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« Alastair Campbell rejects all of the leadership candidates | Main | David Willetts to back David Davis »


Selsdon Man

I admire Liam's speeches but have to question the "broken society" theme. Most people recognise the need to tackle crime and other social issues but do not think that society is broken. For most, living standards are better than ever.

Simon C


There's a difference between living standards, and quality of life. Climbing divorce rates, teenage prenancy, binge-drinking, the state of town centres on Friday & Saturday nights, happy-slapping, the casual sexualisation of our children, levels of debt, the drop in the savings ratio... these are all symptoms of a society that is broken. There are plenty of others.

This does not mean that Liam does not like Britain. His love of his country shines through when he speaks. It does mean that he recognises that politics goes beyond financial prosperity (although prosperity was one of his key themes last night).

Blair and Blunkett recognise this. If Conservatives don't get it too, we won't be able to speak to the British people; they will continue to see us as the (incompetent) economics party.

Simon C

I went to Liam's speech last night. Tim has helpfully posted the text, so I will stick to the questions.

Liam took the opportunity to stress his Atlanticism. He reiterated his desire to reinvigorate the voluntary sector, identifying the dangers of over-bureacratisation and caution as some charities grow close to government. He called for an intellectual renaissance in Conservative thinking, identifying the need for an optimistic intellectual self-confidence in our vision for Britain, the principles that underpin it, and the policies that will make it happen. He stressed that ideas matter, and the the leadership election should be about ideas principles and vision, rather than personality.

Importantly, he accepted that the Party has still got a good deal of thinking to do - and identified the role of the voluntary sector as one such issue. This is encouraging - it would be a great pity if the new leader made the mistake of believing that all the hard thinking work had been done during the leadership election.

Norman Blackwell, who chairs the CPS, used his comments to welcome and endorse Liam's emphasis on the importance of ideas and his call for a renewed intellectual self-confidence in the Conservative Party. Without that, he said, the Conservatives would not return to power.

James Hellyer

Thank you, Simon. It's good to hear the bits we provincial types usually miss out on!

Well, I was impressed by Dr Fox's speech. While lacking in detail, which is hardly surprising given that these are more statements of direction than general election manifestos, it gave us a very good idea of the direction a Fox leadership would travel in.

Perhaps unsurprisingly that direction is many ways similar to the one offered by David Davis, but it does seem to go that bit further. Dr Fox seems to give greater consideration to both indicators of problems with society, and solutions beyond simply increasing available opportunities.

It's also notable that Dr Fox continues to break out of the "comfort zone" of Conservative politics, talking not just about the tax burden or the role of welfare, but also issues that are not instinctively associated with Conservatives, such as the environment. While we need to hear more on these matter, it it's good to hear that they are being considered, because these are issues that may appeal to and interest non-traditional Conservative supporters.

Selsdon Man

Simon - we need the votes of divorcees, teenage mums (you can get married at 16 in Scotland BTW) and binge drinkers. They make up a significant proportion of the electorate!

Would you imprison people in loveless marriages? How would you tackle teenage pregnancy and binge drinking? There is lot of moralising tut tutting from the "social conservatives" but little real policy.

Selsdon Man

Just seen the BBC story that Edward Leigh is thinking of standing. I understood that most of Cornerstone were planning to back Fox. The vanity of some in our Party is staggering!

Simon C


Are you saying that these issues simply don't matter, and that politicians should ignore them?

To take your argument to its logical conclusion, people with large levels of unsecured personal debt make up a large section of the electorate. Should we be telling them that they are are acting sensibly and there's nothing to worry about?

There was nothing "moralising" about Liam's speech last night. Could you take me to the section you disaprpove of?

BTW, David Cameron has also mentioned similar issues to this in one of his speeches

It is simply not good enough to trot out the liberal-left smear that when liberals talk about these issues they are being compassionate, but when conservatives do, they are preachy moralising bigots.

James Hellyer

"Would you imprison people in loveless marriages?"

No, but I would propose a programme along the lines of Dr Wade Horn's Healthy Marriages Initiative, which aims to help people to prepare for marriage and manage conflicts within existing marriages.

"How would you tackle teenage pregnancy and binge drinking?"

In the case of the former, a combination of reducing the financial inducements offered by the state that make that lifestyle as possible as it is, and increased sex education, including the often derided but still effective promotion of abstinence.

