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Lord Flight: The Conservative leadership needs to rediscover the middle class values held by the "silent majority"

Flight HowardLord Flight is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury who is now chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund.

It was not surprising that the Conservative leadership sought to dismiss the poor Local Government Election results as the usual midterm swing, a reaction to the weak economy and part of a wider drift to the Left as witnessed in France.  I suggest, however, that Boris’s success and Cameron’s burst of popularity only a few months ago, when he vetoed crackpot EU internal devaluation proposals (albeit that people did not really know what they were about) both “tell the lie”.  Some unpalatable truths need to be faced.

For several different reasons people, and particularly Conservative supporters, have become disenchanted with the Tory Leadership.

  1. The Murdoch, Budget, border controls, extradition, energy policy and other blunders have shaken people’s confidence in the Government’s competence.  It is apparent that the “Notting Hill set” who got control of the Parliamentary Party are young and inexperienced and generally unwilling to listen to the advice of older colleagues with more experience.
  2. At a time when getting decisions right on the harsh realities of economic life is what really matters, the Government appears to be giving priority to wet, Liberal policies, of which unnecessary reform of the House of Lords is the biggest example.  There are many good reasons for having an appointed Upper House – as in Canada and India; – most Conservative MPs and Party members do not support an elected second House.  Cameron is in danger of finding himself in a position where he could need to use the Parliament Act to force through reform which would endanger splitting the Party.  The proposals should be dropped.
  3. As the first Quarter fall in GNP witnessed (albeit that the figures may be revised) the economy is not performing as forecast and as needed.  The key problem is that Britain is not an attractive place in which to do business.  The cash surpluses of the corporate sector over the last 5 years have, in net terms, been invested virtually wholly overseas.  Excluding the overseas profits of British businesses, profits as a share of GDP have also fallen by some 2.5%, and are at a 25-year low.  It will also be difficult for the economy to rebound with public spending at 50% of GDP and taxes still rising.  Following Canada’s example of the 1990s and Britain’s example of the 1930s, what is needed is bold cuts in taxation financed by bold cuts in public spending.  An economy cannot afford over half of its public spending going on welfare and NHS alone.
  4. The significant increase in the UKIP vote is now a real danger for the Tory Party.  Its policies are what the “silent majority” of the Tory Party support, and not just on Europe.  There are a lot of traditional Party members and aspirant Tory voters who are disenchanted with the Government’s apparent priorities and have had enough of the EU and its never ending impositions on the UK.  The Euro has turned out to be a disaster, as warned by many, and which will have to be dismembered sooner or later.  Never ending EU regulation and interference have also led to sclerotic economies.  What people want is an in-or-out referendum; which brings me to the point that there is no political need for the Conservatives to indulge the Liberals.  They have nowhere else to go.  The Coalition is being used as an excuse for wet Government policies.  From the perspective of purely Party politics, if the Conservatives were to insist on a referendum on the EU, this would dish the Liberals; they would likely lose every seat at an ensuing General Election and the Conservatives could win a resounding mandate to get Britain out of the EU.
  5. The overall picture coming across to people is of a Government without convictions where it is difficult to take the right decisions on a purely pragmatic basis without a “star to steer by”.  The Conservative Party leadership needs to re-learn that the Party is about middle class values and aspirations; tax payer value; economic efficiency and the sensible agenda of what we used to call the silent majority.

A major part of the reason for Boris’ marked success is because he is sound on Europe, sound on spending (cutting a further £3.8bn) and comes across as having convictions as well as charisma.  Boris is fast becoming the “king across the water”.


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