Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Stifled by consensus?

Back in October I wrote a speculative piece wondering what the Conservatives could do to win my vote. In essence it boiled down to one vital condition: not being the Conservatives in their present incarnation. I, like so many others, alluded to the Tories having their ‘Clause IV Moment’: some symbolic seismic shift that says to the world “We’ve changed”.

Yesterday, apparently, was that moment, as cherub-faced, chubby-kneed Tory leader David Cameron set out the values for the party in his brave new world. This manifesto will now be put to all Conservative Party members who get to say yay or nay. It’s the first real test Dave has faced since becoming leader and will be crucial in determining to what extent his party are committed to renewal. Given that a significant majority elected him on a reformist platform in the first place, it should pretty much be a formality.

There’s just one problem. It seems to be lifted from Labour’s manifesto circa 1997:

  • Economic stability before tax cuts

  • Policies must help the least well-off, not the rich

  • Women's choices on work and home lives will be supported

  • Public services will not necessarily be run by the state

  • Party will fight for free and fair trade

  • Tories will be hard-nosed defenders of freedom and security

  • Government should support home ownership, saving, families and business

  • Government should be closer to the people
Blah, blah, blah. In fact, it would be easy to picture Gordon Brown spouting off this generic drivel right now wouldn’t it? Which is fair enough, as New Labour pinched many clothes from the Conservative’s washing line to become electable in the 90s. It’s all part of the crazy pantomime of party politics. The Cameron manifesto has virtually nothing in common with the Tories of yesteryear, just as Blair’s New Labour bore little resemblance to the leftist instincts of Labour under Michael Foot.

What it means for us poor voters is very little in the way of choice. We’ve got a suffocating new consensus where government is small, but big. Spending is boosted, but managed. The private sector is cherished, but railed in. The NHS is sacred, but ripe for reform.

Our choice at the next election: two centrist parties committed to pretty much the same policies but wearing different coloured ties. What a big yawn.


tony harrison said...

This is an outrage!

ph said...

But isn't this the concensus, leftie-centrist agenda that you want. I am suprised that you are not celebrating that the Tory party of old has ceased to be, it is what the liberal left has been striving for.
However it does mean that the 40% of the English Electorate, who are solidly right wing, have no-one representing their views, but being English their views do not matter.
I suppose I sort of agree with the Cameron agenda, but we all know that it will come to nothing, or have 10 years of New Labour failed expensive initiatives just jaded my palette.

Citizen Sane said...

This isn't what I've been hoping for at all. This just means that the centre-ground will become even more important and the agenda will shrink yet again.

I've only voted Labour in recent elections because they weren't the Tories, not because I particularly share their "vision". The lesser of two evils. Now they're even more alike, it's not going to matter to me. Might as well just flip a coin.

Wanted: a party committed to reducing the amount spent by the state; to overhauling the tax system (let's talk about flat tax!); to electoral and consitutional reform; to reducing the role of government and just generally getting it out of my face; to formulating a clear position on Europe.

There are bits of this across all the parties, but nobody captures all of it.

Citizen Sane said...

Plus, it's just boring when everyone agrees isn't it?

ph said...

Yes I have spent my life being disagreeable, and its much more fun.

Smaller State - PreCameron Tory
Flat Tax - PreCameron Tory
Less Spent by Goverment - PreCameron Tory
Non Nannying - PreCameron Tory
Europe - Probably Tory
Constitutonal Reform - Liberals

Sounds as though you are a Tory of the Dry school.
Though the Tory party of old realised that to be able to have low spend/small state you also had to be socially conservative. Social liberalism costs lots and lots as money as the government tries retain a sembance of cohesion in society. I am sure you and I will disagree on this last point, but just look at how much is spent alleviating the problems caused by the selfish.

H said...

No-one has yet said it, so I should be the first:

"Welcome to America of the 90s"!

Too big corporate sponsored partied, detached from the people with an agenda to regain/stay in power at all costs who agree on everything (except abortion).

What Britain needs is a George W to shake it up again. A real genuine fascist tory to make the bleeding heart lefties start showing themselves again and we might have a political map.

Ph - it seems you are a classic economic neo-liberal, right? And I get that, I understand it. Are you only a social conservative because you believe that is the only social policy consistent with fiscal prudency (as GB might put it)? Or is that also central to your value system?

