Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yawning with the Tories


In the UK, with a first past the post electoral system, you really are, by and large, stuck with 2-3 options. There is New Labour (which at best has glimmers of intelligence in Blair, at worst is Nanny State par excellence), the Liberal Democrats (Old Labour with a younger face) and the Conservatives.
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Now the Conservatives for most of the post war period have been just that – conservative. Doing, by and large, very little to roll back the tide of socialism that swept Britain from 1945. The exception was the Thatcher era, when the state leviathan was being operated out, parts privatised, parts shut down, regulations removed and socialism was being wound back – and boy did they wail, scream and gnash teeth. However, it did mean that Labour had to become closer to Thatcher to win power. New Labour accepted the economic reforms and even has accepted the need for private investment in education and healthcare, and business like disciplines on publicly provided services – but it is also the representative of insipid petty fascism.
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The Conservatives have been hamstrung largely due to inept leadership, unwillingness to be bold on policy and unwillingness to engage philosophically on what they stand for. They have stood for tax cuts without saying why it is moral and why it is affordable. They have been anti-immigration almost to the point of obsession and have not looked like a government in waiting, until recently.
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Sadly that government in waiting looks a lot like the current one, with the political correctness about candidate selection, unwillingness to talk about tax cuts and talking about new taxes on aviation (ohhhh maybe not), road transport and encouraging recycling. The Conservative Party under David Cameron is far removed from the Institute of Economic Affairs and Adam Smith Institute in terms of policy – it is, at best, a more radical version of Tony Blair. It is not Thatcherism part two.
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Now the Conservatives DID need a makeover, a makeover that got rid of nonsense old-fashioned bigotry that saw the party being seen (with some truth) as treating women and ethnic minorities as good for baking cakes and doing the cleaning. The homophobia that was only matched by the regular disclosure that some Tory MP had been discovered in a dress and heels tied upside down while a woman in leather calls him a naughty girl, or the like. The Tories needed to be brought into the 21st century and be reminded that being liberal on individual freedom is important. At best this has been sidestepped, although it would appear they are less hung up about sex, drugs and censorship.
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So what have they done? Well, week after week it appears they have adopted style over substance, partly by surrendering to the arguments on the left on tax cuts and deciding to be the “green” party of the UK.
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Tory leader David Cameron is calling for a Climate Change Bill to be introduced to Parliament. Why? The proposed Bill would set up a bureaucracy to set a statutory binding target (on who you may ask? Blank out – never mind) which it will report on annually. So, in other words, more bureaucracy to report on the UK meeting carbon emission reduction targets. So setting aside whether man-made global warming is real, setting aside whether it is practicable to reduce the UK’s contribution to this when the developing world is doing virtually nothing, setting aside whether it is economically efficient and a good use of the property of UK citizens and companies to spend money on reducing their contribution to climate change (it may be better to improve education standards, lock away more louts or give people big tax cuts), (so there are at least three arguments to be made about how damned blind this idea is), this stupid bill assumes the only way man-made climate change can be eased is by reducing CO2 emissions. It ignores other emissions of “greenhouse gases” and ignores planting greenery to offset that. Stupid Conservatives, really really stupid. They talk about investing in high speed trains. Why? Is it better to subsidise how people move about than to give them back their money and face the full cost of transport? Why not stop running the roads like a Soviet style bureaucracy which is a cash cow and constantly begging for maintenance funds, while congestion gets steadily worse?
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The Conservatives have bitten the “saving energy is good” nonsense, when it is clear it makes such a small difference to people’s lives that they can’t be arsed doing it, and this assumes they pay the commercial cost of supplying energy (which, by and large, is true). Beyond that, saving energy is like some wartime conservation measure – austerity for the sake of it, or worse yet “Head Prefect David Cameron” telling you that you “ought to switch off the standby on your TV” for your own good. They even have their own website where you can check how environmentally friendly your car is and more on a Quality of Life Challenge website talking further about how the government “should be doing things” so you don’t hurt the environment more. Comments like this “The fundamental value of being able to produce our own food and other commodities, including bioenergy, has inexplicably been ignored by Government.” tell me a lot. Mr Cameron, your own food production is highly subsidised from Brussels, so people don’t actually pay this “fundamental value”. *vomit*
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The Tories are vapid about the NHS, with weasel words about cutbacks and funding going straight to GPs instead of “through bureaucrats”. Nothing about raising serious questions about a system that has unlimited demands put upon it while everything is free, or about the use of the private sector.
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So what about tax? Well last week a Tory thinktank, the Tax Reform Commission came out with a report (pdf) calling for major cuts in taxes, including increases the tax free income threshold to £7285 per annum (are you listening Dr Brash?), eliminating the bottom tax rate of 10% (as it would no longer be needed) and reducing the basic 22% rate of income tax to 20%, decent cuts in corporate tax (to 25%) , abolish inheritance tax, a load of tax credits (which give special privileges to some not others) and general simplify the tax system. Frankly, it looks like the National Party in NZ wouldn’t be frightened by it, ACT would think it was timid, I think it is, at best, a good first step. To show you how timid it is, the report even said that flat taxes could not be introduced in the UK yet because of the sheer size of its state sector – which tells you how bad it is here.
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So what was the Tory response? Shadow Chancellor George Osborne wasn't too interested:

