Conservative Home

« Bernard Jenkin MP: Can the UK afford to play a global defence role? | Main | Ross Carroll: The next Conservative Government must aid the development of a dynamic and sustainable private sector in Northern Ireland »

Tim Montgomerie: Cameron is more of a Thatcher than a Heath

MONTGOMERIE-TIM Tim Montgomerie with Bruce Anderson and Simon Wolfson last night defeated a motion at The Spectator debate which read: "Britain is in decline again but unfortunately Cameron is more of a Heath than a Thatcher'. The vote was 290 versus 154. The opponents were Simon Heffer, peter Hitchens and Kelvin MacKenzie. This is the text of his remarks.

I think we can all agree that Britain is in decline.

If you take three of Margaret Thatcher's biggest achievements they are all being undone.

The unions are as powerful as ever. Not a force in the private sector but in the classrooms, in hospitals, across the public sector - roadblocks to reform, protecting the fact that Labour has made public sector workers richer, on average, than private sector workers for the first time. Are they grateful? Not for a moment. Yesterday one union leader said Labour was the worst in history. This is a beast that you feed and feed but it only growls greedily for more.

In the Falklands Margaret Thatcher led our armed forces to a great victory. In Iraq, Blair and Brown led them to international humiliation. Our individual troops are brave. The best. Noone doubts that but, make no mistake, we were defeated in southern Iraq.

Thirdly, and I would say most importantly for this election, she reduced the size of the state and made Britain the enterprise capital of Europe. Blair and Brown may have been elected as New Labour but they governed as Old. The state now consumes more than 50% of our national income. Dependency has risen high up the income scale. Parts of the economy are Sovietised.

Labour has the sinister ambition of making enough voters dependent upon the state for their income that a small state party will struggle to win office ever again. They are on the verge of succeeding. The fact that this rotten government can still command something like 30% of the vote is testimony to their support within the public and welfare sectors. Give them four or five more years and the chances of anything like a Thatcherite government being elected will be gone for good.

So the stakes are high at this election. As Horatio Nelson might say, "Any captain not engaging the enemy is not at his post!” And the enemy is not David Cameron. The enemy is a re-elected Labour government. Our friends Simon Heffer, Peter Hitchens and Kelvin MacKenzie are not at their posts. They are the critics hurling abuse from the stands. Theodore Roosevelt had their sort in his mind when he warned that it is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

Our opponents tonight are the cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Last year Simon Heffer talked about standing against Alan Haselhurst in Saffron Walden because of that MP's alleged misuse of parliamentary expenses. “I have backers and volunteers,” he thundered. He has not, of course, taken the decision to stand*.

A year earlier Kelvin MacKenzie threatened to stand against David Davis in the Haltemprice & Howden by-election that the former Shadow Home Secretary dedicated to civil liberties.  “I don't think it is right that he should just be allowed to have a walkover," he declared. After 48 hours of publicity Mr MacKenzie walked away from the fight.

Peter Hitchens talks constantly of the need for a new party, an alternative to the Conservatives. I don't what he is waiting for. Why doesn't he set it up? Because in his heart - like his two comrades tonight - Peter knows his views are good enough to entertain readers of a newspaper but would never translate into more than a handful of votes. There would be no return to being taken seriously if they ever had the courage of their convictions.

Let me make the case briefly for Cameron. I have three themes summarised in three words: Transparency. Society. Breadth.

Transparency first.

We have seen what sunlight has done to the House of Commons. The doors and windows have been thrown open and taxpayers have been able to inspect how their elected representatives used their money. Misused their money.

The whole expenses saga has forced politicians of all parties to cut the cost of politics. David Cameron has led the way in this. He will cut the number of MPs by 10%. Ministers' pay by 5%. He'll abolish every MP's £10,000 annual Communications Allowance. Party propaganda on the taxpayer's slate.

David Cameron has promised to bring the same transparency to the whole of government that we've seen brought to politics. The BBC will no longer be able to hide Jonathan Ross-sized salaries. Local governments won't be able to hide the fact that they pay a supplier much more for the same service than the private sector. The NHS won't be able to hide how they overpay contractors compared to the French health sector.

This transparency revolution will be THE biggest ally of small government conservatives. It won't just be Tory politicians saying we've had enough spending. Taxpayers won't be willing to part with any more of their cash until they've seen services improve and waste eliminated.

My second word and theme is society.

For years we've been locked in an artificial debate between the party of bigger government and the party of freer markets. No party has been the champion of the rich social architecture that lies between the worlds of business and state.

Cameron is the leader to change that. Empowered by the ideas of Iain Duncan Smith we have a party that wants to back marriage; that wants to create more local schools; that wants to give the voluntary sector an opportunity to challenge the state's monopoly of welfare services. Time limits my opportunity to talk more about this but this is a radical agenda. Only when we build up civil society - and its ability to tackle the root causes of our social problems - will we ever slow the demands upon the welfare state. I'm convinced that this is what Margaret Thatcher had in mind when she talked about Social Thatcherism in her autobiography.

Finally breadth.

For years there has been an unholy alliance of The Guardian Left and unreconstructed right who only want the Tories to talk about tax, crime, Europe and immigration.

Let me be clear: those issues are important and Cameron thinks so too. That's why he wants to cut council tax, cut inheritance tax, cut corporation tax and cut national insurance. He will introduce US-style police chiefs to fight crime. He'll cut net immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. And as far apart from Heath as you can imagine - and, let's be honest the pre-Bruges Margaret Thatcher too - Cameron comes to office pledged to hold a referendum if even one last remaining scrap of UK sovereignty catches the roving eye of Brussels.

But added to this traditional mix Cameron also wants the Tories to be the party of social justice, the natural environment. He wants the party to occupy the full stage. He wants the party to play every instrument in the orchestra. For too long the Left have faced a narrow Conservatism and defeated it. They have never faced a conservatism that is as serious about fighting poverty as it is about cutting crime. Never faced a party that is as determined to protect our natural environment as protect British sovereignty. I think it could be the most formidable conservative offering for a generation, anywhere in the world.

My final thought. We cannot, of course, be 100% sure if Cameron is a Thatcherite or a Heathite. A party leader - like a tea bag - only shows its true quality when it's in hot water. I've tried to give some reasons why I think Cameron has the strength of vision to be a worthy Prime Minister once in office but let me end with this.

If a Conservative government is elected we'll have the largest increase in Conservative MPs in modern times.

Who are they?

Just as Margaret Thatcher inherited the children of Macmillan and Heath, Cameron inherits the children of Margaret Thatcher… and I don't mean Carol or Mark! The candidates standing under blue colours at this election - and ConservativeHome has surveyed them more intensively than any other media organisation - cut their political teeth under Margaret Thatcher. They want welfare reform. Control of the trade unions. Lower, simpler taxes. Support for the family. Strong defence. She changed the politics of her party forever. Her children are coming to power. They won't fail this country and neither will David Cameron.


* Mr Heffer says that after Mr Haselhurst repaid expenses and apologised he decided not to stand.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.