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« Michael Howard unhappy at criticisms of his campaign | Main | Michael Ancram’s recipe: fewer blame-games, more party democracy, less cosy consensus »



On the tax-cut issue: Of course if you read the small print it says it'll be phased in over a period of years etc. etc. But did we really expect people to read that. All they saw was if I vote Tory we get a big tax cut.... and then they still voted Labour.

I think the public know a Tory Government will provide them with a lower tax bill, I've even heard die hard Labour voters admit it, but they won't vote Conservative because they don't trust us on jobs and public services.

The 'New' Labour programme took a lot of 'Tory issues on board', now we have to show that we can create popular useful policies on the normal 'Labour issues' such as the NHS and Public Services. If I'd made that last sentence any more vague I could have been a leadership candidate :-)

Mark O'Brien

AnotherNick, you make some points that have to be made. But do you wonder if we spend the next four years selling health insurance or charitable healthcare or any kind of privatisation of the State system, crafting a message which makes our motives idealistic rather than appearing to be pandering to big corporations at the expense of the poor, do you personally think we could bring about a sea change if we put the effort in? I think we could. And combined with tax relief and a system of school vouchers, people would see that what we have is a plan to give people back their freedom to earn for themselves and to craft a society where philanthropy and charity is the ultimate act of citizenship.

What's more, all these policy proposals have the advantage of being technocratic as well as idealistic. Our desire for good healthcare and good education will contrast starkly with Labour's desire for ideologically-motivated healthcare and education based on collectivist ideals.

I am certain we can sell all of this and convince millions that it is the right course. It just takes determination, confidence and great spirit.

James Hellyer

"Free at the point of delivery" means just that: people can get hospital treatment without fear of facing a hefty bill.

No private insurance system stands much chance of getting past the electorate. The spectre of people finding themselves unable to afford treatment woul be all to easy a fear for Labour to exploit.

The social insuranc model advocated by Reform (and thus David Davis) falls at the same hurdle. Reform suggests 'co-payment' - in other words getting the patient to contribute to the cost of treatment. Co-payment can get very complicated. It tends to be means-tested, one way or another - otherwise the impoverished person may not be able to afford any treatment. Means-testing by hospitals and doctors would be a major bureaucratic problem. Previous Governments after the war repeatedly looked at charging people for visiting a General Practitioner. Each time it was decided that the costs of administering small co-payments would be so high as to make such a system absurd.

So what do we do? With schools we seem to accept that the state could fund them through direct taxation, but that parents could be empowered through a voucher system. So why not do similar with hospitals, but by linking payment to the treatment they offer? That way people don't have to worry about a bill if they face critical care, but still control their own money by having the ability to spend it at the hospital of their choice.

James Hellyer

"All they saw was if I vote Tory we get a big tax cut...."

Except they didn't. Rather than seeing, say, 2% off the base rate of tax or the doubling of the personal allowance, people saw a Council Tax policy made on the lam (which deferred increases), an (admittedly excellent) but undersold pensions policy, some fiddling around with stamp duty that was largely irrelevant as it was too little for the SE and already covered in the budget for the rest of the country.

Mark O'Brien

PS: You mention healthcare in America as being unpopular, but there are two lessons we can take from America when crafting our policy.

The system in America is very litigious, so I'm told, and surely there must be a way to avoid that when we draft our legislation in Britain. For me, the bigger problem with America is that those who can't affort private insurance premiums in the US are relegated to a sink service, much like our NHS, which is underfunded and of a poor quality. If we had health insurance in Britain (which is, as has been discussed, not the only route for reform we can take) then we would have to ensure that those who can't afford healthcare premiums have their premiums paid for by the State, not have their healthcare provided by the State. That is the vital difference, and for me sums up the bigger problem with US healthcare.

But whatever Americans think of their healthcare, I'm in awe of it. It's much better funded as a percentage of GDP. It gets better results on international rankings for everything from the number of CT scanners to cancer survival rates. The facts, combined with the number of human stories about the state of the NHS, all add up to a system which has fundamentally failed and which can only be reformed with a radical overhaul, not halfway-house tinkering which we have to simply accept because we're too scared to go any further.

That's the challenge.

James Hellyer

"I think the public know a Tory Government will provide them with a lower tax bill, I've even heard die hard Labour voters admit it, but they won't vote Conservative because they don't trust us on jobs and public services."

Both private and public polling showed voters did not believe we would deliver tax cuts.

James Hellyer

"The system in America is very litigious, so I'm told, and surely there must be a way to avoid that when we draft our legislation in Britain."

It's because it's litigious that it's a good system. Even the poorest of patients are given access to diagnostic tests because the Doctors are afraid of missing somethig and being sued!

