Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

The Right's Dilemma - Adapt, Fight or Die ?

The announcement that the Conservatives are going to match Labour's public spending commitments for the next three years has created a lot of comment on Conservative blogs, and not all of it complementary.

You can really divide reaction into two camps:
Camp 1: this is realpolitik and the only way to go;
Camp 2: this is complete sell-out, what the hell is the Conservative Party for is it isn't to campaign for lower taxes at a time when we are taxed more than ever ? (Even Iain Dale, not known for being a mouthpiece of the Right, expresses the view that we ought to be able to find a couple of billion worth of savings from somewhere).

There's an element of truth in both arguments. To the pro-individual, anti-State, anti-high taxation, brigade we live in deeply depressing times. There is no doubt that we have, in the eyes of the public, lost the debate on public spending. Just as the Left lost the debate on that and on other issues such as privatisation and multilateralism in the 1980s, so we have to accept now that we are not in tune with the public mood. The public are oblivious to (or don't care about) the ratchet effect of public spending identified by the likes of Thatcher, Joseph and Friedman.

That means two things. Firstly we have to keep campaigning and explaining the moral imperative of low taxation. Secondly we have to accept that if a tax-cutting party is to come into office, either we wait for a long time - during which more damage is done - or we support a party seen as one that doesn't want to cut public spending, at least for the moment. That's the dilemma which every natural "Conservative" has to face: do we swallow our principles and vote for George Osborne matching Brown £-for-£, or do fight on alone (or possibly not at all ?)

The Conservative Party is in the same position as Labour were at the start of the 'nineties. Public appetite for their traditional agenda is low, so they've got a choice; do they adapt to the public mood, or stick to their age-old principles and hope to win the public over at some point ? And if it's the latter, how much damage is done before they start winning elections again ? Would it be better to be in charge of the public expenditure bandwagon, but able to have the accelerator pressed down a little less firmly that it would be with Labour in the driving seat ? (Apologies for mixing metaphors !)

New Labour chose the "adapt" option, and are now, with the public seemingly on their side, arguably moving to the Left. Does the Conservative Party do the same thing ? Does it seek power based on a centralist agenda and then seek to move to the Right by stealth ? And if it doesn't, is it risking terminal decline, playing a tune that the public no longer wants to hear ?

So what's the answer ? For me, wherever it lies, the fight has to go on. We must never accept that public spending has to rise inexorably and taxation with it. To come to that conclusion would be to give socialism free rein to do whatever it likes. When the public has decided that it's had enough of the tax-and-spend agenda, and when they conclude that ever-rising expenditure doesn't actually achieve anything, they have to have someone to turn to. I only hope there's someone left come that time. It won't be Cameron and Osborne, that's for certain. And that's why I won't be voting Conservative at the next General Election. They can sway with the current public mood if they like, but I won't.

In the meantime I'll just cheer myself up by playing Fantasy Government.

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