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Well said, editor.

Interesting interviews. Firstly I don't share the idea that people were positive about the welfare reforms, which in reality offered the unemployed something to do while unemployed but does not explain how they are going to be taken off benefit and put into waged work. I think Danny Finkelstein made some very good points about how the public might perceive cutbacks in public spending, which means the party must to do more to make the case for a smaller public sector. The party should also make the case that in difficult economic times government itself has to cut its cloth and cannot afford luxuries like unnecessary public programmes.

The point about the electoral system is very important. Only something very bold can win us the next election.

I think people are getting ahead of themselves, for the first act of boldness should be to hold the Government to account, rubbish their policy record and record of waste, when that has been done the Conservatives would find everything else would easily fall into place. Unfortunately one gets the impression that the Conservative MP's appear to be either lazy or poorly briefed, or perhaps both, but what ever the case there has been a failure to take the attack to Labour on their record and policies, which has allowed Labour off the hook, and allowed them to churn policies and avoid accountability, with the result we get debates like this asking should the Conservative be bold, which for me the answer is no! First things first you should be bold, passionate, angry in holding the Government to account, as I say if they did that the rest would fall into place.

Please keep this debate going. With any luck it will get on Newsnight. Arguing about "hares and tortoises" reminds the public quite how vacant, self-obssessed and lacking in policy the Tories are.

Voters did not realise they 'were going to get large increases in the state in 1997'. If you remember there were no big spending commitments in 1997, Brown had commited to Conservative spending plans and Blair had promised not to increase the rate of income tax.
Their great skill if you could call it that was in increasing taxes and the size of the state by stealth.For many years they got away with it.
I wonder if they'd made their intentions clear whether they would have gained such a victory as they did in that election.

Danny Finkelstein is actually stuck in the 1980s - when he opposed Thatcherism and joined the SDP. When the SDP collapsed, he and his ex-SDP and Social Market Foundation cronies needed a new home. They chose Major's Tories as they believed that Thatcherism was dead. It would be better if the social democrats in the Tory Party left to rejoin their former colleagues in the Lib Dems. The Conservative Party is for conservatives, not liberals.

1 . Holding the government to acount is central to the matter . A lot of the time the Conservatives don't do it or do it half heartedly . Too often they seem like members of Westminster village gently chiding other members of Westminster village . The anouncement about Hain was typical . Lots of references to "Peter" and "Peter Hain ", not cold condemnation of Mr Hain . Just too cosy .
The aim is to get power . Thats it . The stale , sly ,decrepit old Labour party seem to know this a lot better than the Tories .

2. The constitutional situation also continues and now pervades everything . There is massive mileage for the Conservatives here but they just wont grab it . If it served Labour's interests to go for an English parliament they wouldn't hold back for a second .

"reminds the public quite how vacant, self-obssessed and lacking in policy the Tories are."

No, all boldness will do is to furnish Brown with policy ideas, as we see he has done in nicking Conservative policies, today is an example in Labour's new welfare policies.

So all the boldness agenda will do is act as a policy think tank for Brown, and in allowing him nick Conservative policies and letting him get off the hook regarding the failure of Labour's policies.

Where are the Conservative MP's pointing out today's welfare announcement is really a damming indictment of ten years of waste and failure of Labour policies like the 'new deal' ? In this its interesting to note that while Labour will hark back 20 years or more to blame the Conservatives for something or other, Conservative MP's are just too lazy to even bother holding this Labour Government to account or remind people of its policy failures.

"There is massive mileage for the Conservatives here but they just wont grab it . If it served Labour's interests to go for an English parliament they wouldn't hold back for a second . "


The startling evidence of this is in one of Brown's last acts as Chancellor was to slash the capital spending of the English NHS by one third, then go round on his coronation trip saying the NHS was his immediate priority, yet not one Conservative MP bothered to get off their backsides and point out the contradiction of his rhetoric and actions. Let alone a Conservative MP pointing out Brown signing the claim of right to make Scottish interest paramount, is at odds, if not a conflict of interest with his position as Prime Minister and legislating in English issues.

