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Oliver Letwin is very clever, but that’s not the same thing as being smart or wise. One can be a very clever fool.

Letwin went into hiding in an election campaign for comments about (cutting) tax. No doubt it was a painful experience for him. A few years later, it was Letwin who proposed having an arbitrary quota for people fleeing persecution and putting them on an island. Another thing he probably looks back on with pain. That was around the same time that he said: “One thing Labour has proven to destruction is that spending more on public services beyond this level does not improve them any further.” And yet he now declares it an article of faith that future Conservative taxes must be pegged to Labour’s propositions for spending increases.

One can understand that Letwin, emotionally crippled by years of rejection by the British public, desperately wants to be loved, so now would prefer to talk of beautiful things. But he should remember: most people don’t have his options. In May 2005 he gave up his front-bench position to return to his directorship at Rothschild’s, because he needed more money.

Most people don’t have a lot of money, and a too-high proportion of what they earn is taken by the government and wasted. This hurts them, and damages the economy. The longer-term consequence will be losing competitive edge and national decline. But Letwin says Conservatives mustn’t talk about tax. He wants us to concentrate on the beautiful things.

Strangely, Oliver Letwin is perfectly happy to maintain Britain’s unique super-low-tax regime for non-domiciles. The only rationale for this situation is that making the super-rich pay the same tax as everyone else would make them take their money elsewhere, and Britain would lose out. Well, that’s a very good argument which comprehends something of how tax regimes really work. But why, Mr Letwin, are such arguments about tax legitimate for the super-rich, but not for the rest of the population?

There is nothing ‘beautiful’ in Oliver Letwin’s love-seeking intellectual flip-flops. That he should be the guru for Cameron’s team is alarming.

Does anyone have a copy of The Howard Factor book - or know where you can get one??

I think there are lessons that can be learned in the UK, though perhaps as Lynton Crosby's efforts showed, not all lessons from Australia can be imported back to the UK.

It is not just Oliver Letwin who can earn enough not to worry about tax cuts. Most of DC's top team are mega rich. Cameron and his wife have inherited huge wealth. George Osborne has inherited a wallpaper empire. Hague earns five, six , seven hundred thousand every year. Steve Hilton earns £23,000 every month. They are welcome to those riches and I do not begrudge them a penny but some of us on more modest incomes would like some relief from Labour's record tax burden.

Why would the Conservative Party wish to go into the next general election on a platform of poorly costed tax cuts, and a hardline on immigration and asylum? I believe that has been tried on a number of previous occasions without resounding success??

I agree with Scott at 9:26, some people around here seem to ahve a very short memory we stood on a right wing agenda in 2005 and got whacked. "Ahh" say the so called 'traditionalists' "but it wasn't right wing enough!"

I anyone on here truely believes that if we promise a bigger tax cut, or a tougher line on immigration or a harder line on drugs that we will be magically returned to power then they are very mistaken. Cameron understands this and that's why we are ahead in the polls at last. If we go back to such right-wing claptrap of the kind advocated by Heffer, Mel Phillips and a host of other fruitcakes then we will be consigning ourselves to electoral oblivion and we will deserve it.

This is *not* Australia as Lyton Crosby aptly proved with that horrendous dog whistle.

You'd have to be pretty bonkers to think that we're going to get elected on a manifesto of "slashing taxes and being ruthless on welfare and immigration".

That said Howard does provide some lessons when we actually get into government - namely quietly getting on with stuff. Whilst we can enjoy the luxury of opposition now and not talk about immigration etc. voters will want something radical to change when the Party is in power.

I think Scott and Matt are offering a crude and simplistic explanation of the last election. I am a big critic of our 2005 campaign. The tax cuts were timid and only started to be sold at the 11th hour, for example. More importantly - for this discussion - I believe there was a lack of balance in the campaign. It was all immigration and not much else. This site's 'and theory' argues that we need to twin popular core policies on tax, Europe, crime and immigration with broader/ Cameroonian policies on social justice and ecology.

Sureley John Howard isn't just about tax cuts and a hard line stance on immigration. Are we saying we can't learn anything from him? You must be doing something right to win so many elections.

Aussies are different to Brits. Their heritage is of having survived deportation for extremely petty offences. Tough cookies. Or going over as very young men, as my maternal uncle did, during the 1920s, and becoming farmers from scratch. Tough cookie he. Its not for nothing they call us whinging poms!! Its not everyone who can take to the aussie way of life, hence, it figures that an aussie way of running an election will not neccessarily work in UK.
Their language is tougher. They refer to women as "Shielas" Pass the lager. A bit akin to the early american settlers. Self reliant. Can do. Get on with it.
I have a nasty feeling that the welfare state in its most nannyish mode may have robbed the average Brit of this self reliance, and replaced it with "they should do something" "I need a grant for..." And before the left leaning among us screams what about the disabled, I am ONLY referring to the able bodied, of average IQ, and normal health!

