The final day of the Conservative party conference was always going to leave the Prime Minister’s speech to very last. David Cameron’s biggest task today was largely to convince the swathes of the nation that, in fact, it is the Conservative party that is the party of ‘One Nation’.
His second task of equally difficult persuasion was to appease the influential and increasingly vociferous members on the right of the party; members and supporters who feel that traditional Tory values have been diluted to make way for the much vaunted modernisation agenda of husky-hugging and wilting ‘green’ credentials.
What is most important is what his party does after this speech. Any poll of a neutral persuasion has the beleaguered Tories anchored at around 31%, leaving Labour, for all their leadership weaknesses, at least ten clear percentage points ahead in most polling conducted.
The scrap on the Prime Minister’s hands is clear: the fight back must start now. There’s nine hundred and thirty nine days to the general election and each hour must be utilised if Cameron is going to have a modicum of chance to realise his ‘Aspiration Nation’.
So, what is the Coalition doing well and in what policy areas are they floundering miserably upon?
Mr Cameron said that the battle ground of the next election would be: “A strong private sector. Welfare that works. Schools that teach.” Luckily for him these are two areas his floundering government have got right.
Iain Duncan Smith’s last job in politics is a big one: to reform a welfare culture that swallows 25% of the budget and traps its recipients in poverty is, without doubt, one of the biggest tasks of this coalition. Replacing 28 other benefits into one ‘Universal Credit’ is key to his reforms. Making sure that being in work makes a person better off than those on benefits is not only economically sensible but essentially fair to the hard working taxpayer. A cap of £26,000 as the maximum amount a household can receive whilst on benefits was recently forced through parliament. Welfare reform has proved very popular with the public and the further £10 billion cut to the welfare bill announced by Osborne yesterday hammers home this government’s clear commitment to ending the something-for-nothing culture that flourished under Labour.
Ed Miliband made much of his comprehensive school education last week, how ‘normal’ it was, as if he felt that the rest of his school friends shared after-school dinners with Marxist historians and members of the Left intelligentsia like he did.
Cameron went to Eton. A posh school. He knows this. We know this.
To all those people who say “He wants children to have the same kind of education he did at his posh school”. I say ‘yes!
The ‘posh’ education people will be referring to are the academies and free schools springing up all over the country. In spite of vicious opposition from the teaching unions, Fiona Millar’s lot, Michael Gove has managed to force through the most radical reforms to the education system for a generation.
The heart of these reforms sees schools freed from Local Authority control to become academies or free schools. By entrusting head teachers to do what they do best without petty interference has already worked miracles in formerly troubled schools such as Harris Academy, Peckham and Mossbourne Academy, Hackney whose results have now placed them in the top state schools in the country. It won’t stop there either; over half of all schools in England are academies or seeking academy status not to mention the 79 entirely new Free Schools being opened.
The Tories have managed to knock a sizeable 25% chip off the deficit iceberg since 2010. Without a clear strategy for deficit reduction then it is quite possible that our situation would be similar to that of the Greeks and a whole lot worse than it already is. But, let’s not get too excited here. The fact of the matter is that the overall debt is rising due to spending actually going UP. These much maligned ‘cuts’ are little more than myth. What’s most important in an electoral sense is what story the public choose to identify with; if the voters can see that difficult times are making a positive effect on the future then their efforts won’t feel to have been made in vain.
Pretty obvious this one: it’s far from great. We are just one of two European nations in double-dip recession, Italy being the other. Tardigrade growth figures have been forecast for the next few months and the situation doesn’t look to be jumping into life any time soon.
The world economy’s value increased from $30 trillion in 2001 to $69 trillion today with most of this growth ending up in the Asia-Pacific area. Why Asia and not the West? Because the Western world has been gorging on debt, over taxing and punitively regulating our economies into morbidly obese sloth-like systems with unaffordable welfare states and huge pension bills for the last few decades. Meanwhile the emerging economies such as Brazil, Indonesia, not to mention the Chinese and India, are lean, debt-free, enterprise obsessed and investing in their futures.
What Cameron needs to hammer home is the Conservative values that will win him the 2015 election. The Conservatives are the natural party of governance in the UK. Three quarters of the last century had a Tory planted at Number 10, Cameron needs to realise that he is already there. It’s up to him whether he wants to stay put.
The number one issue that will decide the next election will be the economy and we all know this. People will vote with their wallets. An unapologetic, unabashedly Thatcherite supply-side agenda must be implemented to spur the green shoots of growth.
We need to go back to the 1980’s to remember what Thatcher did. Wealth creation must be championed not derided; wealth creators and entrepreneurs celebrated not hounded. Our intention must be unashamedly free market.
Lady Thatcher used to carry Hayek’s ‘The Constitution of Liberty’, heavily bookmarked, in her handbag and often referred to it for inspiration. I suggest David Cameron and George Osborne do the same.
Forget about media spin: spending must fall more sharply, not only to arrest the deficit but to allow for some engine-revving tax cuts to get the economy moving in a non-inflationary manner. We need to deregulate our economy and workplaces and remove any barriers to growth. Deregulate, unchain: thrive.
With nearly three years until the next election, significant progress could be made via supply-side reforms to liberate our economy and get it moving properly, if only Cameron and Co. had the gumption to go for it. It’s a simple choice. Like Cameron laid out in his speech earlier, Britain must ‘do or decline’. I hope he means it.