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« David Davis advocates major policy response to 7/7 | Main | Francis Maude promises a new leader by mid-November - if rollback of democracy is approved »



Gree with every word you say Watlington.I think we can be confident that Browns star will become tarnished anyway if the economic indicators are correct but we definitely should not rely on that alone.
George Osborne will have a chance unlike previous Conservative Shadow Chancellors to be heard. He should set out realistic alternatives to Tax credits,the child trust fund,the tax take on pension dividends ,pfi,and most importantly Browns profligacy with public spending.If he can do that in ameasured convincing way perhaps our fortunes may start to change.

Simon C

Agree entirely with the idea that we should focus on Brown, although it would be a mistake to ignore Blair - he is not a lame duck for the moment.

Brown needs to be challenged on his view of the size of the state - why is he now so in favour of extending means-testing for example?

He also has a fascinating habit of disappearing whenever anything controversial happens. He won't be able to hide if he becomes Prime Minister. It will be interesting to see how he manages that.

Mark O'Brien

It really will not be difficult to challenge Gordon Brown. He is by far the most over-rated Chancellor we've had in a long time. We're Conservatives on this site. We know the reasons why Britain is more prosperous today. And at the same time, we can have a real fight over the principles of Gordon Brown's socialism and our conservatism. But that means being bolder and more confident about our values than we were at this election. That means reducing public spending on a scale even Margaret Thatcher wouldn't have dreamt of. It means health insurance to replace the NHS. It means school vouchers and the abolition of the Department for Education and Skills. It means serious welfare reform.

But it will not be an easy ride to sell all this to the public. I'm not swayed by the arguments that people are in love with the NHS and so will never vote for a party who will destroy it. After all, wouldn't people rather have good healthcare than idealistic healthcare?! But nonetheless it will be a rough ride. So we will have to be out there stating our case every single day of every week of every month of every year between now and the general election.


As Bruce Anderson said, there is a recognisable difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. We will soon see after he takes up the leadership quite how much of the Labour bubble is attributable to Tony Blair personally.


We, as a party are on the brink of something. A new leader, a Blair likely to go in 2006/2007 and a much more socialist man to replace him. Labour will finally move of the centre and go to the left.
We have the initiative here. The economy is showing signs of being on a recession comparable to the early 1990's, with Brown's socialist bulk presiding over this bloated mess.
I belive the time is now to finish what Thatcher started. Scrap the NHS and state schools and deliver the savings in tax. This will be a Tory party that belives in a radical cut down of tax and the state, and compassion and help for the needy and vunerable. We must all fight, from now to ensure this happens before the next election, and we need a passionate leader to deliver it

Jack Stone

If the new leader is foolish enough to talk about destroying the NHS he won`t be saying it opposite Gordon Brown for long. He will soon end up standing where Charlie Kennedy stands now in the Commons leading a minor political party who have no chance of governing Britain.
For god sake lets talk about how we can win not how we can stay in opposition forever!

James Hellyer

If people say, 'you want to abolish the NHS' I think we should be prepared to say, 'Yes. We do. It is a rubbish system. Why wouldn't anyone sensible want to replace something that has failed - and that causes thousands of unnecessary deaths a year with something much better?'

The party needs to be saying such things for years and that, as the failure of the NHS model - for example - becomes still more apparent, then the party's idea will be seen to be vindicated and the Conservatives will be perceived as the right organisation to do something about it.

Some of us have had enough of appeasement, and increasingly are outraged by the failure of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's socialism-lite.

I believe that free markets work better. I believe it matters and is absurd that the poor are heavily taxed. I want to cut waste and hand back responsibility to people for their own lives.

Mark O'Brien

"For god sake lets talk about how we can win not how we can stay in opposition forever"

Maybe I'm too well-meaning for my own good, but I think we should talk about how the whole of Britain can be changed for the better, not try to find an easy and painless route into power!


You've got to be in power if you're ever going to get past talking about how the whole of Britain can be changed for the better.

Mark O'Brien

"You've got to be in power if you're ever going to get past talking about how the whole of Britain can be changed for the better."

We have the power of thought and speech. We have the power to craft a vision and present it to the people. And we use those powers to enter government and then take action afterwards.

What's the alternative? Telling ourselves we'll change everything but telling the people we'll change nothing?

Simon C

Both Peter Riddell in the Times & Neil Collins in the Telegraph have interesting points to make on this theme today.