Its great to see that Bush isn't being honoured as the "the world's most successful conservative politician". Whilst he has some virtues (just), his management of the economy has made Bill Clinton look like Milton Friedman, and he's extended the reach of the state beyond any previous administration.

Yes, we can learn a lot from Howard but, please, lets not try to learn too much from Bush.

Well said Stephan Shakespeare. I could not have put it better myself. And yes Annabel the Aussies really do have the right attitude
if my Aussie relatives are anything to go by.

we stood on a right wing agenda in 2005

Which saw us matching and then beating every single spending pledge Labour made. How right wing was that?!?

It would be more accurate to say that the Conservative Party stood on a very narrow agenda, which saw it shying away from the common ground issues of British politics (e.g. education and health) to try and fight on the few issues where our policies consistently outpolled Labour. As in 2001, those issues were not election deciding issues.

As for the tax pledges made in 2005, they were not believed by the electorate, which given that they were actually deferred tax increases seems entirely reasonable!

Howard has been (like Blair) remarkably lucky. The OZ economy has been bouyant, he picked up a lot of the Hanson anti-immigration votes, when her party went down the pan. That boat of Afghans saved him from political defeat. The Australian Labor party has been weak and poorly led for some time. Don't forget only a few years ago (seems like) people were saying the same thing about Labor leader Bob Hawke. Nothing lasts for ever.

Oliver Letwin used Monday evening to tell a Policy Exchange gathering that he wanted to exorcise the myth that tax cuts were intrinsic to Conservatism. Instead he suggested the party should concentrate on beauty.

Mr Letwin's comments would perhaps carry more force if he hadn't resigned as Shadow Chancellor last year in order to spend more time with his merchant bank.

"Why would the Conservative Party wish to go into the next general election on a platform of poorly costed tax cuts, and a hardline on immigration and asylum?"

Of course that shouldn't be the platform. I hated the Howard campaign, and thought it shabby and weak. So I don't have Letwin's (and Cameron's) problem of feeling apologetic about it.

No-one should promise specific policies - including specific tax cuts - before knowing they can be delivered effectively and to the improvement of the nation.

BUT there is something else that can and should be done: understanding and explaining the effect of taxes on an economy, winning the argument for a competitive and fair society. (Tax-and-spend is one of the main things a government does; you can't refuse to talk about it and consider yourself serious about government!) Instead, the Conservatives are going out of their way to undermine the argument that a low-tax economy is usually a successful economy.

Is John Howard really that committed to low taxes? I was stunned on a visit earlier this year when I found out how much tax Aussies on average incomes pay.
I'm not sure that there really is wild enthusiasm for Howard my impression was that people seem to think his oponnents have been idiots! Perhaps it was just the people I met but cynicism about politics and politicians in Australia was far far greater than I've experienced in England.
PS Annabel I think your description of Australians is really an out of date caricature. I'm married to one and she definately isn't a sheila!

Answer is yes we can learn - and the current leadership has learnt. Howard didn't win his first election on the policies he later espoused. He changed the previous leaderships policies on Medicare & GST and went for a much less right wing agenda - much as the Canadian Conservatives watered down their social conservatism and economic policies between the last and this years election.

Once in power a government can start changing the terms of political discourse - so Howard discovered things were much worse than he had expected and so he needed to take radical action. His government moved the agenda on and in doing so enabled themselves to bring in the more right wing policies.

Its not dishonesty but pragmatism. Voters don't like gambling on the unknown so changing governing parties is either because the current party has failed abysmally or more likely it's tired, the leadership has become less responsive and failures have piled up. So the opposition has to be about change but careful it doesn't scare the voters with the changes it proposes.

Labour today is very different from Labout in 1997, Thatcher's fouth administration was doing things very differently from what I expected when I voted for her in 1979. The point is that to win power you must be pragmatic, centrist and careful - to keep power you need to gain trust then move the goalposts. It's not about hidden agendas but the effects of change.

The conservatives are at heart about personal responsibility, smaller state and lower taxation. In power those underlying philosophies mean we will approach real policy (governing rather than political anorak opposition policy) differently from Blair & Brown. So we go into government with a careful message about stability underlying our new faces/change messages but by the next election it's all change.

I feel that many Conservatives still don't accept that we have lost three elections fairly - there is a still a view that Blair somehow has tricked the electorate, that its self evident our policies on tax, immigration and public services are the right ones if only we explained them better. That way lies another defeat.

Neither Letwin, nor Cameron, nor Maude appear comfortable in the Conservative party. But they sit at the top table, and as such feel that they can change the party's spots.

If they were honest, they would shuffle down the opposition benches and join the DumLibs.

The country is crying out for a re-drawing of the party lines. A new Whig party is overdue, and probably an election winner. I would never vote for it myself but at least I could vote for and campaign for a Conservative Party without this fraudulent aroma about it.

Now THAT would make politics interesting, Mr Cameron!

It's important to be making the case for reducing taxation at an early stage, even though specifics can be left till much closer to the election.

