.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

These past days I have bumped into a number of pieces on the fortunes of the Tories that are all worth having a close read and think.

Peter Oborne gives some insightinto the Voter Vault machine the Conservatives’ are hoping will deliver the next election for them. Apparently this machine/computer (?) works by finding who the decisive swing voters are and then giving them what they want. This is supposedly how Karl Rove put Bush in the White House, so the Tories think perhaps it can do the trick for them as well. I have my doubts, remembering that in 2001 something very similar was the Tory strategy, albeit somewhat less sophisticated; and let’s be honest that weren’t necessarily the comeback of the forces of conservatism. However Oborne does provide some arguments that the fight for Downing Street is still well open.

Which of course begs the question, if they’re in, what then? What kind of policies a Michael Howard Government will eventually follow is of course open to speculation, so I want to give some though about the things the Conservatives ought to be pushing for.

First up is Simon Jenkins, who actually makes good sense on local government, in contrast to some of his writings on foreign affairs in the Times which are rather less impressive, to understate it rather. But anyway. It’s all about local government; that being real local government rather than Prescott’s weird regional assembly thingies. The money-shotted version:

Central governments will always be needed to set minimum standards and redistribute revenues from rich to poor. But nowhere has needed Gordon Brown’s stupefying structure of targets, league tables and central controls. Some local variation in services is accepted everywhere else, provided only that accountability is local. The key lies in that accountability.
Britain does not need to reinvent new local structures. They exist in the cities and counties that applied before 1974, needing only a revitalised politics and fiscal regime. . . . In rural and suburban areas below the county tier, European experience indicates that what matters is not size but loyalty to place. The present structure of mostly anonymous districts could go, with truly local government built on existing boroughs, towns and rural parishes. . . . I cannot imagine a more exciting cause for a modern Tory party than restoring power to communities. It embodies the Conservative principle of local diversity and choice. It makes services accountable at the point of delivery, to local users and voters. . . . Cutting bureaucracy means devolving power.

So far, so right. What I am a little sceptical of is this:

Such a programme cannot be gradual. From Cornwall to Kent, Hampshire to Cheshire, Bristol to Newcastle, the party should declare a nationwide festival of democracy. People must take back responsibility for their public services. They must be reawakened, with a bang.

I still think it would be better for such a process to be gradual. What needs emphasising though is that a policy of localisation needs to be stuck to through all the troubles that will undoubtedly arise. It will take a while between giving power back to local institutions and people getting properly involved in them again. In that interim period there is a clear risk of the lack of accountability a programme of localisation is aiming to abolish may simply change its face. A future Government enacting such a policy would have to have the nerves or the popularity to see off the unhappiness that would occur.

This resuscitation of the small platoons would also have beneficial effects on the character of our society and nation, and improve our moral lives.
Just to clear one thing up from the beginning, running on a moral values agenda strategy like the Bushies isn’t an option for the Tories, not primarily because there is little in terms of votes to be gained from it, but because the Tories themselves are split evenly on most relevant issues. So this part of the current US-Republican policy is dead in the water in the UK.
However, the invigoration of moral life has another dimension to it, that would be popular and is certainly necessary, and that is the strengthening of an active citizenship. James Bartholomew writes about this, again in the current Spectator:

By ‘citizenship’, [Bush] does not mean, as people tend to here, paying lots of taxes to outsource kindness to the government. He means real citizenship — direct, personal contributions to other people’s welfare and ... He has made it possible for faith-based charities to do social work on behalf of the government (since Bush recognises that the government is not much good at it). Traditional decency used to be big in Britain. But it has been undermined, bashed about and crowded out by the welfare state.
The Times conducted a survey of middle-class people in 1895, asking them how much they gave to charity. They donated 10 per cent of their income. How much do people now generally pay? Less than 1 per cent. . . .
It is as if people feel that the need for them to be decent is satisfied by the payment of taxes. This liberates them to be wholly selfish. The concept of decency and real — rather than politicised — social solidarity has gone out of the window.
. . . Traditional, conservative decency has been extracted from the culture by the all-enveloping welfare state — a state which, without intending to, has encouraged lying, cheating and lone-parenting, while discouraging saving, generosity and self-respect.

Ok, well some of Bartholomew’s stuff is a little too social conservative for me, but surely this is a generally desirable direction in which to go. What has this to do with local government? Simple, the closer people are to how the welfare state is lead and operates the more they understand its shortcomings and can see more clearly what to do about it. With these government actions more directly in their own hands, they will be empowered to take affairs into their own hands, rather than sitting around miserably in their current passivity. I’m confident many people would really like to do something good for their fellow citizens, but feel they’re inhibited by the overweening central state that is trying to control everything.

This is all relevant because ultimately the stakes are high in politics, always. Head over to God save the Queen and see this posting on Conservatives against Fascism.

All that said, I think that ultimately the election should be decided on foreign affairs, as this is the primary responsibility of central Government. I know it won’t be decided about these issues, I’m just saying that it ought to. I’ll give that a separate posting later on in the week.

Labels: , , ,


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?