Collins picks up on Brown's McCavity trait of vanishing when the going gets tough, leaving others to take the flak. In this case the lamentable Dawn Primarolo, intent on recovering tax credit over-payments from 1.8 million of the poorest people in the country.

Riddell returns to the media's longest running live feud (now Heath is no more): Blair v Brown. In particular - to what extent is Brown a reformer? How will foundation hospitals, independent academies, and the "choice agenda" fare under a Brown premiership?

We should be urging Blair on to extend access to genuine choice, and coming up with all sorts of helpful suggestions about how real choice can be achieved. At the same time, we should be pushing Brown to endorse choice - and make him force the word out between gritted teeth whenever possible. If nothing else, it will do wonders to stoke up his ill-temper and impatience.

More importantly, it is the only type of opposition that is consistent with our vision for the country.



Wat Tyler

I've finally read James Bartholomew's 'Welfare State We're In' (I object to paying full retail for anything, so have to wait for remaindered s/h books).

He does an excellent demolition job on eg the NHS, which would chime with the experience of many voters.

But we all dislike change and uncertainty, so just rubbishing the NHS isn't enough. The key is for us to big up the insurance based alternative, and hammer home the point that it works so well elsewhere. We must emphasise that shining city on the hill, much more than the satanic darkness of Labour's public service fiasco.

Simon C

"The key is for us to big up the insurance based alternative, and hammer home the point that it works so well elsewhere."

I agree that insurance is part of the answer (govt funding following the patient is also necessary), but may I enter a note of caution?

Before we invest what's left of our political capital & reputation in backing insurance-based solutions, we need to straighten out the insurance industry.

The Financial Services sector, of which insurance is part, is not the highest on everyone's list of reliability and probity.

We will need health insurance products that are easy to understand, not hedged around with caveats, allow for continuing long-term treatment, do not include crippling losses of no claims discounts or other penalties when you actually have to call on the policy, allow for A & E treatment, and so on.

If the industry doesn't deliver the products we need, our policy will fail. It is in the industry's interest to do so, because it will make shed-loads out of an expanded insurance based health system.

To give credit where it's due, I should point out that one of the leadership contenders, LF of course, made this very point in a speech to health insurers when he was shadow health spokesman some years ago.


You're right Simon.I work in the financial services and the Health Insurance industry in this country will have to change dramatically before we have a cat in hells chance of changing the NHS into something resembling the Dutch or French model.
It is not only the caveats in insurance policies but also the the way the industry buys drugs and healthcare workers in a grossly inefficient way which will prevent radical change in the short term.
Whether we like it or not a future Conservative goverment will have to 'manage' the NHS for years before we could alter it significantly.
We must also remember that there is tremendous effection for the NHS amongst the electorate and that most people with direct experience of it give it favourable reviews. Therefore any significant changes advocated by the Conservative party should be careful and measured.
We should also be very aware of the language we use,so no talk of 'destroying' it please.

Jack Stone

The reason why Margaret Thatcher never tryed to abolish free at the point of use education and health services in this country because unlike any other conservative politican before or since she understood it was pointless saying your in favour of things that will result in you becoming unelectable.
The British people will never elect a party it thinks will introduce a private health or education system.
What we should be discussing is how you can make the present state health and education systems better.
We should be talking about giving schools and hospitals independance and putting them under the control of the professionals who work in them.
The biggest hurdle the party as to face before it stands a chance of returning to power is that it as got to convince the public that the party are going to make the NHS and schools better than they are now and that there is not going to be cuts and privatisation as soon as the party comes back to power.
If the public are not convinced and think your going to destroy the health service and cut public spending as if its some sort of disease then the party will simply stay in opposition.
When Margaret Thatcher put together her platform for victory in 1979 she deliberatly made it moderate and uncontroversal because as she says in her autobiography that was the way to win over people from across the political divide.
That is what we have to do again.Victory will not come unless people from all sections of the party understand that they can`t have everything!

James Hellyer

Jack Stone says

"The reason why Margaret Thatcher never tryed to abolish free at the point of use education and health services in this country because unlike any other conservative politican before or since she understood it was pointless saying your in favour of things that will result in you becoming unelectable."

Jack, changing the models used for schools and education does not necessarily mean they stop being "free at the point of delivery."

Under a voucher scheme, all schools up to the voucher price would still be "free at the point of delivery". The difference would be that the parents would decide where funds were allocated rather than the state.

Similarly making all NHS hospitals independent charitable foundations that had to compete for patients and therefore funding, for example, would not necessarily mean that people were charged at the point of delivery.