Warbling on about "making Britain beautiful" just invites ridicule.

On comparative tax burdens in OECD countries, try: The OECD Factbook 2006, the section on Public Finance:

I tend to agree with Og.

One of the great things about this site (which I have been reading since its inception) and the internet generally is not simpl the bare information it provides but also the insights which are enhanced through the comments fora. Whilst many political anoraks may have known how diverse Tory opinions were, I doubt if many core voters realised the same. Which leads me to agree with Og that many apparent activists who are supposed Tories appear so in name only and really would be happier in another party instead of having to share the core voters views which we once thought were common cause.

"Tax-and-spend is one of the main things a government does"

The Conservatives have shifted from talking about things which they *can* properly have an influence on, to things that are entirely irrelevant to what a government does. Oliver Letwin may not think that tax cuts are intrinsic to conservativism; be that as it may (I disagree with it), but it surely *is* intrinsic to conservativism to believe that there is a limit to the role of government as a solution in people's lives.

By suggesting that the Conservatives should concentrate on "beauty" he surely alludes to David Cameron's lectures on so-called "quality of life" topics (chocolate oranges, hug-a-hoodie, the kinds of clothes sold to children etc), which actually lay outside of his influence as potential prime minister. While it may be of interest to the general public to hear his opinions on such matters (and I have no problem with his opinions per se), it is surely no substitute for hearing him talking about such issues as tax and spend, and the role that he himself can perform, and therefore what he himself is "offering" the electorate.

That he is not even broaching any subjects on which he himself can have a proper influence is sheer cowardice, and demonstrates how far the Conservatives have gone in conceding ground to their opponents. I've said it before: intellectual surrender does not benefit you, all it does is shift the debating ground further and further out of your grasp. To have had the most popular policy on immigration at the last election (immigration was the ONLY issue in which we had a policy lead!!), and now to have sacrificed this advantage to our opponents is total madness. To an outsider, it can only be explained by examining the psychology of the Conservative Party over many years:

The psychology of the Conservative Party has been fixed for many years on the strange objective of finding sacrifices for the sake of political gain; it has been accepted as the first axiom of politics that the only way success can be achieved is if principles are given up in order to "become electable" (a strange phrase in itself.

This is the psychology of losers, and it is no surprise to me that the British Conservative Party is the least successful conservative party in the anglosphere.

We will only deserve to win elections again when we learn to believe in ourselves and what we're supposed to believe in, and stop apologising for it and being ashamed for it. If you want to learn something from the Australians, learn that.

Sadly, I fear this specifically British tendency in the Conservative Movement will never go away.

British Conservatism's loser mentality is of very long-standing. Just for a time, under Margaret Thatcher, we seemed to have broken out of that cycle of decline and defeatism - but it is once again dominant at the highest levels of the party.

I am with you John Hustings.

In some respects however the current capitulation is like a reversion to the pre-Thatcher patrician status quo ante where the wets ruled the roost and look what a mess the country was in then. Labour have been waging non-stop war against conservatism in its broadest sense since they got in and I am sorry to say that with a few honourable exceptions(too few to easily recall) the parliamentary party has acted like a pathetic rabbit frozen by a car's headlights.

Its about time the Party came to a decision about why we lost in 2005. 1997 is easy. Major had betrayed the British public by lying about the utility of the ERM and over tax rises. Everyone hated us. 2001 isn't much more difficult. Noone had forgotten the betrayals, Hague looked funny and Blair deserved a proper chance. 2005 is crucial.
My explanation is Brown had run the economy successfuly, working class inflation and unemployment were low. Blair was still liked by the general public and we fought too narrow a campaign offerign no real alternative to Blair.
I think the third point is the most important. Why vote Conservative if you want Blairite policies? If all you want is a new man you can have Brown.
I do not think the British public has given up its love affair with low taxes and I think they are our most important weapon. But I think the whole history of 1990 - 2005 shows that the public alos wants good public services and is waiting for someone to square the circle. No one in 2005 thought that £4 billion less tax was enticing enough to vote Tory and that the only way they would get it was by cuts in public services, which they didnt want. Between now and 2007/9 we need to come up with radical new approaches to the public services that completely alter the current funding arrangements Only then can we show that they are inefficiently and expensively run now and that better services can be delivered at lower cost. then we can offer tax cuts without public service cuts and sweep to power. But only over Letwin's dead but still protesting body.


You beat me to it. I cannot tell you how many times whilst the Tories have been in opposition I could have wept at the craven failure on the part of the parliamentary party to put up a fight.

Jonathan @ 9.00am - I still the book in a few bookshops here in Australia. Email me on the address I list here and if I see one out and about I can post it to you.

Alternatively, give the Australian a call here in Sydney during our business hours (Sydney is currently GMT+10) on +61 2 9288 3000.