Danny Finkelstein has travelled on an interesting political journey. It may not even have ended yet. He is well renumerated for putting these largely vacuous points to his readers, but when he was required to test them in the real world (the ballot box) I seem to recall the voters hammered him, and he lost us a safe seat !

Is there a media response team that is primed to go into action whenever the Labour government comes out with a misleading statement? If not there should be. It should be set up and run by someone with media experience who knows how to get quotes by shadow cabinet ministers out and aired in the media, ready to coincide with peak time news coverage. If false claims are not countered by the opposition the public will assume them to be true. That means votes are lost.

that's unfair London Tory; danny didn't lose a safe seat but didn't win a marginal in the difficult 2001 election

I am confused: Brown is in fact putting up taxes (see last week's CGT changes) in order to keep the public spending spigot open as the public finances deteriorate. I would not be surprised if he puts taxes up, stealthily, in the Budget too, especially taxes on business. Given that George Osbrone is committed to matching Brown on public spending, why is he not supporting any such tax increases?

Being a hare makes little sense right now.

We can safely assume that Brown intends to go for a full term (meaning a General Election could be as much as 2 years away), and we know he has no shame in pinching policies we announce (inheritance tax) or performing u-turns (capital gains tax).

But most importantly is that state of economy - no-one knows what it is. We literally have no clue what the economy and the public finances are going to look like a year or two from now. Will we merely slow down or suffer a full blown recession? Will employment hold up? Will tax credits start to unravel? How will Labour respond to the challenge - what changes will it bring in? No-one knows. Consequently, any attempt to outline policies is simply lying to the electorate.

Instead what we need is a warchest of policies built around different broad scenarios of what could happen, and a basic critique of government policy which we can use in all circumstances - e.g. Labour have a prediliction for seeing spending as the solution to any problem, and view reform as grandiose, bureaucratic, and structural rather than being basic, practical, and easing the job of the frontline.

"It's 2008, not 1997"

Try telling that to the people who goes on and on about how the Tories should be ahead 20-25% in the opinion polls by now.

"Voters saw him (Blair) representing something radically different from the Thatcher-Major Tories".

Very true, Editor, but he also represented something else: youth, energy, freshness in contrast to a tired, dispirited bunch who had been in government too long.

Remind you of anyone?

I do think that, just as poor Ming was ousted because he wasn't as youthful as he should have been, we could discountenance Brown in a similar fashion.

The "analogue chancellor" was an excellent jibe: What about something along the lines of:

"The PM acts like a very old man always stuck in the past; the 1990s to be exact but we have to deal with the problems of today, largely caused by his government and suggest solutions to mend our very broken society".

This seems to me to be another tactic by ConHome to push the right-wing agenda. The 'and theory' was another.

If one assumes for a moment that they are a floating voter, are you seriously advocating that we present them with a radical agenda? Finky is right on this - and Iain I'm afraid. Its not about wagging fingers at them to 'get behind the grassroots'. The enthusiasm for this plan by some well known hacks at the Telegraph is further evidence of the underlying motives here. Tim, I would prefer you had the debate on this site before making claims as to what the grassroots are saying to anyone. I for one am saying its a bad idea re-hashed and presented under a rather bizare banner.

David Belchamber is wrong. Dave's analogue chancellor jibe only demonstrated his musical and technical ignorance.

Analogue vinyl LPs sound better, e.g. greater dynamic range, than digital CDs or downloadable files for iPods. New 180g or 200g vinyl LPs (yes they are still made) retail for around £20 to £30.

Analogue FM radio sound much better than digital due to its higher bandwidth. Analogue is expensive quality. Cameron's digital is cheap and cheerful - quantity rather than quality. Typical!