It's genuinely unhelpful that people like yourself respond to any talk of service reform with cries about the dangers of privatisation when that's not being proposed.

Mark O'Brien

Jack, perhaps this is an over-simplification, but this is how I see it: either we put forward the vision for Britain we believe in, however controversial, and see what people have to say; or we water down our principles for the sake of short-term popularity which will inevitably turn into disgust as it did for Blair. Political leadership in Britain has never been so embarrassingly populist. I am convinced that the people are crying out for leaders who will tell you what they really think and what they really want, and that's what we really have to do.

Perhaps those of us, like James Hellyer, Wat Tyler, myself and many others who comment here, who advocate fundamental reform of the public services are the Michael Foots of our generation. We're the loonies of the right. We're the idiots who, although very clever, are completely wrong about the way forward. But Christ, after decades of a creaking Welfare State combined with our leaders' fear of the liberal media, we've really got to start remembering that we're Conservatives, not phoneys!


The sad thing Mark is that unpalatable as it may be for people like you and me the majority of the electorate do not feel the same disgust for Blair as we do.Or if they do,it seems the Conservative Party digusts them more and they continue to vote Labour.I think it is true that we enjoyed our best polls at the beginning of the last election campaign and the more the public heard from us the less they liked us.
This thought must be at the top of our minds when advocating new policy.If we are to start advocating vouchers for health and education then we should only do so if we are very confident that we can make these policies popular.If we don't think we can, better to drop the whole idea after all there is nothing more pointless than being in opposition.We've demonstrated over the last eight years we're not good at it, winning the next election is the ONLY thing that matters.
It is interesting that you mention Michael Foot.He despite his oratory achieved precisely nothing lasting either for his party or his country.Mrs Thatcher
must have been delighted when Foot became leader he was a total sitting duck for her.Please let us not make the same mistakes!!
The worst Conservative government will be better than the present mob.

Mark O'Brien

"The sad thing Mark is that unpalatable as it may be for people like you and me the majority of the electorate do not feel the same disgust for Blair as we do."

I think you're surrounding yourself with the wrong people. The metropolitan elites and the 5.8 million who take their pay-cheque from the Chancellor of the Ex-Chequer for jobs like 'Five-a-Day Project Manager' and 'Older People Services Director' may be happy with the state of Blair's Britain, but the rest of us are not. The strivers are fed up with being treated with contempt by the fiscal assault landed on them day after day by the Treasury. The millions of poor (in heart and mind, if not in pocket) are despairing for leadership which offers them deliverance, not continues to treat them as worthless subjects who have to be told what to do in order to keep them from themselves.

In the poorest parts of our country, there is neither like nor dislike for Mr Blair, because he's drained our souls. We no longer know how much we believe in our leaders, because our government goes on telling us that we're not capable of making our own decisions. A great Conservative leader would tell these millions that they should not despair, for they will get their freedom back when they elect us. A great Conservative leader would treat people with respect, not cold contempt. A great Conservative leader would walk down a street in inner-city Liverpool or Leeds and not tell the people what they want, but ask them. It's this kind of leadership that we have not had for a long time. And when we get it, it will pay off.

If I am wrong, and if the people love Blair, then this is our task: make our people love us even more! We don't do that by copying the Blair model. We do that by starting a model of our own. We start talking straight with people. We speak to them, not divide ourselves from them. We treat them with respect. We put together a programme which doesn't emasculate them but which gives them the self-belief and self-confidence which, long ago, made our nation the proudest of all. We give them the freedom to aspire to great feats without let or hindrance. In short, we go all-out radical. We do things like they've never been done before.

If we did it my way, and we get it very badly wrong, then I'd admit it. But because no modern-day politician has ever spoken to people, rather than at them; because no modern-day politician has considered a radical roll-back of the frontiers of the State, rather than statism by stealth; and because no modern-day politician has ever tried to lead people to a new society, rather than dither in changing the one we're in; for all those reasons, I think the all-out assault is worth a try. If we lose, we lose everything. But if we win, we take it all!


I agree that we ought to campaign on the policies we believe in. But we need a thought through approach which is credible. The ideas in "Direct Democracy" should be the basis, and we must start now. As someone once said, "you cannot fatten the pig on market day."

Brown is a weak link and he must be exposed from day one. If the economy takes a down turn that should not be difficult.


