like the way Labour created New labour in the mid 90s...and I gather this is what is currently being debated at the conference.
Ultimately I think voting Tory is viewed as very uncool – whichever way you look at it and even if the Tory’s did adopt all of Sane's suggestions - would the stigma or the shame of voting for them disappear? Would Sane admit to it if he did I wonder!? As far as I know only one of my mates votes Tory - and she only admitted that to me when she was very, very drunk.... (I'm still not talking to her btw ;-)

Hobbzee said...

Another thought: re the 'new brand' of conservatism what song could be the theme-tune to accompany it, I wonder ? (similarly to Things Can Only get Better for New Labour)… any suggestions?

Citizen Sane said...

Hmmm. It's an interesting question. And you're right, because even when the Tories were winning elections, a lot of people wouldn't admit to voting for them. A pollster's nightmare!

Would I admit to it? It depends who I was with. But probably not, no. There is an image factor at stake here: voting Tory is, and probably always will be, like admitting that The Good Life is your favourite ever comedy, that you enjoy singing hymns, that you really find Jasper Carrot amusing.

Hobbzee said...

Ok. But please don't bring The Antiques Road show into this. I am proud to admit to it being something I rather enjoy. (But then again would probably be selective as to where I made that particular announcement – i.e. Tory conference yes, hip ‘n’ happening bar with all my mates - no).

ph said...

I am happy to say that I vote Tory and by God, Am I Cool!!.
But what on earth is cool about voting Labour. Unless you think it is cool to take your country to war on the basis of a pack of lies, or you think it is cool to run an economy that is so unbalanced that it is almost impossible for anyone under the age of 35 to own their own property and have a family.

Hobbzee said...

No no, I agree that none of those things associated with voting Labour are 'cool' at all, and I don't vote Labour and don't think labour are cool either All I'm doing is making comparison's in a parties images that's all. You must admit that voting Tory has never been viewed as 'hip'....has it?

Citizen Sane said...

In any case, we'd still have gone into Iraq if the Conservatives were in power. Wouldn't have made the slightest bit of difference. It only got through the Commons because they backed it too.

And I fail to see why house prices would have behaved any differently with the Tories in power. What would they have done to make it so much easier for young people to afford to buy property?

ph said...

Yes I do agree voting Tory is certainly not hip - but the question is why? Some of the most vile political creeds were regarded as 'cool and hip' by many of the world's forward 'thinkers'.
Why something is fashionable and something else is not is beyong my ken. But my rule of thunb is 'If its fashionabe it is probably wrong' - Thats why I am a conservative.

Hobbzee said...

Aaah, this is interesting! Perhaps then you might lose faith if the Tories became trendy? Maybe a ‘hip Tory party’ is something of an oxymoron. (Like I always thought 'young conservative’ was but apparently not). Well if that’s' the case and the Tories are unlikely to ever be thought of as hip then I wonder how they will ever manage to attract a whole new generation of voters that they so desperately need to get themselves re-elected?

Citizen Sane said...

The Conservative Party is more hip replacement than hip. Their conference looked like God's waiting room!

ph said...

The Tories will not get re-elected in the foreseeable future no matter how 'hip' they become.

On a slightly different note - could anyone explain why many people are happy to vote Lib Dem when they do not agree with any of their policies. My view is that they regard the Lib Dems as nice but wrong, but it makes them feel good about voting for nice people.