By Paul Goodman
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On this election day, here's an encapsulation of Harry Phibbs's guide to how measure success or failure for the main parties.
Very good result: Retaining even one of the four counties they gained last time - Staffordshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
Good result: Losing those four, but nothing else.
Bad result: Losing control of Northamptonshire, Gloucestershire, Suffolk, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire.
ConservativeHome won't be updated again until 10pm tonight. It's General Election Day and we should all be out working - here are some ideas for those not already committed to constituencies - and not at our computers. But, before we go, the ConHome team - Jonathan, Paul and Harry - offer reminders as to why Britain should vote Conservative today.
Paul Goodman: "This election began in warm weather, with blue skies. To most, the fabled volcanic ash cloud was invisible. Other threats, too, appeared to fade into the distance. It was pleasant to bask in the sun, indulge oneself a little - perhaps even flirt with the idea of casting a Liberal protest vote. Since then, the election, framed around the three TV debates, has picked up pace, but the atmosphere of unreality remains. Britain is bankrupt. And very soon, Brown's bills will arrive in the post - higher prices, mortgages and taxes: not a double but a triple whammy. In this election, their author is asking to do it all over again. If enough people drift to the polls in a trance, he'll get the opportunity. This morning marks the British people's last chance to wake up. There are many reasons for undecided voters to support David Cameron today. But they compress, in the end, to this: only a Conservative Government can offer the economy a fresh start under new management. For wavering voters, plumping for Cameron is taking a chance. But against that chance is a certainty - that Brown mustn't be allowed back into Downing Street. In 1979, a newspaper headline asked its readers to "Give the girl a chance." Today's the day for the undecided to take a chance on David Cameron."
Jonathan Isaby: "Choosing who you want running the economy will doubtless be uppermost in many people’s minds in deciding how to cast their vote: do you back the man who as Chancellor and then Prime Minister presided over an unprecedented spending and borrowing binge, leaving the country debts which will take a generation to repay? Or do you opt for David Cameron and a fresh Conservative team – the only one which has grasped the scale of the problem and the need to take action to start reducing that debt now? That’s a no brainer as far as I’m concerned. But there are other issues at stake as well. And another choice facing us today is whether to return to power a Labour Government which has shown contempt for civil liberties and personal freedom. It has allowed the state increasingly to encroach on our lives through introducing bans, new regulations and new legislation at every juncture – as well as presiding over the growth of a health and safety culture which discourages people from taking personal responsibility in so many spheres of their lives. The alternative is to install a Conservative administration which respects individual freedom and will reverse the excesses of the Nanny/Big Brother State assembled over the past thirteen years, whilst working to restore a culture of individual responsibility and generally trusting people as being best placed to take decisions about their own lives. The chasm between the attitudes of the parties in this area could not be starker and once again it is imperative that a Conservative Government is elected to roll back the frontiers of the state."
Harry Phibbs: "A Conservative victory will give the clearest possible mandate for a smaller state and greater individual freedom. This is a long standing Conservative tenet but at no previous election campaign can I remember the case being made so powerfully and attractively. This philosophical message has been advertised on phone boxes across the land. The Big Society may have been a challenging theme to explain but it has been important to prevent the Conservative message of freedom being parodied as being one of narrow selfishness and indifference. For Labour and the Lib Dems the financial necessity for a smaller state leaves them like a rabbit with eyes caught in the headlamps. They have no grasp that big government is the cause rather than the solution to so many problems. That is why the Conservatives are best suited to the most pressing task of the next five years which will be to shrink the state. For us it is not just about averting a Greek-style financial collapse. Rather than just something we are forced into we can make it a positive task. It means liberating people from regimentation and allowing families and communities to flourish without their progress being blocked. It means changing a culture of passing by on the other side thinking everything can left to the Government. Instead of "take it or leave it" failing schools the system will be transformed with new, independently run schools driving up standards. AS well as being smaller the state will be better - more local, ore accountable, more transparent. The state will be the servant not the master of the people."
I can't add to their words so won't. I listed my ten top reasons for voting Conservative back in February. Please vote Conservative today and see you at 10pm.
The coming election will be Conservative V Labour. In some marginals, it will be Liberal Democrat V Conservative, or SNP V Labour, and so on. There'll be related, tangential conflicts: Westminster village V real voters, old media V new media. Finally, there'll be a big battle, one which may decide the election itself - Artificiality V Authenticity.
