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Donal Blaney: Don't rely on being given anything you don't ask for

Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons' Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell's Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

This week's Law of the Public Policy Process applies both to politicians when dealing with the electorate and with fundraisers.

Politicians and their advisors spend an inordinate amount of time becoming intoxicated in the intrigue and gossip of the Westminster Village. They often forget that the vast majority of voters do not follow the minutiae of twists and turns on issues that matter to the chattering classes of Westminster. Subtle nuances of policy are often lost on voters who more often remember telling phrases repeated ad nauseam ("Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime"). Even if a party embarks on a substantive policy change (such as Labour's abandonments of Clause IV, unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the EEC) those substantive policy shifts are not known or appreciated by voters.

Lynton Crosby memorably said, when talking about the perceived lack of success of the Conservatives' pledge in 2005 to cut taxes, that "you cannot fatten a calf on market day". For a tax cutting pledge to be believed by voters as being desirable (and not merely evidence of opportunism) it would need to be campaigned for well in advance of polling day. While pulling a policy rabbit out of a hat may work among a narrow parliamentary caucus, it does not work when dealing with the broader electorate. By not having campaigned consistently, and therefore convincingly sought a mandate, for tax cuts in 2005 it was little surprise that the electorate did not give the Conservatives the chance to enact tax cuts in government.

Conversely the left - in its successes in advancing a left-wing cultural agenda - understand the need to ask for policies to be enacted or concessions to be made. Indeed leftists go beyond asking - they demand, harry and bully. Jesse Jackson is the master of bullying corporations and individuals into making concessions on issues that matter to his "Rainbow Coalition" - usually by extorting funds as quasi-reparations for past wrongs. Similar tactics are employed in Britain, as is seen by the knee-jerk criticisms of the police in the 1980s and 1990s that have since resulted in a defensive approach to policing that is, in part, to blame for the current security situation. The police's appeasement of self-styled "community leaders" for fear of "alienating" communities - rather than preventing and investigating crimes and prosecuting criminals - has led to a situation that bears the hallmarks of having got badly out of control.

The conservative movement needs to learn the lessons of the successes of the left and of the past failures of the right. To advance an agenda that conservatives share - lower taxes, a smaller state, deregulation, greater national sovereignty and so on - conservatives need to campaign vigorously in pursuit of that agenda. It is not enough to wait for the swing of the electoral pendulum. The time to start preparing the way for that agenda is now so that by the time of the next election, when voters are specifically asked to endorse it, they understand that solicitations of support are based on principles that they understand (and perhaps endorse) rather than opportunism. That really would be a way of showing how the Conservative Party has changed.

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Don't treat good guys like you treat bad guys


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