Monday, 15 March 2010

Clarke is right to stress the importance of 'liberal' votes

I'm currently reading 'The Conservative Party: From Thatcher to Cameron' by Tim Bale. The book examines the Tories' years in the wilderness and examines failures of strategy which yielded three heavy general election defeats on the trot.

Bale produces some compelling evidence to sustain his contention that Conservatives were slow to recognise their 1997 defeat as a genuine repudiation of Thatcherism. The three leaders who succeeded John Major, to a greater or lesser extent, concentrated on a 'core vote' strategy, playing to the Tory gallery, rather than developing policies to appeal to a broad section of the British public.

It is only under David Cameron, Bale insists, that the Conservative party has begun to re-engage with the centre ground voters who generally determine the outcome of general elections. It is a convincing theory, with sits easily with the latest thinking in political science departments.

Indeed, on the basis of opinion poll evidence, the Tories have tended to do worse when they emphasise 'right wing' economic dogma and better when Cameron's communitarian bent has predominated.

Ken Clarke, famously on the 'left' of the Conservative party, has issued a rallying call urging Tories to do more to court 'liberal' voters.

The Shadow Business Secretary previously advised David Cameron and George Osborne not to rule out tax rises as a means to tackle the deficit. He has also championed the need to defer any short-term cuts to Inheritance Tax.

Clearly, as someone who was attracted to the modern Conservatives by the notion of 'progressive ends by conservative means', I believe that Clarke is entirely right to take this approach. The Tory call for fiscal responsibility and a start to tackling the deficit is entirely justified. However, if constrained public spending is accompanied by tax cuts, in the short-term, justifiably there will be claims of inconsistency and callousness.

There should be no major attempt to cut taxes until a convincing recovery is underway and the deficit is brought under control, particularly at the top bands.

Neither is it necessary for the Conservatives to keep beating the drum for constraint in public spending. That battle is won. The public is convinced.

But it is also nervous that free market fundamentalists within the Tory party might use the deficit as a pretext to hack back essential services. They are encouraged in this notion by the constant refrain of Peter Mandelson, amongst other Labour figures, and some media elements.

When David Cameron, or, more rarely, George Osborne, attempts to provide reassurance on this score, stressing commitment to the NHS, and the provision of other excellent public services, he is articulating the type of conservatism which can win a comfortable majority.


Anonymous said...

"Conservative means for progressive ends?"

Please elaborate.

Seymour Major said...

Clarke's remarks also make electoral tactical sense. In the 1997 election, the anti-conservative vote lost the Conservatives about 30 seats than they otherwise could have expected. This time around, an anti-Labour vote could make a very large difference.

To illustrate what I mean, the latest Youguv opinion poll reads Con(37), Lab(32), LDem (21). This would result in a hung parliament with Labour the largest party winning 291 seats against 274 for the Conservatives.

If just 3% of that 21% Libdem vote switched their vote to conservative in Conservative/Labour marginals, the Conservatives would take 25 more seats from Labour and become the Largest party.

The Conservatives are well placed to achieve this. We have not had such a Liberally biased Conservative Party for a very long time. With a very good campaign, some of those crucial liberal votes can be won over.

Ulster Liberal said...

If by 'reaching out to the centre ground' you mean that no principle is sacred in the desire to obtain a few hundred thousand votes of Guardian readers in the English Midlands at the expense of the other 60 million Britsh people, and indeed traditional British democracy itelf, than the current 'Conservatice' leader has certianly done that.

Ask youself why a pitiful number of people will bother shaking a leg to make it to the polling station this May and also if Windston Churchill or even John Major for that matter, would be accepted in today's 'progressive' so-called Conservative party?