Conservative Diary

« Cameron demands statement from Brown on release of Lockerbie bomber | Main | William Hague issues a list of questions for Labour over release of Lockerbie bomber »

How well did Conservatives use our years of Opposition?

"This is almost certainly the Conservative Party’s final summer in opposition: for Tories, the last of the summer whines. After that, one more party conference; and then they look forward to government. For them it’s about the future now: no time to linger over might-have-beens, no point in post mortems on opposition.  But the rest of us are entitled to sneak a backwards glance. What kind of opposition have they proved? How did they handle those 12 years?"

So asks Matthew Parris in his column for Saturday's Times.

Here are my random observations (inspired by Peter Franklin's 'Ten unwasted years' piece written in May 2007):

Hague Keep The Pound We saved the pound. If William Hague hadn't have campaigned so vigorously against Blair on keeping the pound (and against Ken Clarke and the other Europhiles) Britain may have been in the eurozone now. By making it a party political issue (something that would have been impossible if Clarke had become leader in 1997 or 2001) Blair did not dare hold a referendum.

Without Tory support the Iraq war may never have happened.  That's certainly my view and the view of the Bush White House.  I suspect a good half of Tory members regret the position that Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Ancram, Michael Howard, Oliver Letwin and the rest of the shadow cabinet took at that time.  I do not.  I regret the way the war was prosecuted.

We have accepted key parts of the '1997 settlement'.  We have not struggled against all that Labour has done.  We have accepted that devolution is here to stay.  We now support Bank of England independence - if not the tripartite regulatory regime that accompanied independence.  We support the minimum wage and 0.7% of national income being spent on overseas aid.  We support the rights introduced for gay Britons although are more careful than Labour about protecting the freedoms of churches and others to disagree with homosexuality.

We became civil libertarian. This is a massive change from 1997 and David Davis can take much of the credit. The next generation of Conservative MPs is strongly opposed to extending pre-charge detention periods, ID cards and supports restoration of the liberties of the countryside.

We returned to power but not to principle in local government.  In 1997 we were the third party of local government.  Today we are dominant.  But outside a few flagship Tory councils - Hammersmith & Fulham has become the new darling - the level of distinctiveness is disappointing.  Eric Pickles' Conservative Council Innovation Unit belatedly aims to challenge this.  Harry Phibbs on ConHome's local government blog issues challenges almost every day!

CAMERONAT3 David Cameron united the Conservative big tent.  Cameron has many achievements but his ability to have got all the big beasts back in the tent is particularly notable.  IDS, Redwood, Lilley, Clarke and Heseltine all have a stake in the project's success. 

We did not adequately oppose Labour's spending splurge. This is a point made by Matthew Parris. The Cameroons were dazzled by Blair and Philip Gould's 'Unfinished Revolution' became something of a blueprint for them.  The Tory leadership was still promising to match Labour's spending plans less than a year ago.  Even today Conservatives are promising to outspend Labour on the NHS.  As Andrew Grice writes in today's Independent, some Tories are wondering if the party leadership is fighting the last war.

The next generation of Conservative candidates are Thatcherite, independent-minded and in touch with the modern world.  By the time the 2010 manifesto is gathering dust on library shelves and when David Cameron is considering retirement from frontline politics the 2010 intake of Tory MPs (the largest of its kind in modern times) will still be hugely influential.  The mainstream media obsesses about the gender and ethnic mix of the next Tory intake.  I'm more interested in its beliefs and am optimistic.

Failure to become an internet-age party.  CCHQ has used the internet more inventively than other political parties but it has failed to build the kind of email lists and coalitions that Labour now has the opportunity to build if they (as we hope) go into opposition next year.

IDS-THE-HAWK-TURNED-DOVE We became a party of social justice.  I'm biased (I count Iain Duncan Smith as a very close friend) but I'm proudest of this achievement.  Iain was a rejected leader but by continuing work he began from 2001 until 2003 he has become one of the very biggest beasts in the Conservative jungle.  More important than that - through his Centre for Social Justice - he has helped developed a policy agenda that can reverse the increase in deep poverty that has characterised the Brown-Blair years.  It's going to be hard given the state of the public finances but there are things we can do without spending much money.

What would you add? 

Tim Montgomerie


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