I think the issue about spending cuts is a real one. In 97 I think there was a general feeling that government should be spending more on things like education and health, and I think NuLab tapped into that. Not with any particular spending pledges but there was definitly the impression that under NuLab government spending would increase, and there was broad public support for the idea.
The impression I get of the zeitgeist now is that people think public spending is probably about right, although an awful lot of it is being wasted. I don't think there's much appetite in the country at large for big spending cuts, and I don't think the Tories should go that route. I do think there's a massive feeling of "We should be getting more for our money" and I think the Tories should be looking to play on that much more strongly than they currently do.
Keep to current spending pledges but promise reform, less waste, less bureaucracy and more delivery for the money.
You can't fight NuLab on the big ideas (yet). Where they are incredibly weak is, as Iain says, 10 years of waste, mismanagement and failed delivery. In 97 Blairs basic message to the country was "The same policies as the Tories, but with a human face". The Tories message now needs to be "The same priorities as Labour, but without the pisspoor delivery".

Yay! Tim's in the media again! Who cares if it's done by promoting a bogus split to the detriment of the party, Tim's career gets a boost! Well done Tim!

(The irony of an advocate of rehased Thatcherism accusing an opponent of being stuck in the past....)

Trevor Kavanagh discusses this tension in today's Sun:

"Despite increasingly accomplished public performances, David Cameron and his close advisers are blamed for being too cautious.

There is a temptation to assume “Clunking Gordon” is simply unelectable. Bolder players such as Shadow Chancellor George Osborne fear that unless Brown is destroyed while he is weak, he will recover and survive. Mr Cameron has hit the spot with strong statements on immigration and the “Broken Society”.

But while he has identified many of the problems of modern Britain, voters still don’t grasp quite what he stands for. If, for instance, he plans to match Labour’s spending plans for six years, how on earth can he curb double-inflation council tax rises?

But the twin issues that really dominate the thoughts of ordinary families are crime and immigration. The Tory leader may talk about violent crime but how does he plan to make the streets safe at night for Home Secretary Jacqui Smith?

There may be a debate about multiculturalism, but what does he intend to do about the vile African and Romanian child slave trades? It took a black chief constable — not a politician — to yesterday identify the blindingly obvious link between “migrant surges” and serious crime. This, not the economy, is the top of voters’ real concerns. It should be THE issue at the next Election. Unless the Tories are prepared to address this, they won’t deserve to win."

Also Peter Hoskin at Coffee House:

"The Conservatives' own "News Headlines" are telling. Most recent party news relates to attacks on this or that Labour MP, and there are almost no stories about new Tory policy. This is a cynical - and risky - brand of politics. As Blair demonstrated in 1997, it's not enough to stand back and watch a government implode whilst occassionally prodding it with a sharp stick. A government-in-waiting must seize the policy agenda; mould mainstream opinion; and convince the electorate that it is the better option. At the end of the day, only positive politics truly wins votes."

I wouldnot worry about David at 3:29pm Tim. When people resort to abuse rather than argument you know they've lost the latter.

"Analogue vinyl LPs sound better"

Moral minority, you are right on the technical analysis. I collect American radio shows from the 1930-1960 era, whenever I play these through a digital format the deep bass splutters and the treble gargles, yet these same recordings played through an analogue format play beautifully with booming crystal clear bass and the treble never tweaks. Digital technology is a step backwards in terms of sound quality.

While we're doing a big comparison of years, I'd like to suggest that we shouldn't do a "2001". In 2001 we announced the "Save The Pound" and related European Union campaign years before the election and the electorate tires of hearing the same stuff over and over again.

As I see it, the "hare" approach means announcing all of our policies 2 years before the elections and having nothing new to say in April 2010. That is a crazy approach. The inheritance tax policy worked, but is not a major debate now. Obviously we'll campaign on it again before the election but do we really want no headline shock policies before the election

I agree in part with Tom M when he says Blair's strategy was to portray, "The same policies as the Tories, but with a human face" although in fact his years were largely wasted. There seems to have been three broad stages since the seventies -
1) Enough people realising socialism is a great dream but doesn't work in reality
2) Reforms which led to success but left for some a perceived human gap
3) A well-spun facade hindered by a Brown bureaucracy that confined Blair to war abroad
What is the next stage? People still want a human face as we have moved on and most know that capitalism is effective but blunt. However they also sense, more so recently, that there is something broken with our system - its not delivering, its too expensive on taxes and its creating real disillusionment about democracy and practical change.

