Land of Hope and ToryPosted by Gareth Hargreaves
Revisionist Thatcher tribute signals return to Core Conservatism from David Cameron and Co.
Conference season has been predictable this year, we had the Liberal Democrats claiming to be the party that keeps the country balanced - though the only balancing they are doing is on the fence between the two main parties.
Ed Miliband was articulate in the presentation of his vision and there is no doubting his intellect, but where will his vision actually take us? His policies are ill thought out and his shadow cabinet is lightweight and lacks cohesion.
The Conservatives, the voice of middle England (apparently) got off to a flyer with a stream of Daily Mail pleasing 'dog whistle' policies. It was surreal to see the Labour Party in Brighton for Conference while the Tory sharabang pulled over in the once-industrial North.
The irony that the Tories opened their soiree with a tribute documentary to 'Our Maggie', the leader on whose shoulders rests much of the blame for the decimation of industry across the UK's manufacturing heartlands seemed to escape most commentators. Moreover, David Cameron's assertion that the Conservative Party will create 'a land of opportunity' did not match the scenes on Manchester's streets as 50,000 people demonstrated against Coalition austerity measures.
Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, said: "Austerity is having a devastating effect on our communities and services, with 21,000 NHS jobs lost over the last three months alone. The NHS is one of Britain's finest achievements and we will not allow ministers to destroy, through cuts and privatisation, what has taken generations to build."
With such low morale within the NHS, it is difficult to imagine how Cameron’s ‘blue sky’ thinkers came up with the idea of 24-hour GP surgeries. There are a couple of obvious questions to consider from such an initiative, such as, where is the money coming from? And, where are the doctors coming from? It all sounded ever so slightly hollow. The gist of what has come out of Conference this week for people in receipt of benefits is - help yourself, because we won't!
There was a familiar tone to much of the output from ministers as they espoused traditional Tories values peppered with more bullish promises on EU membership, immigration and the benefits system. Theresa May's frightening claim that Britain would leave the European convention on human rights and radically reform of our own human rights law, drew applause from delegates but should not be viewed as victory for Euro-scepticism; rather a worrying new low for British democracy.
David Cameron also announced he was considering withdrawing benefits for people under 25 who were not in work or further education; another calculated nod to the Tory Right, which may or may not mute the dog whistle calls for some form of national service. It made a punchy sound bite for the news channels but the cost implications of rolling out an 'earning or learning' scheme are likely to be considerable - at which point there will probably be Treasury gurning and U-Turning.
With the economy showing signs of recovery, Conservatives are becoming increasingly confident in their move to the right and increasingly contemptuous of their Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. London Mayor Boris Johnson implored the party faithful to “cut loose the flapping yellow albatross (Liberal Democrats) from round the party's neck and let it plop into the sea".
The Prime Minister appeared to quash any prospect of forming another government with the Liberal Democrats but few would have foreseen such an unlikely coupling in 2010.
“When the election comes,” said David Cameron. “We won’t be campaigning for a coalition; we will be fighting heart and soul for a majority Conservative government, because that is what our country needs.”
In spite of his claims that the next election will be a straightforward choice between the Blue team and the Red team (as Cameron put it, trying to highlight Labour's socialist past), it is highly likely the Conservatives are privately planning for another term of coalition government. Whether that includes the much-maligned albatross remains to be seen, but with UKIP leader Nigel Farage rubbing shoulders with grassroots Tories at GMEX and currying support for local level pacts, there is even the possibility that the once ‘single issue’ party could get a seat at the big table.
David Cameron spelled out the challenge for his gathered Conservatives: "We’ve got a year and a half ‘til that election - a year and a half until Britain makes a choice: move forward to something better or go back to something worse. I believe that if this party fights with all we have, then this country will make the right choice. Because we always have before.
“Whenever we’ve had the choice of giving in to some shabby compromise or pushing forward to something better we’ve said: this is Great Britain, the improbable hero of history, the country that doesn’t give in, that doesn’t give up, that knows there’s no such thing as destiny – only our determination to succeed.
“So I look to our future and I’m confident. There are battles to fight but beyond this hall are the millions of hardworking people who renew the great in Great Britain every day, in the way they work and the way they give and raise their families. These are the people we have alongside us, together we've made it this far, together we’ll finish the job we’ve started, together we’ll build that land of opportunity."
"Yes, the land of despair was Labour ... but the land of hope is Tory."
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