Conservative Diary

« Benefits cut an important dividing line through PMQs | Main | Michael Gove issues a battle cry over teachers’ pay »

Damian Green's modernising speech in five points

By Peter Hoskin
Follow Peter on Twitter

Damian Green is giving a speech to Bright Blue, this evening, entitled “What modern Conservatism will mean in 2015”. But there’s already some ado about its passages on Europe, specifically those which attack the “fantasy” idea of Britain restricting its involvement with the EU to free-trade only. Some of the papers covered them this morning, and the Telegraph’s James Kirkup has since written an excellent post analysing what they mean.  

In which case, I thought I’d devote this post to the wider text of Mr Green’s speech, which spans far beyond Europe. He splits his argument into “five propositions,” but a different five points stand out to my eyes. Here they are:

1. Spread out, geographically and socially! It’s at the very start of Mr Green’s first proposition that he uses the phrase “spread out” — and this is a major theme of the entire speech. He urges the Tory party to move “beyond the comfort zone of the South East of England,” as well as to be “influential beyond the comfortable middle class”. These might sound like rather obvious points, but they bear repetition. Success on both fronts still requires a great amount of change from the Tory Party, in everything from how it treats the unions to its squeamishness about cutting, properly cutting, middle-class benefits.

2. Spread out, policy-wise! And Mr Green also advocates spreading out when it comes to policy. As he puts it himself, “we need a balanced portfolio of policy interests to show that Conservatives are not one-dimensional”. As James Kirkup suggests, much of his argument about Europe can be seen in the context of that line.

3. Don't take all the credit, Lib Dems. One of the most striking lines in the speech is Mr Green’s claim that, “Taking low-paid workers out of tax by increasing personal allowances is a very Tory idea, and if my Liberal Democrat colleagues support it as well that’s a bonus.” This is the sort of battle over policy authorship that I expect we’ll see more of as the election approaches. To be fair to the Lib Dems, the tax threshold policy did feature from their manifesto — but Tories point out that it was previously recommended in such documents as Maurice Saatchi and Peter Warburton’s 2001 CPS pamphlet Poor people! Stop paying tax!

4. Seriously, Lib Dems, you're not all that great. And Mr Green even has a dig at the Lib Dems elsewhere. Speaking about overseas aid and cuts to unskilled immigration, he says “Only Tories, rather than Liberal Democrats, will recognise that these policies are mutually reinforcing.” Given that the rest of the speech doesn’t mention Labour once, these references to the Lib Dems are pretty significant. Modernising speeches used to make much of the Coalition; now, in this case at least, they’re slightly more cynical.

5. Strength in numbers. In the section of the speech on Europe, Mr Green poses the question, “If you were a company in China or India wishing to set up a base in Europe, would you be more or less likely to choose Britain if we had withdrawn?” His implicit point, of course, is that those companies would prefer a Britain that’s still in the EU — and, therefore, that we enjoy strength in Europe’s numbers. And it’s a point that may aggravate Better-Off-Out-ers almost as much as the “fantasy” remarks that have been reported in the papers. Many of them would contend that China or India would prefer to do business with a Britain that’s even further removed from the moribund currency union at Europe’s heart.


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