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Howard Flight: The key messages which the Conservatives must get across between now and polling day

Flight_howard_2 Howard Flight was MP for Arundel and South Downs between 1997 and 2005, is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is now chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund.

The recent “wobble” in the polls may be helpful for the Conservatives.  On the one hand, Conservative voters who have been unhappy with some of the “modernisation programme” and might not have voted, or might have made a protest vote, are now more likely to stay loyal, faced with any danger of Labour retaining power.  On the other hand, it has concentrated the minds of the Conservative leadership.  Here one of David Cameron’s marked strengths is to deliver when faced by a challenge – as he demonstrated back at the 2007 Conservative Party Conference when he successfully frightened off “bully boy” Brown from holding an early election.

The point is also obvious that it is well over due for Conservative Party members - and the newspapers which support the Conservative cause - to stop airing grievances and nit-picking in public; if anyone thinks Britain’s future will be better assured by another Labour Government, after Labour has wrecked the UK economy over the last decade, they need their heads examining.

So what are the most important messages for the Conservatives to get across in the remaining time before the election?

Firstly, in traditional language, that we will govern in the “national interest” to restore Britain’s economic health. One of the particularly objectionable aspects of Gordon Brown’s Labour rule is that it has clearly been driven by Labour calculations to “buy” votes – in particular, increasing public sector handouts to many who do not really need them and putting more than one million additional people on the public sector payroll, without delivering any commensurate increase in public sector services.

Secondly, on the specifics, as the Conservatives have made very clear, priority has to be given to an adequate programme to reduce public sector borrowing and get rid of the “structural deficit” over the next parliament – where this has to start in earnest this year.  Labour economists seem to be blind to the danger of a run on sterling and a run on gilts driving up interest rates to an extent that really would plunge the economy back into recession.  I hope all those who have benefitted from lower mortgage interest rates realise that their mortgage interest bills are likely to rise sharply if Labour were to win.

Thirdly, the reductions in Government borrowing required must be achieved by reducing expenditure and not raising taxes. The public sector anyway needs a major sort out where there is scope to save at least £50 billion of sheer waste – in areas of duplication and excess layers of bureaucracy, quangos which have tended to become self-serving and remuneration which has gone up too much.

Finally, we must emphasise that a Conservative Government will go for growth. It is essential that the private sector picks up the resources released from the public sector, so that new businesses are attracted to Britain and existing businesses expand - and both employ more people and export more. This will need significant changes to our tax system to encourage employment and to encourage businesses to come to Britain and to expand.

Some Conservatives are frightened that a necessarily realistic approach to the public sector will cause all those working in the public sector to vote against us.

My first answer to that suggestion is that there are over 23 million people working in the private sector, versus over 7 million in the public sector. Most of the 23 million are less than happy that public sector employees have been cushioned from the harsh realities which those in the private sector have had to face – particularly Brown’s wrecking of private sector pension provisioning, while generous index linked public sector pensions continue at large and growing cost to the taxpayer.

Secondly, while a majority of public sector employees may always vote Labour, many working in the public sector well realise the need to reduce public sector expenditure to keep the economy afloat and would welcome constructive public sector reform.

It is a fact of life that the Conservative team is young and untried. When one party has been in government too long, this is inevitable.  However, when citizens go to vote, in my judgment the overwhelming “silent majority” of sensible people will decide they cannot possibly vote for Brown and his failed Government; and where even if they have reservations and concerns about the Conservatives, they know we are the only option; and faced with what has to be done, they know Britain needs a government with a workable majority which can get on with the job - and not a hung parliament.


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