I agree with you completely John Hustings - how utterly depressing that the Conservative Party has lost its nerve when it comes to tax and the economy. I fear that we will end up going into the next election with the same muddled message on tax (and the economy in general) that we did in 2005 - a muddled message that will both confuse the voters and fail to win their votes.

My only criticism of John Howard is that he hasn't yet cut the top rate of Australian tax, which I believe is about 60%.

I am an Australian conservative and I joined the Conservative Party here in the UK after the last general election, which might I remind everyone was a great success for us. We regained plenty of seats. One could (and the BBC did) make the argument that we did not get much of the overall votes but neither did Labour (the lowest overall majority of any elected government as I recall), and anyway in any given constituency the turnout balances around the number required to get a result, and we got results. When I joined the party soon afterwards I was saying to everyone "Hang in there. You dont have to do anything differently. Being conservative wins elections. It does in Australia."

What was the respose from the Left? "Oh, but Australia is different." I interpreted this response as snobbery but in hindsight I guess I have have to admit Australia is different. It's better. Why? Because it's run by conservatives.

The Left of the Tory party are a pack of Heathite socialists indulging their guilty conscience at the expense of everyone else. In my view what makes someone a conservative is the ability to say "Sorry, Mate. That's the way the cookie crumbles" to certain elements of society when they dont pull their weight and complain about being left behind.

Tax cuts are a huge part of that. One of my Cameron-fan mates loves to say "I really don't see how anyone can argue against the idea that we need to put economic stability ahead of tax cuts". Well i'm afraid you can, because the implicit opposition between tax cuts and economic stability in this new mantra is quite simply wrong. More correctly it is a lie. Tax cuts improve economic stability by promoting growth. QED. End of story. That's it guys. If you want to not promise tax cuts because you think it will make you look mean and nasty, fine, don't, but don't try to con anyone that the real reason is economic stability. Both Howard and Dubya prove otherwise.

BTW you know what GB is gonna promise at the next election dont you? That's right, tax cuts, and he'll do it at the 11th hour so the Tories can't make a counter offer. He's stolen a run on us on immigration, the economy, defence, and patriotism. Labour have secured the working class vote that keeps Howard in power (as it did for Thatcher and Reagan). Our lurch to the left makes us less likely to win the next election and worse still it makes the result unimportant. All major parties are now too far to the left to help the country back to prosperity. No wonder election turnout is so low.

Oh yeah, and you can take another tip from down under to fix that problem too. Have polling say ON SATURDAY!!!!! YOU IDIOTS!!! The taxpayers are too busy working to vote.

Speaking of which i'd better do some work. This is futile. The Tory party has broken my heart. I'm crying into my bowler hat. Sob.

Was it not Lynton Crosby who said on this site recently, you don't fatten the turkey the week before Christmas? His point of course was that we need to start talking about our tax policies (reduction that is) years ahead of an election so that the electorate can become educated about the concept.
Michael Howard fought the best campaign he could have given the state of our moral and lack of direction when he became leader. Winning in 2005 was never a realistic option the task was to stop the rot. Of course Howard fought a narrow campaign, which focused too much on immigration and not enough on public service delivery and tax. What else could he do in the time available?
I used to have huge admiration for Oliver Letwin and I was amused by to his nick name of three brains. Sadly he is now showing all the signs of a man who is having three nervous breakdowns simultaneously!
Whilst I agree with Ted, that what is needed is a pragmatic approach which was what Thatcher did in 79, we also need to think about our core vote. Its all very well serenading the sandal wearers and the other sundry champagne socialists, but this lack of direction will ensure that conviction conservatives stay at home rather than back a party whose so called policy guru wants to ‘to exorcise the myth that tax cuts were intrinsic to Conservatism.’
"First of all, you need to have a sense of direction before you have detailed policies. And that means working by successive approximation. And that means starting with some very, very simple ideas indeed." Letwin is right about that.
Looking back to the work of that other great Conservative policy guru Sir Keith Joseph, successive approximation was exactly he started too. His first analysis was that after the Macmillan, Hume and Heath years, he hadn’t really been a conservative at all. Joseph focused on the freedom of the individual to make choices and the role of the state. A reduction in taxation went hand in hand with freedom for the individual you cannot achieve one without the other. A very simple idea indeed.
The difference between Sir Keith and Ollie is that KJ never wavered from his chosen path; he simply went about his task quietly and with determination.

"Of course Howard fought a narrow campaign, which focused too much on immigration and not enough on public service delivery and tax. What else could he do in the time available?"

And David Cameron is about to repeat Howard's chief mistake (despite abandoning most of his policies). And he does not have Howard's excuse either.

The Cameroons and their supporters in the press have taken it as an absolute given that it was being "too right-wing" that lost the last election. Such stupidity is contemptible.

If we lose the next election as well, do we have to embrace out-and-out communism?

Melanie Phillips is, I think, looking for what she can in Howard's success to boost her (slightly tedious) campaign to endlessly bag David Cameron. But in doing so she ignores crucial reasons that explain much of Howard's success.