"The facts, combined with the number of human stories about the state of the NHS, all add up to a system which has fundamentally failed and which can only be reformed with a radical overhaul, not halfway-house tinkering which we have to simply accept because we're too scared to go any further."

You see, I don't think this is halfway house tinkering. The real problem of the NHS is that it's state controlled. That means it focusses not on the individual needs of patients, but in reaching its paymaster's targets.

Waiting lists for treatment are subject to targets. Therefore the effort goes on treating the already diagnosed. Meanwhile the wait for diagnosis is not targetted and consequently is a low priority and increases year on year.

An independent hospital could set its own priorities, or even specialise in specific ailments or treatments.

Mark O'Brien

James, over the last few years I've flipped and flopped over healthcare. The first privatisation venture I liked the sound of was essentially a patient voucher, much like what you suggest. My problem with that, however, is that it wouldn't cut a big enough hole out of public expenditure. Is there any way we could take the idea of hospitals being funded on a charitable basis for the poor, whilst the wealthier pay for their own healthcare?

The pre-1945 system, after all, was a mishmash of charitable hospitals and local GPs, whose services were acquired through friendly societies, whose members would pay just a little to a fund which would then be shared out in times of difficulty. In the late Victorian era, about a fifth of GP services were free, and many more were taken up by a contribution scheme, with only a tiny number through direct fees. Is there anything better than health insurance as a means of providing healthcare?

There may be something, and that is to bring about a return of friendly societies, with trade unions being made the catalyst. My idea says national trade unions would be banned, and in their place unions would have to be set up for their particular industry in every county or town. Then, members would pay a little into the pot and take some out whenever they needed treatment. Trade unions would be the friendly societies of the 21st century, and of course, my hope is that this would spark a renewal of old-style friendly societies, so that unions were not the only type.

Of course, I like to think of myself as being very ambitious and bold in putting forward unpopular arguments. But I'm not naive enough to think trade unions would ever be able to do this, so really there was no point in me posting that last paragraph!

I still think 'contribution schemes' are the best option we have, not only to provide healthcare and to help the economy thrive without pressure from State-funded services.

David Sergeant

We are now aware that the public liked our policies until they found out they were ours. Don't you think all this splendid discussion is a waste of time until we address the above. Until then any policy of ours, however splendid for health or public services, will result in a Labour government.

I do not see what was wrong with our NHS policy in 1997 or, bearing in mind changed circumstances, 2005. Should we not be debating these before thinking of any big ideas. Labour addressed their past with Clause 4, the only addressing of our past has been by Labour and Lib/Dems; we never talk about it so electors just see us as a party that cuts and "wrecks" public services. If you were an elector would you trust a party with that reputation?

"We are now aware that the public liked our policies until they found out they were ours." Exactly, and very well put, David. The problem is not primarily the policies, thus the solution isn't primarily new policies.

Mark O'Brien

New policies may not be the main solution for how we win an election, but they are certainly what is needed to make our country great once again. We shouldn't ignore new policy ideas just because we need to work on our image first and foremost. After all, we're not seeking power for its own sake are we? We are, I hope, seeking power so that we can change our weak society and our slack economy for the better.

Simon C

We should frame our ideas in terms of the outcomes that they will achieve. For example, in education: "we will make education in an independent school available to the many not the few" - credit to the Social Affairs Unit blog for this line:

There are different ways of achieving this. Enlarging the Government's Academy programme is one of them. Far better would be to introduce a voucher system, so that money follows the pupil. However, the key to presenting the policy is to focus on what we want to achieve - not the structure we use to get there.

David Sergeant

"We're not seeking power for its own sake are we?" What a good question, there is too much talk about winning instead of why the country would want us to win. But, because we are backward in addressing our own history, or more acurately, we let other people write our history for the electorate, people will not believe a policy of ours is for the benifit of Britain's public services.

As an example, I thought the 2005 election policy of useing the private sector to reduce NHS waiting lists was rather good. Apart from the practical endproduct it had the advantage of demonstrating how the rest of the world avoids waiting lists by substantially involving the private sector - what a good line for Toryism. But, of course we just produced it and didn't follow it up. So, when Labour put out we would "transfer" money from the NHS to private companies their message banged home.

Buyers no longer beat a path to your door if you produce a better mouse trap. You have to sell it.