In the case of the latter, just the tweaking opening hours is not the answer. One reason young people often give for binge drinking is that they are bored and have nothing else to do. Perhaps making it easier for non-alcohol based entertainment establishments to open up would be one answer (why should bowling allies, say, always be out of town).

Selsdon Man

Personal debt is matter for the lenders - not the government. Personal bankrupcies and bad debts will affect lenders' profits - the market will force them to change their ways.

Politicians shuld not tell people how to run their lives. And that includes how much they drink or whether they should get divorced.

I do not disagree with Liam's content - just some of the language.


Selsdon Man, I agree entirely. I am increasingly uncomfortable with the social authoritarianism of some of the candidates. It is not for politicians to tell people how to run their lives. If the leadership candidates bown to the crankish few in the parliamentary party (see letter to the Spectator from Hayes et al) then we will continue to look as if we do not understand and do not like contemporary Britain. That is not the way to win an election and, as importantly, we should not support the nannying state interfering in people's private lives.

Selsdon Man

In Scotland, despite the factual errors posted on this site, licensing liberalisation reduced binge drinking. My parents' local pubs (in Glasgow) are open to 1am at weekends and there is no binge drinking problems.

If there is violence in the streets, then those responsible should be prosecuted. That is not an excuse to oppose liberalisation.

In Wimbledon village there are several bars that open to 2am. There seems to be one rule some and one for others.

Simon C

Disreali (Oborne?) & Selsdon,

If you read Liam's speech you will find that he said:

"I believe the state has no remit to interfere in the private lives of its citizens unless their behaviour is damaging to other individuals or to the common good. And where the state does act, it must tread carefully. Trading liberty for security is a dangerous game. I want to stop government getting in the way. And I want to free people from regulators and laws that prevent them looking after their families and running their lives as they would like."

Sad to say, your comments are not rising above the Duncan-esque "Tory Taleban" level.

Simon C


I have never been to your home city of Glasgow, but a Google search suggests the picture may not be as rosy as you suggest:

A THIRD of all teenagers admitted to Glasgow casualty units have drink related injuries, it was revealed today.
The violence linked to Glasgow's binge-drinking youth culture was underlined at a major alcohol awareness conference in the city.
Hospital casualty units all over the city are being forced to treat thousands of teenagers with injuries sustained as a result of drink-fuelled violence.
No exact figures are available but the total could well exceed 10,000 a year.
And some youngsters are aggressive and even violent towards NHS staff.
Glasgow's under-age alcohol culture is thought to be one of the worst in Britain with surveys showing almost a 10th of 12 to 15-year-olds exceeding normal alcohol limits.
...NHS Greater Glasgow planning chief Catriona Renfrew admitted: "Alcohol is undoubtedly a major subject in our city.
"It's estimated that between 8% and 15% of our Accident and Emergency admissions are alcohol-related - and at weekends, as many as 30% of the admissions involving people under the age of 18 can be alcohol-related."
Glasgow councillors are already implementing a number of policies aimed at curbing the problems associated with youth drinking.
And police chiefs are examining their city centre operations and have begun using metal detectors.
Happy hours - encouraging revellers to drink large amounts of alcohol quickly - have also been banned and moves are under way to replace glasses with plastic.
Glasgow social work chief David Comley has called for increased police monitoring of so-called hotspots for under-age drink sales and violence.
However, Glasgow's drinks shame does not begin and end with teenagers the conference attended by key health and professionals heard.
The total number of deaths caused by alcohol are around 400 a year in the city - 60% higher than the rest of Scotland.
And people are six times more likely to develop alcohol-related health problems if they live in one of the city's deprived areas than in more affluent neighbourhoods.
The Play Safe In Glasgow conference also heard that the rates for alcohol-specific crimes in the city were almost four times the Scottish average.
The Greater Glasgow area has the highest rate of drink driving offences compared to the rest of Scotland, while alcohol admissions to the city's hospitals have risen by 7% between 1998 and 2003.
The most recent figures show 8636 people were discharged from hospitals in Greater Glasgow across 2002/2003 after being treated for alcohol-related illnesses.
And shockingly the alcohol-related mortality rate in the wider city area is 67% higher than the national rate, even with Scotland having some of the worst alcoholism rates in the world.
Despite the bleak picture painted by the statistics, health professionals claim there are signs of improvement among teenagers and drinkers in social inclusion areas.
But they insist attempts to tackle the problem will take years before showing any meaningful and positive results.
Jane Hasler, of the Greater Glasgow Alcohol Awareness Team and one of the conference organisers, said: "There are shoots of hope that the message is getting through at a local level but we are still a long long way from changing the drinking culture in Glasgow.
"Results will be achieved at a slow and steady pace, much like the smoking issue."