The core reasons for Howard's success in my opinion are:
1. Low interest rates
2. Protecting and strengthening the American alliance - and why.

The overwhelming reason out of these reasons, however, is #1 - lower interest rates than under Paul Keating. I cannot overemphasise this. No mention in Melanie's article though. Lower interest rates are the bedrock of Howard's reputation for good economic management. Polling has shown that the electorate will put up with a lot of things, if those interest rates stay down and the home repayments can be met. (Note: the Reserve Bank raised interest rates by 0.25% today and the stories tonight on the news have been all about how people on ridiculous morgtages are getting squeezed.)

The (vital) US alliance is seen by many in Australia as our ultimate strategic guarantee. Any leader that is seen as putting that at risk (such as Mark Latham)does great damage to their claim for the prime ministership. Protecting this relationship was the reason that many Australians accepted Howard taking us to war, rather than what was actually going on in Iraq itself.

Melanie also makes much of Australia's culture wars, and I fully support the stands Howard has taken on these issues. But it's worth remembering that Howard has taken strong positions because his political antennae tell him it is in his electoral interest. I doubt his opinions would have been argued the way they have, if they weren't. I would caution against romanticising this aspect of Howard's prime ministership.

If the Guardian is to be believed, Letwin's speech was well-meaning but vacuous waffle. The man is a latter day Stanley Baldwin. Sean as usual puts his finger on it. Ever since, they were thrashed in 1945 (and probably before then), the well-heeled well-connected guilt-ridden patricians who run the Tory Party and style themselves "One Nation Conservatives" (think Portillo and Maude) have always worked on the assumption that the left is morally superior and that all they can hope to do is to position themselves two degrees to the right of Labour and manage its failures slightly better. Above all the establishment boat must not be rocked, not least because they are doing very nicely out of it. This stance - both defeatist and opportunist - they call "moving to the centre". It has led to a steadily diminishing centre-right share of the vote since the fifties and now, for the first time, three successive Labour election victories. Yet the current leadership of the Conservative Party - true to form - wants to repeat these failures. As so often in the past century, the people in charge of this apology for a Party are insulated by huge personal wealth and connections from the failures which they inflict on the rest of the population.

Letwin has clearly lost his marbles - "Beauty" - Send for the men in white coats with a spare for the spineless Cameron.

On Tax. My guess is that Brown's miracle has ended and we will not be ABLE to cut taxes to start with. There are too many nasties in the lists waiting to emerge - many of them in the neglected Defence area.

But it must be a prime objective to cut taxes for that is the way to get the economy moving again. A high tax economy is a failing economy. Look anywhere in the world and that's true.

I'm never very sure where Alexander Drake's analysis is supposed to take us. There are no doubt differences between the UK and Oz and we all have our disagreements with Melanie Phillips (who is no more tedious than the Cameron groupies). So what? We see in John Howard a winning and streetwise politician with a discernibly centre-right agenda presiding over a prosperous country with a declining tax burden, well-funded pension schemes and which is about to repay its entire national debt. All this in Australia where the public also want, and get high-quality public services. The contrast with the UK could not be more stark yet the losers who have run the Tory Party since 1997 simply want to perpetuate the failures of Brown and Blair.

Michael, frequently the narrative in the threads on this site whenever John Howard pops up is along the lines of:

John Howard cuts taxes and is tough on border control and is bald and looks dull. We're like that too, so we should stick to the formula and eventually we'll win when people are sick of the other lot, and that means they'll have to come to us on OUR terms, and then we'll be able do it our way and make us feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

I guess my point is that I don't think the value of John Howard's lesson to David Cameron lies in the specific policies of the Howard Government. It's in how he plays the game against the Labour Party.

You look at John Howard and see ideological red meat. I look at John Howard and see a leader that is trusted because they know he's the business. People respect him partly because they see him do Labor over time and time again, as much as his abillity to deliver good policies. He wins because the electorate see him as a safe pair of hands, not because of 'a discernibly centre-right agenda'.

We know the Government is wasting a lot of money. We know this not least because that is what the Government’s own Gershorn and our James reviews showed – in deatil. So, with our new policy (is it that?) of no tax cuts, are we saying that the government has become more efficient and the wastage identified only two years ago no longer occurs? Or, alternatively, have we devised new better ways to spend yet more tax revenue, just that our leadership has yet to tell us?

I agree whole heartedly with those commentators who point out that the 2005 campaign was anything but right wing economically. Those who say we have tried tax cuts and they have failed simply are being economically ignorant. What we have experienced over the last seven years has been a Keynesian boom. It has felt good and convinced Gordon Brown he is an economic genius. But we can not be fooled into thinking that it is either sustainable, has added to our long term prosperity, or that it will not need (admittedly painful) correcting as and when we get into power.

