Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Tory aims and values document

As a member of the Conservative Party I will be receiving a document containing David Cameron's aims and values for the Party. I will be asked to vote on it.

A copy of the document can be seen here but I have reproduced it below with some thoughts that occur as I read through it.

Our Aims:

To improve the quality of life for everyone through: A dynamic economy, where thriving businesses create jobs, wealth and opportunity. A strong society, where our families, our communities and our nation create secure foundations on which people can build their lives. A sustainable environment, where we enhance the beauty of our surroundings and protect the future of the planet.

A nice opener which could grace the preface of almost any Party's promotional documentation.

Our Values:

The more we trust people, the stronger they and society become. We're all in this together - government, business, the voluntary sector, families and individuals. We have a shared responsibility for our shared future.

I agree with this. I think it separates us from Labour because it acknowledges the simple truth that people left to do things their way do a better job than the state or its various quangos. However, we are not libertarians and we recognise that the state ought to reflect the way of life of its people and support them where individual effort is not sufficient.

I would like to know Mr Cameron's view on the nature of the balance between state and individual in this shared responsibility.

Our Party:

We are an open and inclusive Party. We will act to ensure that our Party, at every level, is representative of modern Britain.

Good. That's how it should be. But this bit concerns me a tad:

We will act to ensure...

How will we 'ensure'? This might be an unfortunate choice of words but it sounds like the issue will be forced and feathers will be ruffled.

What we're fighting for:
1. A successful Britain must be able to compete with the world. We will put economic stability and fiscal responsibility first. They must come before tax cuts. Over time, we will share the proceeds of growth between public services and lower taxes - instead of letting government spend an ever-increasing share of national income.

It seems that the accepted wisdom is that you have tax cuts or economic stability. What about the idea that tax cuts lead to economic growth and stability? Have we adequately refuted this theory? We need to have because if we have not then we might be wrong-footed - in public - by people who know otherwise.

And we need to clarify, perhaps, that you don't just cut taxes on a whim; you stop the state from doing those things it does badly and at great expense and then cut taxes with the savings. It works in that order.

2. There is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state. The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich. We will stand up for the victims of state failure and ensure that social justice and equal opportunity are achieved by empowering people and communities - instead of thinking that only the state can guarantee fairness.

Well, the 'we' that is going to do the empowering is the state, I assume. I tend to think that the state does not often empower by doing things but by not doing things. But he's right - there is such thing as society (and Mrs Thatcher knew that too - she is being misquoted when it's suggested otherwise). But whether the right test for us is when our policies help the most disadvantaged is questionable: is personal 'failure' - laziness, dishonesty, lack of confidence, lack of inspiration, preference for a measure of success based on some other criteria - usually the result of government policy?

3. The quality of life matters, as well as the quantity of money. We will enhance our environment by seeking a long-term cross-party consensus on sustainable development and climate change - instead of short-term thinking and surrender to vested interests. We will support the choices that women make about their work and home lives, not impose choices on them.

The quality of life matters, as well as the quantity of money. I agree with this a thousand per cent and I do believe that truly conservative people recognise that contentment and satisfaction in life are rarely provided by things that can be purchased. I will have to wait to see if Mr Cameron thinks the same way; he is evidently using this phrase as an introduction to his environmental ideas. I regard looking after our environment as a patriotic duty so am pleased with his attention to this issue.

I want to be assured though that he is not lining himself up with those who like to bash 'big business' because of their brute opposition to capitalism. And I at least want to hear Mr Cameron state that, having looked at all the evidence, he believes the most dangerous contribution to global warming is the man-made one. I am not asking whether he is right or wrong - I personally do not understand all the issues. But I do want to know that he has examined the arguments carefully and then taken a sincere position rather than leave himself open to the accusation that he chose a fashionable one.

4. Public services for everyone must be guaranteed by the state, not necessarily run by the state. We will improve the NHS and schools for everyone, not help a few to opt out. But public services paid for by the state don't have to be run by the state. We will trust professionals and share responsibility - instead of controlling professionals in state monopolies.

If he does not want to control professionals in state monopolies that is good; it suggests professionals will be left alone and, more importantly, the state won't be a monopoly provider of services. But we need clarification on whether Mr Cameron will embrace free-market solutions along with centrally planned ones.

5. It is our moral obligation to make poverty history. We will fight for free and fair trade, increase international aid, and press for further debt relief. But this is not enough. We will also take action to build those institutions - like the rule of law and property rights - that support development.

Regardless of whether it is our moral obligation to make poverty history is this an aim we alone can realistically achieve? The most we can do is enter into some sort of partnership with countries, partnerships where both sides work for a common outcome. The poor countries - their leaders especially - have the final responsibility because they have the advantages of governance.

6. Security and freedom must go hand in hand. In fighting crime and terrorism, we will be hard-nosed defenders of freedom and security. We will ensure strong defence and the effective enforcement of laws that balance liberty and safety - instead of ineffective authoritarianism which puts both freedom and security at risk.

