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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: Conservative MPs who approach every problem with an open mouth should remember that careless talk costs votes

Almost every Tory activist firmly believes that the Government ought to be more radical: more authentically Conservative. What most of them fail to realise is that many of their wishes have already been realised. For a generation, Britain has been blighted by an educational system which failed millions of children. We have also suffered under a welfare system that acted as a disincentive to work, trapping a lot of its clients in a cycle of demoralisation and deprivation. Welfare state? In many cases, it ought to have been renamed the ill-fare state.

What did Margaret Thatcher do to put this right? There is an easy answer: nothing. To be fair, she had other priorities; even so, it was a record of failure. Especially on education, John Major could see what was wrong, but lacked the political authority to put it right. Tony Blair was also aware of the problems. He lacked the political courage to do anything about them.

Over to David Cameron, who has acted. Michael Gove's legislation embodies the most important reforms since the 1944 Butler Act. Iain Duncan Smith's restructurings are the most significant welfare reforms since Beveridge. Yet many Tory MPs are behaving as if these were covered by the Official Secrets Act, and doing nothing to project the message.

The Conservative party must learn from Mr Blair. No-one has ever been better than he was at broadcasting good news, even if he had to invent it. Forget charming, old-fashioned English reticence; Tories must learn how to boast. They should not go all the way with Mr Blair; realistic boasting is called for, not a claim to have solved every problem. But when Tory canvassers are asked what they are going to do about the idling scroungers next door and how they are going to help my kids to get a decent education, there are answers.

On other questions, the answers are harder. Anyone who believes that there are easy solutions to Europe and the economy has not begun to understand the questions. On Europe, the overwhelming majority of Tories know what they want: to rejoin the Common Market, with free trade, political cooperation and no federalism. But we will not arrive there just by waving a magic wand. Much as most of us abominate the Single Currency, we cannot solve the Eurozone's difficulties just by pouring scorn on it (if only) and its economic weaknesses add to ours. Nor does the Treasury signal box contain a lever marked "economic growth" which the Chancellor is refusing to pull. Recovery depends, not on fiscal juggling at the margins, but on confidence. That would hardly be encouraged by a juggling Chancellor.

Tories have always recognised that we live in a difficult world, and that has rarely been more true than it is now. The answer is what it always has been: hard thinking in the national interest. We have never been the party of fantasy solutions - we leave that to all the others - and this is the last moment to turn our back on ancestral wisdom.

It sounds as if the Queen's Speech will be more helpful to Tory canvassers than some earlier reports had suggested. There has been a subtle realigning of priorities. With a bit of luck, House of Lords reform will not dominate the next Parliamentary session. There will be popular measures, which should appeal to the striving classes. How will they be received? In large measure, this depends on Tory MPs. Sections of the press will take every opportunity to promote a 7/24 political crisis; journalists enjoy drama. So if you are a Tory backbencher who enjoys publicity, who believes in approaching every problem with an open mouth, who is permanently a-twitter, wishing to let the whole world know about your every mood-swing, this is your hour. But if you have worthier ambitions, remember one point. Careless talk costs votes.

The vast majority of Tory MPs understand this. Some of the empty vessels who are making the most noise are so active outside Parliament, because no-one in the House takes them seriously. It is time for the sane majority to have a quiet word with the self-indulgent and self-destructive nuisances.


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