Artificiality is the marketing campaign. It's the battle bus slogan. It's the airbrushed poster. It's the soundbite. It's "Notes for Editors". It's the e-mail from Party Headquarters. It's the lobby briefing. It's inspection of campaign material. It's the non-denial denial. It's the masochism strategy. It's the attack document. It's the pager message. It's private polling. It's the strategically placed interview. It's the line to take.
Authenticity, on the other hand, is being yourself.
Now the one of course tends to merge into the other. The Piers Morgan interview or the Trevor MacDonald biopic or the Mumsnet quiz are in a sense artificial. Some strategy team, some media meeting, somewhere, has decided to put the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition or the Liberal Democrat Leader through the one or the other or the third. But these artificial gambits provide authentic moments. What's the Prime Minister's worst domestic habit? Is the Leader of the Opposition losing his hair? And the big question for the Liberal Democrat Leader is...boxers or briefs (or something else)?
Mock if you wish the obsession with trivia. Ask if you like how Churchill or Gladstone would have answered the questions. Imagine if you must Denis Thatcher undergoing the hazards of the spouse interview. Welcome to the spirit of the age. A moment's pause, a second's indiscretion can shape a mood or set a tone. If you doubt it - and talking of the Mumsnet quiz - remember Gordon Brown's agony when asked by a mum: what's your favourite biscuit? Or those viral videos of the Prime Minister picking his nose? The Big Brother camera rules the Westminster village. This will be the YouTube election and I wrote about it here.
Tim wrote here earlier this week about the debate between Janet Daley and Danny Finkelstein about the merits of modernisation. I'll add one thought to the mix. Modernisation is in one sense artificial: it's a plan by a "small, tight-knit group of politically-motivated men" to broaden their Party's appeal. Nothing wrong with that. Blair did it for Labour after four election defeats. Someone had to do it for us after three.
Later than some of us would want but tonight the Tories have unveiled six key pledges for the election campaign. They are set out in the Daily Mail graphic on the right. They're good, very good.
I particularly like...
The clear message that the Tories will cut the deficit more quickly and relating that to low mortgage rates.
I like the emphasis on tax cuts and growth. This is also emphasised in The Telegraph. There are no new tax commitments within what is the newspaper's front page splash but, importantly, there's urgency. The party is now talking about cutting business taxes within 50 days of any victory in order to get the economy motoring.
I like the fact that the commitment to recognise marriage is re-emphasised.
I like the anti-politics flavour of pledge six. Anger at MPs hasn't gone away among voters and we need to be the anti-establishment party.
I regret that immigration is not one of the pledges but it is difficult to turn up the volume on the issue while our opinion poll position is somewhat weaker. From a stronger position in the polls David Cameron should talk more about immigration. It will increase any Tory majority.
We have seen how transparency has forced massive change in politics. In particular, it has produced massive downward pressure on the cost of politics as taxpayers have seen how their money is often misused.
The Conservatives plan to bring the same transparency to the rest of the public sector. I predict the same revolutionary impact as voters clock every executive BBC salary and businesses have a chance to inspect (and undercut) every NHS contract. Transparency marks a decisive shift in power away from big government and towards advocates of a smaller state. Taxpayers won't vote for higher spending until existing budgets are spent a lot better. That's going to be some time away.
PREVIOUS ENTRY: The next generation of Conservative MPs
More important than the Tory manifesto, more important than the character and vision of David Cameron is the next generation of Tory MPs. Long after the manifesto is gathering dust on a library shelf and long after Cameron's authority has begun to wane the 'Class of 2010' will be deciding parliamentary votes and running government departments.
More than half of the next parliamentary Tory party will be 'freshers' if the Conservatives become the government.
On Sunday Jonathan Isaby examined their make up in terms of gender and ethnicity. Ten times as important is what they believe. ConHome's polling of the intake suggests they are Thatcher's children. They are overwhelmingly Eurosceptic. They favour small government. They support marriage. They are sceptical about gung-ho environmentalism. They support the teaching of British history in schools. More worryingly, they are split on the future of the UK. This page and this page are the two best guides to ConHome's polling of the candidates.