Mark,I find your remark that 'I surround myself with the wrong people' simply amazing.
The majority of my friends voted Conservative until 1997 but sadly many no longer do.They are like the majority of people in this country I think ,fairminded and generous but not really that interested in politics and rather contemptous of most modern politicians.They all work in private industry or the professions and are exactly the sort of people that the Conservative party has to appeal to if it is to have any chance of winning an election.
It is not they who have to change it is our party.It is the complete failure of the Conservative party to formulate a set of ideas that appeal to these people that has led to three such disastrous defeats.
I think you need to reflect on this reality Mark before anything else.

Mark O'Brien

So what do we do to get them back, Malcolm? A copycat of Blair in each and every way? Or do we offer them a vision which will be of enormous benefit to them: low taxes on their income, less regulation in the face of private enterprise, a truly free market?

There are two strands of thinking in the party right now. One is that we should offer a bold and comprehensive programme of reform which encapsulates our principles and which will change Britain for the better. The other is that we should turn ourselves into a group of alternative managers, promising no substantive change, only the odd initiative here and there, for no other reason than because we are too scared to be bold.

Malcolm, you and I are really being too tough on each other here. That's because we both believe in freedom, we both believe in conservatism and we both believe that Britain can be changed for the better. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we should advocate an inspiring agenda of radical reform to our public services, or whether we should back away from real reform for the time being, until the wind of change blows our way. I believe in the former, but I know that many Conservatives - after three equally bad election defeats (despite the seat gains, our vote share this year was just as poor as it has been since 1997) - are reluctant to embrace a bold vision, and it will take real courage and leadership from whoever we elect to inspire their hearts and minds to support great reforms. But if we simply leave radical change in our society until it's more palatable, then not only will our interests as a political party be put into doubt, but millions will leave school poorly educated, hundreds of thousands of criminals will carry on as they have done for so long, and in our hospitals people will die when they could otherwise have lived.

History always remembers those who achieve great change. And the lessons of history can teach us that change was never achieved without hard graft and toil. If we want to achieve great change for our society, then we must present a bold vision. We must think the thought and speak the word that others are too scared to. All that is in our way is the prevailing consensus in our society, that the State knows better than the people how they should live their lives. And if we are scared of challenging the status quo, then we will be treated with scorn and contempt for the rest of our days. But if we are bold and true to ourselves, we will be respected and when we succeed in reforming this country, we will be held in the greatest esteem for generations to come.

Oberon Houston

The Chancellor is the key. I believe that we have let ourselves and the country badly down in the last seven years by not challenging Gordon Brown effectively over his expensive reforms, for there is now growing evidence that they have not worked, and caused considerable disruption at a high cost. However, we have failed to point out to any noticeable effect to the public that they are the ones paying the heavy price for his failure. We fail to argue effectively that lower taxes can benefit ordinary people. For example, if Gordon Brown had not implemented his changes in his first two terms of office, ordinary people would have married tax allowance, higher tax brackets, students with less debt, more dentists, lower stamp duty, better funding for universities, a better NHS and rail network, and more manufacturing jobs [for more detailed analysis of Gordon Browns failures, read Tom Bower’s excellent book “Gordon Brown”].

However, that’s just part of the puzzle. On policy, I have had many discussions with my more right-wing conservative friends who insist on ‘clear blue water’ in policy to win power. But that’s not what delivered New Labour to power What was their manifesto in 1997? Smaller class sizes, shorter waiting lists, no increases in direct taxation, and trust us. Hardly a radical agenda there, yet people loved it. It’s policy they like, not too much unpredictable change, a few easily understandable objectives and stability. And they finally trusted them.

Why is trust so important? If the public suspect us of hiding a radical agenda we will not win the next election. This is why the Howard Flight issue was so damaging in May, it created a shadow of doubt in many voters minds, just like Kinnocks “We're Alright! We're Alright!" fit did for Labour (Sheffield 1992). Moderate agenda, failed past - but rosy future and Trust. I’m convinced it’s the way to go.


Agree totally with everything you say Oberon.Let's hope senior members of the party see your post.

James Hellyer

Labour adopted Conservative spending plans in 1997 because they were still discredited as their own ideas had been proven wrong. We face no such dilemma.

As for simple goals, the ones names are meaningless because nobody would contradict them. Nobody was running for election in '97 on a platform of larger classes, longer waiting lists, and stinging increases in direct taxes.

Our task isn't to mouth hollow platitudes like Labour, it's to show how Conservative policies will achieve those goals.

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