Alexander, it is a given that the Tories will have to demonstrate their economic competence. It is a measure of how useless they are that they have hardly laid a glove on Gordon Brown in ten years, despite sitting in front of an open goal. Surely you would agree that you do not go about demonstrating that you are a "safe pair of hands" by indicating that you will continue to run up huge debts (i.e. deferred tax bills); and by continuing policies which ensure that pension provision in this country remains parlous? Howard's safe pair of hands status and his discernibly centre-right agenda are two sides of the same coin.

Maybe Australians like Howard to run the Federal Govt to counterbalance Labour running so many State Govts

Ted 10:29,

"Post of the day" i think!

The problem is that nothing in Letwin's speech is likely to show us to be economically competent. However, it shows us to be abject.

"Post of the day" i think!

I was going to nominate it for "straw man of the day" owing to its resurrection of the "shout louder" canard.

But it is the only one to make the commonsense point of looking at what Howard did to get elected in the first place rather than what he did once in govt.

Look, I'm sorry and I don't want to interrupt the glee that befalls this site whenever Oliver Letwin floats into view, and I certainly would like to pay less tax, and I don't even want to discuss tactics about how/when/how much (again), I'd just like to make the case that Oliver is onto something important.

Think what it is you dislike about marxism. Your brain will offer lots of empirical evidence about failed states, personal disempowerment &c &c ... I would suggest, though, that your resistance to its tenets is more to do with its reductivism; that is, the idea that you and I and everyone else on the planet are mere vessels of economic determinism.

(One of) the point(s) of being a Tory is to think that humanity is something more than what it can buy (stress this is not a contradiction that economic value matters or that free markets are the best mechanism for delivering quality or that lower taxes are better than higher ones ... it's not an "either/or"). Tory christians would (I think) say that your soul is something intrinsic to you which has value over and above your economic worth. A wannabe anglican like me tries to express much the same thought by probing what it is to love and be loved and wondering at why it's so important to people (over and above the biological reductivism of the evolutionary biologists).

My take on Oliver's comments is that he's tired of everyone thinking of the Tory party only in terms of its commitment to lower taxes and would like people spontaneously to connect us with the non-economic dimensions of life. This is explicitly not saying "we will not cut taxes". It explicitly does mean saying "look; everyone knows we are the party of lower taxes (and managed immigration) - we add no value to our brand by repeating that bit. We need to make clear that we understand that there is more to life than taxes and death and that - actually - you are more likely to find a complete vision for life from a Tory than you are from a socialist, because we don't subscribe to economic determinism (alone)".

Just my thoughts. Coincidentally am obsessed with beauty this week as have just finished Zadie Smith's "On Beauty", which is wonderful, and which is explicitly endebted to EM Forster's "Howard's End". She writes of an academic who is so virulently opposed to the aesthetics of beauty - because he believes that it's bourgeois posturing which blinds the observer of a painting to the economics of the patron-artist relationship. Typical lefty theory - and without giving away the plot, the guy's life's a disaster. Isn't there, as the Archbishop might say, a lesson there for all of us? (Clue: painting = Tory party or the human condition).

Graeme, I agree entirely with most of what you are saying. The dry-as-dust economic determinsim of the 1990's Tory Party was one of its worst features. However, the most charitable thing I can say is that IF Oliver Letwin is saying is what you are saying (which I doubt), then he is putting it so badly that the message is simply not getting through. It goes back to my earlier comment that for 50 years, the default setting of the leadership of the Tory Party has been to assume that the left is not just right but morally superior than they are and that they can only make headway by arguing that they are a bit more efficient.

The problem with what Letwin (and by extension, much of the Conservative leadership) are saying is that it has nothing to do with the business of government. Condemning chocolate oranges, hugging huskies, not over-filling one's kettle, wanting to make Britain beautiful etc., simply have nothing to do with the real challenges this country faces.

Hear hear Sean Fear!

@Michael (firstly thanks for not just laughing at me!). I don't think it means that they're conceding the left has won the cultural arguments. I think that it's just so long since we expressed strong opinions on anything that wasn't "core" to the narrative (I'm sorry to use that word but it's how I think of it) that people have about us that it's going to look painful - even absurd - the first time it happens in public. The first fish that jumped onto land must have looked absurd I guess ... but look what followed! People are so unused to thinking that it's normal to hear a Tory talking about the culture - at least, not merely in a way that signifies at best a fond nostalgia for what went before - that the initial response will be to giggle.

@Sean. These things may not be the business of government. But all the examples you give are real examples of the theory that I guess Oliver was trying to explain. He's Plato, and the references to oranges are the shadows on the cave wall. I'm chuffed to belong to a party which has a leadership that is actively considering Beauty (because I think Zadie Smith's character was wrong, as wrong as it's possible to be, and oh gosh I think it matters) - clearly an abstract notion - well what are practical examples of it? One would be -- living in a country where businesses aren't shoving unhealthy food at you, and saying "that's OK because it's totally like up to your free will to buy it or not" - my head agrees with that but my heart does not; and I'm not a fool (well...) so I think there must be something in this that warrants consideration.