Jonathan Sheppard

Have you seen that Willets is expected to back David Davis. Interesting developments!

Simon C

That would certainly be a roll of thunder!

Daniel Vince-Archer

Where did you see that Jonathan? That would be an interesting development indeed and if true, has definitely blown my hunch that Willetts would back Ken in exchange for the Shadow Chancellorship right out of the water!

Jonathan Sheppard

BBC - plus a couple of people I know mentioned it. If true it backs up my theory that David is playing the smart long game. There's no point having a whiz bang website that gets you one day of great coverage. He is slowly building a coalition of support across the whole of the party (not just right wingers as has been unfairly suggested) so that the party can be united in its fight against the Labour party.

James Hellyer

"There's no point having a whiz bang website"

Like he did last time?

Jonathan Sheppard

I support Davis - and have been fairly open about that as having stood in 2005 in a Labour seat, where there are at least 12,000 Tory voters out there, I think his brand of politics and his philosophy is best equipped to take the fight into the Labour heartlands. The seat I stood in is unlikely to go Tory in the near future - yet the local council did. It was down to pushing Davis type policies on law and order which helped this happen.

Selsdon Man

Simon - Glasgow has always had a drinking culture - much worse that rest of Scotland or the rest of the UK. There is nothing new in those statistics. There is no mention of licensing liberalisation making things worse in your piece. It is the culture that needs to be tackled.

Simon C


You did say that there are "no binge-drinking problems", which is the point I was trying to counter. Clearly, as you say, there are very significant binge-drinking problems. I don't know much about the liberalisation of drinking laws in Glasgow, but if there has already been liberalisation, it has clearly failed to reduce the binge-drinking problem. The statistics in this peice are single-year snapshots, so don't tell us anything about whether these figures represent a rise or not.

I don't think I have come out either for or against liberalisation of licensing laws yet. I would agree with you, though, that the existing law needs to be enforced, and that this is a cultural problem which needs to be addressed.

My point is that these are issues which conservative politicians should be unafraid to speak out about. They are ducking responsibility if they are scared off by cries of "nanny state".

Selsdon Man

Simon, I said that there were no binge drinking problems where my parents live and the pubs stay open to 1am at weekends.

Liberalisation initially cut down binge drinking. There used to be a rush to buy big rounds when the bell went. Several pints were then downed before chucking out time at 11.20. Cue drunkeness and fights. It may that that this has returned recently albeit two or three hours later.

I would favour liberalisation with higher licence fees or council tax for pubs or bars that stay open late to pay for more police. If there is a problem in a particular town centre, the council should have the powers to impose early closing or take away licences.

I am concerned that some Conservative MPs oppose liberalisation in principle rather taking a more pragmatic approach. Law abiding people should be able to have a late night drink in their local if they want to.

Anyway we seem to be agreed that culture is the problem! I not PC and have no problem with Conservative politicians speaking on any subject including race, religion or sex.

Simon C

Thanks to James Hellyer for picking the letter below up & posting it on the Newslinks page. I thought it deserved a wider posting.

Courage is an essential leadership quality. Our next leader will need it by the gallon. He will come under immense pressure to change course, or dilute strategy. The "guts" test, as David Willetts and Alastair Campbell have put it, is an important one.

Liam has shown it during this campaign. He has championed unfashionable causes. His speeches have set out his own views, and have not needed spinning under a headline on the lines of "Fox reaches out to one wing of the Party or the other".

As appeared in The Times:

September 16, 2005

Tory campaign

From the Chief Executive of SANE

Sir, Ann Treneman seemed to suggest (Parliamentary Sketch, September 9) that Dr Liam Fox’s Conservative Party leadership campaign launch amounted to exploitation of those with mental illness.

Throughout the last five years, Dr Fox has strongly supported the work of SANE and the callers who depend on its helpline, as well as other mental health organisations. As Shadow Health Secretary, he put the issue of mental illness at the heart of Conservative policy. On September 25, he will honour a long-standing commitment to visit the Prince of Wales International Centre for SANE Research.

Those suffering from mental illness value enormously those senior politicians who have the courage to support such an unfashionable cause.


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