Mark O'Brien

David, I absolutely agree that we need to get our presentation right, and I think the key is to be more confident in ourselves. Why were we scared of fighting Labour's critcisms to our health policy this year? Partially, because they were technically right. We were transferring money from the NHS to private medicine, but that's because private medicine is better, more effective and for the most part cheaper than NHS treatment (by that, I mean private running costs are cheaper thanks to more efficient management). The big danger of our health policy, if it became legislation, was that whilst it may have helped the aspirational working class and the lower middle class (sorry to talk about class, but someone's got to do it!) to get better treatment, many 'vulnerable' people would have been left without any hope. Our health reforms, just like all public service reforms we advocate, should be designed to help EVERYBODY, not just the people who might vote for us.

If we craft our policies so that the masses like the sound of them, that's one step of the journey taken. But we still have a big issue of perception to get to grips with. The way to tackle this impression that we Tories are enemies of the people, old-fashioned and toffish, or in the pay of big business (I lose track of what our detractors accuse us of being these days!) is to stop being like that. We have to become a party renowned for being straight-talking. We have to stand up for our beliefs and we have to be strident in advocating our principles and our policies. We also have to be confident in ourselves. It's too easy these days to be embarassed to be a Tory, but it shouldn't be. We are the only party that actively and passionately believes in freedom, that our people thrive when they are given the freedom to thrive, and we don't patronise them or consign them to the trash heap for fear that they can't look after themselves. We're the ones who give people respect, not treat them like invalids. This has to be a part of every speech and interview that every shadow minister makes for the next four years. If we keep drilling home these soundbites, one of these days they might click.

Of course, much of this does depend on who we elect as leader. If we can find a straight-talking, no-nonesense kind of guy, who is confident enough to take our party to new plains, who is capable of walking through Liverpool or Leeds, Manchester or Mansfield and not be scorned, and someone who is determined enough to craft a vision which will bring our society great fruits, then the rest should be easy. Sadly, I don't know just yet who that man (or woman) is.

Peter C Glover

There is a somewhat fanciful nature and cloud of unreality about almost all Conservative Party (if not conservative) debate these days.

Some, like me, point to the total loss of vision rooted, as it is, the the abandonment of moral ethics that mean pursuing social policies based in our Judeo-Christian heritage.

The blind refusal - evident above in some comments above - to countenance that God will play his part in politics whether members think so or not IS at odds with the views of the conservative fathers and historic conservatism whether the self-imposed blindess continues or not.

I am not saying that Conservatismn should equally blindly follow the American pattern. I recognise well enough the two nations are ate different stages of their post-Christian development. With Britain further along than the US Ihence the differences noted). But this does not mean that we should continue to abandon the remembrance and notion of wherein our conservative vision is really based.

I expect God is as weary as I of men who propound visions of national economic surety bereft of credible moral vision. Malcolm's comment above makes this plain enough. What he thinks is conservatism is a rump of that vision expressed by the conservative fathers. Or perhaps like Posh Becks he has 'never read a book'?

What is different about much modern Conservatism (as avers to that of just 8+ years ago is that the leaders in waiting have ejected God and morality entirely.

Try this for size:

"The conservative refuses to accept utopian politics as a substitute for religion." Russell Kirk

"Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems" FC Hearnshaw

As Kirk said, "Burke saw all politicals as an exercise in morals."

This cannot be said for the current crop of would-be's however, nor for much of the ethereal comment above. I am a media consultant (and part-time pastor) and I could easily argue the case from logic and reason abotu presentation etc. But that is my whole point. It is not about presentation of a true conservative vision at present, it is a mere kernel of what it could and should be. The Conservative Cornerstone initiative alone sees this. That it entirely runs parallel with the vision of the conservative fathers is blatant enough. That much of the modern Conservative Party hierarchy is blind to it is also apparently clear.

That the modern Conservative vision is uninspiring (and destined to lose again, by the way) is only the outward reality of an inward spiritual dearth.

The fact appears that some, who commented above, have so lost touch with historic conservatism, steeped as it was in its Judeo-Christain moral heritage, they have become wholly unable even to engage their minds when someone should remind them of it.

It has always been thus with wilful unbelief, of course.

Wat Tyler

Peter- As one who attended Sunday School, won RI prizes, and was an altar server, I envy your faith. But having lost mine, I really can't subscribe to a version of conservatism that demands such an absolute foundation. Yet I still believe we can build a powerful and compelling conservative vision to improve lives down here. Surely we can still look at the stars without needing to believe they are the work of a Creator. I just don't see that as wilful.


Peter,I'm not sure I understand all your argument but there are some points I'd like to make.
I've read many books (some with big pictures and everything!)and unlike the overwhelming majority of my countrymen you will often find me in Church on a Sunday.
I have no wish to impose my spiritual beliefs on others outside my family and believe that it would be doomed to fail if I tried.
The Conservative party has no monopoly on Christian tradition both the Labour and Liberal parties ideology emerged from their forefathers non conformist beliefs.
I do believe that personal morality can be seperated from religous faith and that a moral person need not have any religous faith at all.
I also think that the 'religous right'in the U.S.A. and their moral certainties are as unattractive to me as the communism of the USSR.
The Conservative party is at its most effective when it accepts the world as it is rather than as we might want it to be.

