Barring a major unilateral turnaround in the economy or Gordon Brown appearing on X-Factor singing a barnstorming version of  Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ it appears fairly clear that the Conservatives will win the next election and David Cameron will be the next Prime Minister.  The parallels with the transformation of the Labour Party under Tony Blair are quite evident, even down to using much of the same PR machine that Labour used to mastermind their metamorphosis into the party that was elected in 1997.  Certainly the Cameron publicity machine has been in overdrive with interviews and appearances almost ubiquitous, and yet amongst the commentators and the observers as well as for some of those of us lay members and interested parties there remains a nagging question about what Cameron and his new “Compassionate Conservatism” really stand for.

Cameron wants to be all things to all people, this is fairly natural as an opposition politician does not wish to alienate voters who may mean the difference between overall majority and landslide victory, moreover his own political career and stature rests very much on the Tory victory, for failure now would rank alongside the greatest political defeats in British history.  However to allow the party an almost unimpeded run into government as appears to be happening is tantamount to not contesting a opposition lineout in rugby on your own five metre line and not expecting your opponents to score a try.  If the public are mindful to remove the Labour party because they disagree with their politics or their decisions would it not be prudent to ensure that the opposition have a tangibly different way of doing things?  Thus the onus is on the electorate and the Fourth Estate to find out just what the country may be letting itself in for, and the truth is that few of them seem at all bothered.  Dissatisfaction with the incumbent and vacuous promises have won British elections before and look likely to again and this spells serious trouble.  The Metropolitan Police have already predicted a middle-class “Summer of Rage” against the economic problems and if this is to come to pass the analogy of 1978 will be almost complete, economic meltdown, trouble with the unions and workforce etc.  The stage is set for a perceived ‘Summer of Discontent.’

What bothers most British people at the moment, and therefore likely to “inform” their decision on who to vote for, are the old chestnuts such as the economy, immigration, unemployment, crime and taxation.  It would be nice to think people may care about the welfare state, healthcare, pension provision, education and social cohesion but these tend to be very much more marginalised than the big isolationist dogmas.  I say isolationist because the key points I have listed above fall into 2 very distinct categories, the first list contains the ‘me’ items, ie specific concepts that affect me personally and the second the ‘us’ items ie concepts that affect us much more as a whole.  That may sound far-fetched when you look at wooly tag words such as economy and crime but people are not worried about the overall rate of crime in general, they are worried about whether or not they, and most often their property, is really safe.  Likewise the economy is of interest in terms of what it means to their pay packet, their house price and how much the contents of their trolley or their fuel tank is going to cost not what it may mean to the family next door or in the next city.  Likewise in taxation, the primary concern is not whether tax revenue is spent wisely and for the good of society and public services but just how much they are going to have to pay from their wage.  I believe you can tell a lot about a society if you look at which of these concepts are more important to people.

It is difficult to believe that the Tories would have handled the economy very differently, the precedent in recent times is 1992 where billions of pounds of taxpayers money was pumped into sterling in an unsuccessful attempt to prop up the currency.  The Conservatives are a party wedded to business and the city, they have hitherto been given credence as a safe pair of economic hands, but this mantle has come from the city financiers and analysts who are as resistant to changing the status quo as the Conservatives are.  One could say that one of the reasons Britain has faced such a severe hit from the economic downturn is because the Conservatives did not seek to carry out any far-reaching reform of the financial institutions and sector in general in the wake of the last recession and Labour have merely continued that inaction.  Even when openly criticising the government little is given as to what would have been done differently had the Tories been in charge, Tory grandee Chris Patten has stated that he never thought he would be voting on nationalising the banks but he offers no idea as to how that situation would have been avoided by his party and was himself in the government that presided over Black Wednesday in 1992.  Norman Lamont, astonishingly now in the House Of Lords, is also quick to criticise anyone else’s handling of the economy and even quicker to forget the quite catastrophic mishandling of it that he himself made of it as chancellor in 1992.  The man bends like a reed in the wind suiting his answers to the questioner concerned, implying loyalty where necessary and dissent where expedient.  Why are these people trotted out, why do such imbeciles have any relevance?  During the current crisis one has not seen David Cameron leading the calls for a salary cap on the directors of nationalised UK banks, nor to suggest that huge bonus payouts and golden parachute pension plans are an anathema to the outgoing directors of failing businesses, so whilst Cameron in public is keen to ride on Barack Obama’s coattails through the wind of change, he is a reactionary in every sense of the word.