PREVIOUS ENTRY: Francis Maude's Implementation agenda
NEXT ENTRY: David Cameron
In most of this 'Vote Conservative' series I've focused on policy (the biggest one is to come in part 10) but it's also worth noting the importance of the Implementation team being run by Francis Maude and Nicholas Boles.
One of the worst legacies of New Labour is that voters no longer believe a politician when they promise to do something. A failure to think policies through, constant reshuffling of ministers, a lack of attention to detail and endless reannouncements have fed this legitimate disbelief.
David Cameron has been determined to change this by (1) keeping frontbenchers in place so they master their briefs; (2) building policies on the rock of success in other parts of the world (eg Sweden's schools policy); (3) paying private and voluntary contractors by results; (4) limited Whitehall reform; and (5) by ensuring the Tories are better prepared for government than any opposition in modern times.
Because of the work of Maude's team, there is a business plan for every portfolio which sets out specifically what the four year objectives for each minister, what they will seek to achieve in the months after the election, what new legislation is required, what kinds of administrative action and secondary legislation is required, what kind of secondary legislation is required and how long these things are likely to take and how they will be measured [See this from Oliver Letwin].
PREVIOUS ENTRY: David Willetts' challenge to the baby boomers
NEXT ENTRY: The next generation of Conservative MPs
Daniel Finkelstein described David Willetts' 'The Pinch' as the best book he had read in the last year and continued that it was "the most important book for Conservatives in a lot longer than that". It is deserved praise. I've just finished reading it myself.
David Willetts' The Pinch introduces us to the great inequality of our time - between the young and the old. The Reform think tank has spoken of 'the IPOD generation' - Insecure, Pressurised, Over-taxed and Debt-ridden.
There are a whole range of policies on family structure, conservation, debt reduction and inheritance that will be necessary to ensure equity between the generations. David Willetts - who has on many occasions trail-blazed key Tory insights - has helped the Conservative Party get a headstart in this important new challenge to public policymakers.
PREVIOUS ENTRY: Liam Fox's worldview
NEXT ENTRY: Francis Maude's Implementation agenda.
There is well-grounded speculation that Iain Duncan Smith will join the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Social Justice if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister. IDS, through his work at the Centre for Social Justice, would be the ideal champion of the compassion agenda across government but clear anti-poverty policies are certain to be in the Tory manifesto. They will be built around the aim to help people form stronger families, better schools and make work pay.
The elimination of the couple penalty in the benefits system would end the powerful disincentive that discourages the two parent family. It must be hoped that Neil O'Brien's suggestion is taken up. He recommended that broader criteria be used in the battle against child poverty.
IDS favours a particular emphasis on early years intervention and has recommended that the new married couples allowance favours parents with children under three first of all.
Oliver Letwin has said that a Tory government will stop micro-managing the voluntary and private agencies that it contracts with. The use of paid-by-results suppliers will bring innovation to the two great tasks of rehabilitating prisoners and moving people from welfare-to-work.
More Tory policies that would help the vulnerable are listed here.
PREVIOUS ENTRY: Greg Clark's sensible environmentalism
NEXT ENTRY: Liam Fox's worldview
So much of the green debate is dominated by fundamentalists. Some who deny that climate change is happening at all (man made or natural) and some who are closed to the practical concerns of intelligent critics such as Lord Lawson and Bjorn Lomborg. In Greg Clark the Tories have a climate and energy spokesman who is determined to pursue a sensible environmentalism.
Policies such as his 'Green Deal' will not only reduce Britain's carbon footprint but are also justifiable in that they will reduce energy bills and create 'green jobs'. Clark's 'smart meters' policy passes the same test of 'other benefits environmentalism'.
Clark has also been open to the idea that policy must shift somewhat to adapting to climate change rather than trying to avoid it. Many dark greens oppose any talk of adaptation because they fear it communicates resignation on combating global warming. Clark also supports a significant expansion of nuclear power and gas storage facilities as part of his determination to 'keep the lights on'.
With Nick Herbert the party is now making a distinction between blue green environmentalism where the emphasis is on incentives and red green environmentalism where the emphasis is on tax and regulation.
PREVIOUS ENTRY: Chris Grayling's law and order agenda
NEXT ENTRY: Iain Duncan Smith's social justice agenda