Oberon Houston

Getting back to the questions of firstly policy and secondly, how we would like to project ourselves as a Party. Firstly, I wouldn’t like to give the impression that I am frozen with the fear of change, I just think that we need to be pragmatic about what change is required, why we would advocate it, and importantly, why we believe others outwith the Party would be attracted to it. It is incorrect to say that no Senior Tories have addressed this issue with any real substance. David Willetts delivered an excellent speech at Bloomberg on 26th July on both the failings of the current Government and a detailed summary of where a Conservative Government could offer a better alternative on a whole raft of different fronts.

On the softer issue of how we should ‘feel’ as a party, like Francis Maude, I believe we should be tolerant of social liberalism and look to be an inclusive party, not an exclusive club. In another article, this time in the Economist yesterday, “The Tories must discover a fourth way” by Ali Miraj, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Watford in May, sums up pretty well my views on this.

If the Party can merge a talented leader with both of these ingredients, I honestly believe that we can win a General Election and deliver a better and happier Country than New labour could ever hope for.

Sean Fear

Oberon, it would be more pertinent to say that social liberals should be more tolerant of social conservatives within the party.

James Hellyer

Mark, I really can't see how we could move to a system where the poor are cared for by charities and teh rich pay their own way. For a start, we have the problem that the network of charities and doctors donating their own simply doesn't exist any more. On a purely pragmatic level I also can't see how that would get past the electorate.

Mark O'Brien

James, my theory is that that kind of health service would be Stage 3 of the conservative revolution. We've had Stage 1, and that was Thatcher's free market reforms. Stage 2 will happen soon: maybe not after the next election, but eventually. That will see radical reforms to the public services, welfare, etc, e.g. school vouchers/health insurance. Stage 3 might happen about forty or fifty years after, with no State funding for education any more and no 'system' for healthcare, just like we were back in the mid-Victorian era, but with far better living and working standards for everybody.

Like most people, if I turn out to be right about that, I think I've only got the heart for Stage 2, and nothing else!!

David Sergeant

The last several contributions represent, to me, a serious effort to address the basis of a party image/foundation. This is very rare, even on Conservativehome. What a pity it will "drop off" probably by tomorrow. Perhaps that is part of our problem; we never get long enough at looking at the world in any depth before the cheese and wine are served.

Mark O'Brien

David, the right image comes along with the right leader, the right faces and the right policies. We can't change our principles, and most of us don't want to. If we have a leader who is straight-talking but eloquent at the same time, and who is well-liked and capable of winning people over, and if we present our policies carefully, targeting them to the right people, then our image will make itself. The other alternative is for us to dwell on what we look like so much that we start wondering if we should change our name or make the rosette baby blue so we seem more compassionate. If we dwell on our image, we will end up in a few years' time just like New Labour: widely discredited for being all mouth and no trousers, and for really doing nothing substantial for society. In the last few years, the people have become much cleverer at recognising naive attempts by politicians to make themselves look nicer or cooler. Nowadays, we can't make our own image. It's made for us by other people, but how it's made depends on what we advocate and what we promise to do when elected, not how much make-up we put on.

Oberon Houston

A lot of focus on policy in this Blog (which is of course good). I mentioned earlier Willetts speach to Bloomberg, here is a link to its transcript on the official Conservative site.

It would be interesting to hear folks views on both Brown and policy. I also mentioned an article in The Economist by Ali Miraj, Editor, can we get it up for discussion, and possibly Willetts speach?

David Sergeant

Mark, "Nowadays we don't make our own image. It is made for us by other people." I thought it was accepted that the reason for any popularity of New Labour was their ability to make their own image. If we take my point about the NHS it seems to me it should have been frequently mentioned, by Central Office, MPs other Shadow Cabinet members etc. (ie. not just Michael Howard and a health spokesman.) The line 1.By eliminating waiting lists everybody gains, including those who can't afford an extra contribution. 2. Because of the inadequacies of Blair's NHS thousand are having already to pay for private health care, including health tourism to India. Our proposal means that more than just the well off can use private medicine. 3. All other countries use substantial private health sectors - and don't have waiting list, this is the way to get rid of waiting lists.

If the above was said loudly and frequently I bet Labour wouldn't dare to put in the ploy about transfering NHS money because it would draw attention to our good idea.

As I say, if you build a better mouse trap you still have to sell it.

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