The second Built to Last consultation was held in the Lowry Centre, Salford Quays – a part of Manchester that has developed hugely from the seeds that the last Conservative government sowed. George Osborne (who was having a busy day and has a safe seat in
Osborne started encouragingly by emphasising B2L is still a “work in progress”. He framed its purpose in the aftermath of the last election, when our share of the vote fell in the North-West, saying it was about changing the public perception of us. The perceived change in the Conservative Party has been too focused on the new party leader, whose leadership campaign he ran, and not the party membership, he said. He went on to press the point that we shouldn’t see the best days for
“We will put economic stability and fiscal responsibility first. They must come before tax cuts”
This excerpt from the first B2L statement, A successful Britain must be able to compete with the world was debated for a while. One gentleman was particularly angry about the lack of emphasis on tax cuts, but on the whole people had points on the minutiae. This was Osborne’s media topic of the day so he was fairly solid in his answers. Talk of the importance of changing perceptions doesn’t directly justify creating an automatic distinction between tax cuts and economic stability/fiscal responsibility, however. The wording certainly needs tweaking, and I would suggest referring to “tax relief” rather than using Labour’s lexicon of “cuts”, with its negative connotations.
"The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich"
This statement, from There is such a thing as society, it's just no the same thing as the state, seemed a little more controversial. A few written comments made the point that you cannot help the poor/weak by pulling down the rich/strong, and one suggested amending the the last part to "not just the rich". Osborne talked about social mobility as a priority, and drew on the development of the venue's surrounding area from one of the poorest parts of the country to one of the north-west's most prosperous. A Councillor from Macclesfield pointed out that this statement was hardly a new concept in conservatism asaid “we care, we just need to show it”.
One person questioned whether “making poverty history” was too optimistic - in response, Osborne said he receives more letters about the developing world than anything else, and that we had a lot of ground to make up with the under-35’s. Someone thought that B2L should have made more explicit mention of some minority groups, and another that it was all "motherhood and apple pie".
A couple of passionate mini-speeches followed, Cllr Iain Lindley talked about his youth work in Salford and said that the CP is the only party that can truly help people in some of the poorer council estates. An oriental lady talked about how shocked her friends were when she joined the party a few months ago, reaffirming the topic of the day – changing the perception of the party. Osborne said we had “a window of opportunity” now that there is a “palpable sense of disappointment” in this government.
There was a cautiously optimistic atmosphere, but Osborne's emphasis on B2L still being open to amendment was certainly needed to allay the more cynical members.
RELATED LINK: Francis Maude asks ConservativeHome readers for their views on Built to Last.