For the first time in a generation the Conservative Party assembles this week as an opposition party which the voters are weighing up as a potential government. Our words and actions over the next few days and weeks will do much to determine whether the voters believe we are ready for government.
Their key concern will be to ensure that our priorities reflect their priorities. It is not difficult to see where theirs lie. The deepest recession since the Second World War is leaving deep scars:
- Fast rising unemployment;
- High levels of household debt and government debt;
- High levels of government spending, linked to disappointing levels of public service delivery;
- Rising levels of crime and lawlessness.
Any party which wishes to form the next government will need to demonstrate clearly how it intends to address these issues.
David Cameron and George Osborne have both made clear the priority which they attach to dealing with these issues. The challenge over the next few weeks will be to avoid being distracted by the political story of the moment and focus clearly on the answers to the questions which are being sought by the voters.
Discussion of the future of public services will lie at the heart of that debate for two reasons:
- It is impossible to sort out the public finances without addressing questions about future funding of public services;
- Experience of the Labour years has demonstrated that simply sending a bigger cheque does not resolve the issue.