Perhaps some of the electorate are under the impression that the New Conservatives have learnt the lessons from the fall of the old guard.  However in a recent program conducted by the then inside man Michael Portillo interviewing his former cabinet colleagues the matter of the Poll Tax was mentioned.  All were quick to infer that they had told Thatcher it would be a bad idea and that she had lost touch with the electorate but critically none seemed to understand just why this met with the level of vitriol that it did in 1990.  Their summations suggested that it was because it involved charging people that had not paid before, like women in the home etc who had previously let their breadwinning husband pay the rates.  Leaving aside the very misogynistic element of this stereotype not one of these dinosaurs suggested for a moment that the tax itself was hated because it was utterly iniquitous in its foundation and draconian in its implementation.  Households of two adults and a child of eighteen still at school that had once paid £250 for their annual rates were expected to pay £1200 without prior notice and without any amelioration of circumstances or amenities, others in single-occupancy in large houses found themselves no longer paying for what they received in their area but a flat-rate based arbitrarily on the levy of the incumbent council.  (I must at this point declare vested interest – I was one of the eighteen year olds still in full-time education expected to pay without having the luxury of any wage.  I refused on principle and my local council sent a summons to my then address in the United States for a court appearance that had taken place whilst the letter was in transit.)

Cameron is the master of talking a good game, one would expect it, he went to Eton and Oxford obtaining the best education money can buy whilst also coming from a wealthy family that gave him every advantage to succeed in life.  It is easy for someone with such a background to eulogise about opportunities and fairness as he himself has rarely seen the daily adversity most of the country contends with, it would be like expecting the Queen to have a handle on how it is to live when you’re waiting for a decision on housing benefit.  There are examples of those coming from the establishment turning their back on the established system and all its flaws, such as Tony Benn who renounced his title and held cabinet office in a comparatively left-wing Labour government in the 1970s, but these are very much the exception rather than the rule.  Cameron is no radical and delving into his past as well as his present illustrates this quite graphically.

His stance on immigration ticks every box, he wishes to make clear that “immigration has been good for Britain” right that’s kept the immigrants and moderates happy, but also “there must be more controls” thus keeping the rapid xenophobes in their cages.  How does Cameron expect to square these two points of view, he will inevitably alienate one faction the question is which?  Arguably this question also impacts very much on the economy, many migrant workers work below the minimum wage and a great many businesses will feel that being forced to consider British labour in the current financial climate will put unnecessary pressure on their ability to survive.  They tried the same trick when the minimum wage was to be introduced and almost succeeded in derailing it, companies claimed, without a sense of irony, that if they were forced to adopt a minimum wage for their workers they were likely to go out of business.  Very few did.  This was also legislation under a Labour government, the Conservatives had many opportunities to implement it before but had always ducked it claiming that they would not bow to trade union pressure.  Now they have pledged that they will not abolish the minimum wage, which is hardly sign of any commitment to eradicate poverty and more to do with the fact that to abolish it would be seen as a U-turn and necessitate a huge amount of bureaucracy for the companies involved

The Conservatives have before tried to convince the electorate that those who wear leopard print can change their spots.  Anyone who witnessed the apparent Damascine conversion to the forces of moderation that Michael Portillo wished to have us believe will know what I mean here.  The difference between Portillo and Cameron is that Portillo had form, he had held office, he had been questioned very specifically about policy before and in that regard we knew what they were really thinking.  Cameron has not held senior office and neither have many of his front bench team, however the old faithful working behind the scenes have.  A working group headed by former cabinet minister Francis Maude is already planning the Tories first months in office and the decisions they will take but we hear little about what these decisions will be.  If the old guard are making the decisions then do the british electorate really believe that to go back to 1992 would be a good idea, or do they believe Cameron will disregard these views as he seeks to plot a new course?  Either way to vote Cameron and the Tories in now is equivalent to placing Johnathan Aitken in charge of the Press Complaints Commission or Jeffrey Archer in charge of Culture, Media and Sport or to put it another way not just letting the lunatics take over the asylum but in fact run the asylum system at a national level.  I may well have just predicted the first Tory government cabinet reshuffle!

Song Of The Day ~ Bricolage – Flowers Of Deceit