Thursday, October 05, 2006

Reflections On Bournemouth

For us small government types, Bournemouth was a disappointment. I've already blogged the main conclusions on Conservative Home. Briefly, they are:

1 Tax and spend. A touchstone issue, and one where Cameron's Conservatives are determined to show they've changed. So while George Osborne was perfectly happy to tell us he believes in lower taxes, he gave away nothing. Sharing the proceeds of growth means no tax cut pledges in case voters think it means we'll destroy the NHS. And taxes will never be cut if voters think it might endanger economic stability.

These are not economic arguments. As a member of the Forsyth Tax Commission told a fringe meeting, they will be proposing £19.5bn of tax cuts which could certainly be done without endangering stability.

George's position is all about politics - voters are reckoned to have bought Gordo's line that we are the party of boom and bust economics and 15% mortgage rates, so we can only have policies that continue Gordo's own ever so "prudent" stance.

One interesting sidelight. At the beginning of the week John Redwood was going around loudly proclaiming the case for cuts, and talking to fringe meetings about the new pamphlet form the No Turning Back Group of MPs setting out the detail.

But by Tuesday night he'd changed his tune. From then on he pronounced himself entirely happy with the position set out in George's platform speech. What happened? Many tax-cutters concluded he'd been taken into a smoke-filled room and worked over. But since Vulcans can't feel pain, surely that can't be the explanation.

Hopefully he was tipped the wink by George that everything will be alright on the night. But just as likely is the darker explanation that it's all part of the media story. In the same way that Boris is licenced to clown, so John is licenced to talk dirty about tax - just so long as he's suitably contrite afterwards.

2. Public Services. Just as discouraging were the utterances from David Willets on education and Andrew Lansley on health. In both of these key areas, and despite the fact that the policy groups have not yet reported back, the party has already ruled out the boldest and most innovative ideas - like competing social health insurers and co-payment in health, and vouchers in education.

It seems that once again, the party's concern to remain on "the centreground" means they are ruling out the very policies that are most likely to work.

We hope Dave and George have got their excuses ready now for why a continuation of Labour's catastrophic policies will not have produced any meaningful improvement by 2014.

Does anyone still wonder people are so cynical about Westminster politicians?

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