Anyway as you know I love Oliver Letwin. He stood in Hackney once did that Oliver you know :-0)

Well, yes, but when you stood in Hackney this year, were voters asking you for your views about "beauty" and chocolate oranges, or were they asking you about things like schools, street cleaning, crime and so forth?

This is explicitly not saying "we will not cut taxes". It explicitly does mean saying "look; everyone knows we are the party of lower taxes (and managed immigration) - we add no value to our brand by repeating that bit.

The problem with this idea is firstly that at the last election people did not believe we would actually cut taxes if elected, and secondly even if they did believe we intended to cut taxes, then they would still need to be made aware of whay they needed cutting. This "don't mention it, it's not adding value" routine simply lets the assumptions of the left passed unchallenged, and makes the party look increasinly detacted from the actual concerns of government.

Come to think of it, the image that our party leaders seem to be trying to create for us is rather like that of the Liberal Party in the seventies. Concerned and compassionate, yes; somewhat loopy; not very serious, and definitely not a potential party of government.

Why is it that people always think we need to learn lessons from the experiances of those overseas.
What we need to do is to learn lessons from our own experiance during the last two elections. We lost the last two elections promising cuts in taxation. We stood on this platform and it didn`t work. It didn`t work because the public simply equate Tory tax cuts with cuts in health and eduation. Like it or not that is the situation in this country here and now.
To be successful our priority must be to convince the public that public services are safe in our hands and will become better and more efficient under a Tory government.
Tax cuts are the Conservative mantra for easy answer. Well I am afraid you can shout that mantra for a long as you like but it will not lead the party back to power.


I'm fine with politicians having opinions on all sorts of matters, even philosophical ones, I think that's nice and charming. But the problem I have with the current Tory leadership is the importance they're investing in this. This isn't a bit of "let's get to know our potential prime minister a bit", this *is* the electoral strategy. The whole thing's a total charade because it's part of "repositioning" the party, and it's a repositioning strategy that involves not saying anything about real politics and only pontificating on matters that are outside of politicians' direct remit.

When are the Tories gonna face up to their real perception problems over the last decade or so, and confront of them, instead of continually running away from arguments and conceding ground to the opposition?

Jon Gale


James Hellyer

Wasn't repeating "the shout harder" issue but trying to say that I think many don't recognise we lost fairly & squarely, so our campaign isn't about issues we need to develop to retain power but what we need to compromise or change to regain it. Many good policy ideas cannot be sold as a means to power but can be put in once in office to retain it.

Blair won power on a change faces but not policies agenda - he didn't say "look, when we win we are going to wait a couple of years then hit private pensions, national insurance, businesses with massive tax hikes to increase spending on health & education." No, he promised to keep to spending plans, not raise taxes, not change Labour laws. It was a trust us, we won't gamble with your futures message.

That doesn't mean I am as yet convinced by the Cameron approach - early in my managerial career I was told by an expert career development person that I put forward good ideas but left them as orphans on the table; I didn't come back fighting for them. Well we've had the hoodies speech, which in fact was very good but where was Dave defending what he said? We had EVoEL but after Duncan's idiotic interview it sank. EPP could have had same outcome but if DC had been more open during negotiations I could have accepted his compromise better. Change & compromise yes but lets have fewer kites and more beef.

The problem, Jack, is that there is little or no evidence that public services are safe in the hands of the Tories or that they will become better or more efficient. The Tory track record over the last fifty years in these areas has been very poor....Not much better than Labour's in fact. Given that Cameron is spending all his time courting vested interests on the left to "replace" lost votes on the right, what makes you think that post-Election Day, if he wins, he is going to face those vested interests down? If he doesn't, we can expect the process of public sector decline to continue.

Wasn't repeating "the shout harder" issue

That appeared to be gist of the final paragraph ("... its self evident our policies on tax, immigration and public services are the right ones if only we explained them better."), and I think it's a bogus argument. I've yet to see anyone say that we fought the right campaigns on the right issues in the past few elections, never mind that we simply need explain them better. It would be more accurate to say that the difference is over what the changes should be. The inference of said paragraph is that rather a lot of Tories think the answer is "none".

Please will everyone get it into their head that there will be NO tax cuts quite simply because of the UNFUNDED committments which Brown has in store for us all.

In defence alone tere are: 1. part of the aircraft carriers; 2. the next tranche of eurofighters; 3. the gap in helicopter numbers; 4. the Joint Strike Fighter; 5. the Trident refurbishment / replacement etc ad infinitum to a figure of around 16 billion.

Then there's Network Rail, public sector pensions, .

To promise tax cuts would be dishonest but to state clearly that when finances are in order they will be a priority is essential. Without them the economy will crash.