You mention the skewed electoral system. Then why don't we challenge it? It is a scandal that the major opposition party should be discriminated against in this way. Is this democracy? Labour was all for "perfecting" the constitution ten years ago, smashing the Lords, flattering the Scots and so on. We should at least shame them on this basis - that they are a rotten borough government. It is extraordinary to me that when it is widely acknowledged that although Labour might actually harvest far fewer votes than the tories at the next election, they might still be able to form a government. More extraordinary is the way in which everybody acquiesces in this state of affairs. Why? Why aren't we on the streets?

As for the Libdems, there is a problem there. I can think of at least two originally tory acquaintances from university days - there are probably oodles more - who deserted conservatism some time between ninety and ninety seven. Partly it was Europe. Partly it was the party's failure to ride out the storm of the poll tax. Partly it was the increasing and now quite ludicrous bias of the BBC and our state run culture establishment. Confronted by this alarming conjuntion, the natural cowardice and snobbery of our upper middle class led them bleating and wittering into the decayed pens of the liberal party.

How to tempt these spineless jerks back is an intriguing question. Sheer disgust and contempt on the part of those of us either habitually or ideologically right wing makes this a task we are unwilling to perform. To shake the paws of those who have smiled on comprehensives; who have waxed lyrical about our revolting health service; who have primly demurred when it comes to policing our borders - it is almost more than flesh and blood can stand.

Still, I now realise that short of allowing the country to drift towards the sort of collapse represented by the period 76-79, somebody's got to do it. Should this policy fail, however; should we once again be cheated of representation by our all too gentlemanly refusal to assert our electoral rights, then the gloves should come off, a la Tebbit and a concerted pitch made for the millions of disgruntled C2s. Then we shall have the profound satisfaction of humiliating our lily livered intellectual class with the knowledge of its incompetence, its treachery and its unpopularity.

There are 2 problems with the 'hare' thesis that has been put about:

1. That legitimate questioning about whether our lead should be greater has fed into a call for more 'boldness' which generally, albeit a little simplisitically, can be interpreted as a wish for shift to the right. But why does a small lead prove we should be 'bolder' anymore than it proves we should be more cautious?

2. Yes, the public's views on the old tax v spend question have changed but that does not mean they have changed sufficiently. If quoting TPA polls is the best that can be done to show the public supports cutting the share of income taken by tax and spend then we have a problem. Revealingly the TPA poll doesn't ask the key question in a straight manner which would uncover people's views on the tax/spend balance (and this is how it wold be framed in any election campaign). The polls that, such as this one http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/887, show continuing net support for tax rises over cuts, with much support for the status quo.

We shouldn't let our desire for a smaller state confuse our thinking on what is popular.


The skewed electoral system is not that simple. There are a number of dynamics in play.

We (as a party) did not work hard enough or at all at revisions through the eighties and nineties. In footballing parlance we took our eyes off the ball; central office that is. This was compounded by a number of sitting MPs not wishing to see their comfortable majorities diminished through more equitable boundaries.

Understandable when the perception for '92 and '97 was that comfort could become loss. The knock on is that we now are faced with lots of huge majorities in safe seats and having to work very hard to get an overall majority.

Some of the "fat" seats are occupied by bed blockers (see a previous thread).

@Michael Rutherford

It is not a question of getting all our policies out early. Its a quetion of having eye catching policies at all.
Britain is in a mess. The three party fix (40%+ on the public services, target driven management, "steadily improving" education results, democratic accountability hived off to Quangos or Brussels) is an orthodoxy but it is not working and is just plain wrong.

There is no alternative narrative at the moment and producing one is going to take time and then selling it is going to take longer. Two years may only just be enough.

Not to do it is a disservice to Britain. Trying to do it in the 6 weeks leading up to an election is going to be a disservice to the Party.

We need to call a spade a shovel here. All the tortoises above are the people who consistently oppose radical right wing solutions in every other more specific thread. They are not tortoises, they don't want to get to that finishing line at all but slowing the process down will achieve that result, is less controversial and is their best way of carrying an argument they have lost intellectually already.

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