As a complete pinko commie, I must say that Cameron's abandonment of Toryism is truly worrying - this is possibly the death of any genuine opportunity for true reform of the UK. If the tories manage to ressurect themselves as New Conservatives, and steal back downing street, I don't see Labour ever returning to being a social democratic party and the liberals are just turning into one big laughing stock.

It seems, if I were to still live in Blighty - my choice would not have changed - a wasted vote for the Greens!

H said...

Arrgh! Just had another post wiped by me pressing some wrong key. Grrr!

Long and short of it being:

Sane - why do you want government spending lowered? If you want constitutional reform, isn't it government's job to break down the british class system rob the money from the aristocracy and monarchy and distribute it to the disadvantaged?

Or am i just a pinko commie?

Citizen Sane said...

I'm a classical liberal. I believe government is a necessary evil to protect inherently selfish humans from each other. I believe government's role should be as minimal as possible: basic law and order, defence, a welfare umbrella for the most vulnerable, education, etc. I also believe the reduced role should extend to extending personal liberty: it is not the government's role to tell its citizens what to eat, smoke, drink, consume, watch or read. You could say I'm a social libertarian.

H - your point about the role of government being to "break down the British class system to rob the money from the aristocracy and monarchy and distribute it to the disadvantaged". I don't completely agree with this, no. Their job should be to ensure equal opportunity for all in a purely meritocratic society. Of course, if we had a truly meritocratic society we wouldn't have anachronisms like the aristocracy and the monarchy. So I kind of agree with you there. But generally speaking, I don't think wealth redistribution is the answer. I think wealth creation is the answer, and the guarantee that anyone can prosper if they've got the talent and commitment. No "accidents of birth" like royalty and Hooray Henrys.

Citizen Sane said...

P.S. Describing Bush as a "fascist" is just silly. Despite hysterical claims from the left to the contrary, the US is still the best example of a functioning democracy you will find anywhere. "Fascists" do not stand for re-election, nor do they step down after holding office for a constitutionally defined tenure.

He's a buffoon, and his administration increasingly shows itself to be totally inept and arrogant. But he's no fascist.

ph said...


Social conservatism (or rather an emphisis on social cohesion rather than individual liberty) is integral to my value system and to good governance.
I believe that you cannot have minimal government and a very libitarian society, if you also want a society that is half decent to live in.
A libitarian society is one where there are few controls on people's behaviour imposed by the mores of that society. As a result goverment has to expand to fill the role once held by society.
So in effect you are moving the control of people's lives from a local self-governing level to a centralised top down control by the elites.

ph said...

Just want to say that before you think I am some form of moral crusader ..... "moderation in all things"

Oscar Wilde said...

Moderation is a fatal thing. . . . Nothing succeeds like excess.

ph said...

You are wrong. p.s. don't go to Reading

mAc Chaos said...

I wonder what a British Ronald Reagan would be like...

H said...


In a democracy, can one rely on one's brother and and cousin to rig an election for you?

No, of course Bush is not a fascist - i don't think bush has the mental capacity to formulate for himself any political ideology.

I was using hyperbole for the sake of effect.

Ph - gotcha - you are what would be termed over the pond a "neo-con". (i.e, neo-liberal on economics, socially conservative). So a few questions - if you reject the idea of control of people's lives being in the hands of governing elites and the equality of opportunity (i know that was sane who went for that little nugget from the third way manifesto, but I assume you agree with it), presumably you are anti-monarchy, anti-aristocracy and anti-the house of lords, no?


ph said...


You should not get hung up on outdated toothless institutions, these are not the elites that today control our lives. Maybe they did 100 years ago but not today. They are vestiges of a past age whose only prurpose (in the case of the Royals) is to create a rallying point for the many people who desire it.
I do not reject the idea of a government or a governing elite. I was just saying that when you have a very liberal society (which gives people freedom to behave selfishly), then more and more control has to be imposed by the governing elites, which I regard as a bad thing. I would be happier if society took more responsibility in controlling members selfish urges, rather than having to rely on the state all the time. Of course as you are a self declared communist, you will agree that the best approach to government is to destroy society, so that the governing elites can impose their will.
As for neo-con - not sure what the neo means. As far as I can see the Tory party has been liberal on economics and socially conservative for years and years.