"stressing again that economic stability come before promises of tax cuts. He made it clear that the report is not a blueprint for the Party's next election manifesto.”
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Essentially tax cuts can’t come at the cost of “cutting public services”, ignoring the dynamic effect of lower taxes on economic growth (and tax revenue) and that so much UK public spending is wasteful. They have surrendered the debate to the likes of the BBC, Guardian and the Independent.
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This is clear in his statement that:
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"We are not going to commit to £21 billion of unfunded tax cuts now or in the future."However, we will rebalance our tax system and shift the burden from taxing families and jobs to taxing pollution and carbon emissions. I want to tax the bad not the good."
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Apparently there is no waste in the system, but wait… now they support pollution taxes. Why? What evidence is there that this will deliver any benefits to the UK?
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So the Tories aren’t supporting tax cuts because of them being “unfunded” as if they have to take money off of someone to give you your money back – when in fact it is your money in the first place. The news is this, they are affordable now – they are more affordable when you cut state spending and subsidies, and represents 1.5% of GDP, when growth is expected to be at 3.5%. In other words this modest step can be afforded by not GROWING spending as much as in the past. The argument that they will hurt public services can be tackled easily by quoting this, but Cameron isn’t even interested in the debate. The cuts would largely benefit people on low to middle incomes, but he isn’t interested in that debate, he wont dare confront the media on this.
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The Tories are no longer the party of less government, but the party of more, but different government.
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The thing is though, it is working with the public. The British public love vapid youthful nothingness. The Conservatives are on 39% in the latest Guardian/ICM poll, Labour on 29% and the Illiberal Demagogues on 22%. However, I think the public would notice little difference with a Tory government – there may be a little less political correctness and little more fiscal prudence, but otherwise you could have woken up and thought New Labour had merely gone a bit further to the right than you expected.
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It is a long way till the next UK election (Blair won last year in case you forgot), and a lot can happen - but the question is whether it would be better to have a David Cameron led Tory government that tinkers a little (or may have a secret agenda to cut the size of the state - yay! but unlikely) or just let Labour rot with a coalition with the Lib Dems? I can't get enthused about Tories that swallow ecological bullshit as fact, turn their back on economic rationalism and are full of as many weasel words as New Labour - perhaps it says more about the UK public that they are so stupid as to be seduced every 9 or so years by this bullshit. Having said that, some leftwing friends of mine would warm to this, the Tories look more Green than Labour.
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So given that Cameron has inherited the Blair legacy, there isn't a lot to hope for in terms of political change in the UK. I'd rather have National anyday (and that's not easy to say!).

3 comments:

Berend de Boer said...

You seem to know the scene well, care to do a post on the "why"?

Part of it is of course the "if we're not left they won't vote for is" or "if we're not left, we will be attacked and we don't think we can defend ourselves".

I always like to know why, so perhaps you have something to add.

libertyscott said...

I think you're right Berend it is partly the "we think we failed because of our old policies" so it is "green is trendy now" plus Cameron I think actually believes it.

Remember also that the Tories have had the luck of Labour facing repeated scandals, distrust over Iraq and a dislike for Gordon Brown - the alternative is fresh and new, and Cameron just seems charismatic.

This Is Christchurch said...

Unfortunately most parties of the Right are taking on board liberals, and while that might be more up your street, it means a lot of left wing ideas coming into those parties. National is a case in point, they seem to have been keen to turn back to the era of Muldoonism since 1993. David Farrar enthusiastically supports Labour's action against Telecom as an example, as do a lot of people who would be normally identified with a conservative viewpoint, such as manufacturers and employers. Getting on board with the greenies and pledging not to alter Labour's grand welfare schemes such as WFF or maybe even the Employment Relations Act. Hopefully the party leadership will come to its senses before the 2008 campaign and give the nod to ACT as they did in the past, that will let people choose which party they want to vote for certain that their vote won't be wasted.