Howard is very,very successful, and very popular. There must be something he has that Cameron so far clearly does not have.
Tebitt was right about the results of the recent by-election, Cameron nearly lost it because he offered nothing different from Tone's offer.
Howard offers straight conservative fare, and is quite prepared to confront difficulties if he knows he is right. Tone and Cameron will tack with the wind and U-Turn on a sixpence. Both use taxpayers money to buy votes primarily from a state client electorate. Neither understand the teachings of the Austrian School of economics or the teachings of Adam Smith and neither understands the notion of freedom or liberty. Neither grasps why America has a state spending level of 20% of gross national income and the UK 42%, and neither understands the implications of this. Howard is a leader. Tone and Cameron are like water, they both run downhill.

Well said, Godwinson. In having to choose between the three main parties at the next election the electorate will be facing three statist nannying interventionist parties. In other words no real choice at all. And what with the expected state funding that is he way they will like it.

"Why is it that people always think we need to learn lessons from the experiances of those overseas."

Oh dear, you're not a xenophobe are you Jack?

"The problem, Jack, is that there is little or no evidence that public services are safe in the hands of the Tories or that they will become better or more efficient. The Tory track record over the last fifty years in these areas has been very poor....Not much better than Labour's in fact."
Michael McGowan @ 17.13 makes, I believe, an absolutely fundamental point.
The NHS, the Home Office, DfES, Defra, The FCO; what have they all got in common at the moment? The answer is managerial incompetence of a degree unseen before. Perhaps too the much vaunted economy with tax credits, selling off the nation's reserves at a knock down price, the pensions fiasco.
Once voters believed that the conservatives were good at managing things; but how good are they now in fact?
The present accent on well-being and beauty is very agreeable to hear in politics but, as Michael Howard, pointed out in an open letter to John Reid about the Home Office, government is all about process, "stuff", getting the work done efficiently without wasting time, money or effort.
Please DC et al, try and demonstrate that you have a professional hardworking team ready to work in the best interests of all the nation. Well-being will eventually abound if you get it right.

I am an Australian who has spent some time in London and for the past year or two have taken an interest in British politics, which I have found to be much more sophisticated and complex than our own.

Mr Howard's first win, in 1996, was not so much a win as a loss for the imcumbent Labor Party. Since then, the economic policy became one of growing the economy and deregulating wherever possible, creating greater prosperity. Since 1996, exports have risen by 50% and 1.6m new jobs have been created and a quarter of a million have been in the export industry (this in a country of only 20m). Australian governments rise and fall on the back of the economy.

But the reason why the controversial policies succeed is simply because Australia trusts Mr Howard. He is predictable, reliable, a safe pair of hands to run the country is these volatile times. Trust was the key plank of the 2004 election – we trust Mr Howard with the economy, with our nation’s defence, with our immigration laws and with our place in the world. I would think that a good question for your next general election is to simply ask the voters, ‘Do Your Trust Labour?’ (Obviously, Mr Cameron must be seen as trustworthy for this to work – not simply ‘more trustworthy’ than Labour, but trustworthy in its own right).

An often overlooked aspect of Mr Howard’s technique is that how he frames debates. Those who are vocal in opposing his policies are typically the kind of people with whom the average voter does not empathise – cloistered academics, union officials, etc. Consequently, while the voter may not agree with Mr Howard (or perhaps do not have a position on the issue), they disagree with his rivals. (This is also entwined with Australian loathing for complainers; Mr Howard’s politics are to say he will do something and then let people complain if they disagree).

I will check this thread again later if any of you have particular questions about Australian politics or Mr Howard. Otherwise, feel free to email me: anagallis – at – gmail.

PS - Annabel Herriott may find learning from the Australian conservative experience more constructive if she were to see us as people, rather than caricatures.

Anagallis it's great to see another Australian contribute to CH and I completely agree with you. Your analysis of John Howard's success is 100% correct.

i know john howard.i asked him his secret.he said talk tough,but give the people what they want.he could do it again.the uk conservatives have a strong connection with his team,and are listening.


To be successful our priority must be to convince the public that public services are safe in our hands and will become better and more efficient under a Tory government.

The Treasury is privatising the NHS currectly - PCTs are being offered to US providers, Community Nurses to be pricvatised, GPs to be privatised, new private Treatment Centres to by-pass GPs.........NHS Logistics sold to Novation Inc...................David Cameron.....he just wants MORE private sector...........so Labour is the lukewarm privatiser, Conservatives will do it faster, deeper, wider.

Prescription Charges 1975 were 25 pence per prescription - now £6.50 per item - or £10 per item from pre-tax income.

Does anyone seriously not believe that Conservative silence on what Labour is doing is simply that they are going in the direction the Conservatives want ?

The Treasury is privatising the NHS currently

The funding is still all centralised, and so long as the Treasury has a monopoly on the funding (and thus hospitals are accountable to government and not to patients), it won't make any difference.

It may actually make things worse, John. As theprevious outsourcing of services shows (e.g. hospital cleaning), government and state sector bodies seem singularly unable to negotiate decent contracts and maintain acceptable service level agreements.

How the heck is/was John Howard conservative?


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