So we will hopefully use, to the full, laws we already possess. Will we build new prisons? And will we actively seek to punish, educate and reform wrongdoers?

7. We understand the limitations of government, but are not limited in our aspirations for government. We believe in the role of government as a force for good. It can and should support aspirations such as home ownership, saving for a pension, and starting a business. It should support families and marriage, and those who care for others. And it should support the shared experiences that bring us together - such as sport, the arts and culture.

As far as it goes this is good stuff. Government should reflect rather than direct the civil way of life. Good government knows when to be involved and when to stay out. I hope this is not a nice way of saying we will expand the welfare state.

8. We believe that government should be closer to the people, not further away. We want to see more local democracy, instead of more centralisation - whether to Brussels, Whitehall or unwanted regional assemblies - and we want to make the devolved institutions in Scotland and Wales work. Communities should have more say over their own futures.

So are we leaving the EU then?
Is England going to become an independent country?

(That's me off the candidate list...)


The main shortcoming with this document is its lack of substance. This is not necessarily a criticism since its aim is evidently not to present policy but flavour. But it's difficult to vote on a flavour because we do not really know what this will all mean when we come to form a government. I will vote for it without knowing really what it is I am voting for (or even why we are being asked to vote in the first place). I am impatient for substance though. I hope it will start trickling through sooner rather than later.

What about the idea that tax cuts lead to economic growth and stability?
Unfortunately Joe Public doesn't think that and won't believe you if you try and tell him. Cameron's leadership is all about becoming electable, and going back to the old cut tax rates to increase tax collection would make the Conservatives unelectable. If he gets in power, with any luck he will do what Gordon has done but in reverse - stealth tax cuts! It might be dishonest, but since when has politics been honest?

It is our moral obligation to make poverty history. We will fight for free and fair trade, increase international aid, and press for further debt relief.
But often by increasing the prosperity of a nation, or providing aid to it, you make the people more poverty stricken. One has to be very careful about who to help and how to do it. This particular gem is Cameron trying to be electable again - he has to sound trendy and relevant. Whether he actually comes up with new solutions that might just stand a chance of working, or just spins out the same old yarn (he has, after all, got sir Bob on board), is open to debate.

I hope this is not a nice way of saying we will expand the welfare state.
Reading it, probably not. It reads like targeted tax breaks and increased volunary sector. Let's hope so...

or even why we are being asked to vote in the first place
I think he is telling the old hacks, such as Tebbit, to put up or shut up. Maybe he is seaking legitimacy? What happens if it backfires....?
I assume you've read Stephen Pollard's analysis of DC's document. The most telling point therein: 'When I talk to my friends, it is striking how many who voted against the Conservatives in recent elections, not on specific policies but because of a general feeling that the party was somehow not really for them'.

That's the basic problem - whatever policies the Conservatives presented there was a perception about the party itself which prevented the electorate voting for it. A lot of this is to do with the media - particularly the BBC - which never passes up the opportunity to smear the Conservatives. The purpose of this document is to create a warm, fuzzy image for the party and avoid making too many specific promises. I think that to start a line-by-line dissection of this document as you're doing here is to miss the point.
I like David H's comment - very intelligent and a good point...

And Gary, you're right about the specific use of the word "ensure" -- I missed that.
I think they are going to lose even more votes on the next general election, as England was all they really had.

Another Scot waiting to shaft England some more.
Yes, this is definitely a warm fuzzy document. But it does cover the minimum requirements.

The obvious starter was to remove the perverse xenophobia; while it played well with "natural Tory voters" its was always a loss leader.

We are an open and inclusive Party. We will act to ensure that our Party, at every level, is representative of modern Britain.

I read "act to ensure" to mean some degree of active involvement to stop the party getting hijacked, as well as a nod to balanced lists. If this helps break the candidate cookie cutter, fine. The point is, the problem is recognsied.

Again, the generic opener that doesn't promote family values above society is a minor direction change that was nevertheless required.

Mention of tax cuts outside of an economic context is unwelcome, but I guess people still like this guff still. The security and freedom statement is unnecessary but harmless. There is something useful behind the free trade aspirations, but thats not part of the Tory canon so forget it.

When New Labour understood that there is no left, no right, just government, they had a free run. The fact that Gary still wants to know whether we are or aren't leaving Europe - while off message - points out that this is all still being digested and the reaction may come later.
Agreed - line by line dissection is the wrong way to approach this document. As pointed out, this was not a document stating policy but one describing a flavour. The document is really aimed at Joe Public rather than the Party membership.

But when you have to vote on it - rather than simply read it - you tend to look a little closer and that's what my comments were reflecting.

I'm not sure what DE means by 'perverse xenophobia' since I don't see the Conservative Party as xenophobic at all (and - to be a bit picky - is there a xenophobia that's perverse while another is just plain ol' xenophobia?)

And I do genuinely want to have this explained to me: how can government be closer to the people and not further away - as the document states - while a substantial part of our law is made in a foreign country by people we never elected?
Interesting comments Gary. I must study this myself.
Micheal Howard seemed to want to push immigration issues to destruction - nobody seemed to be sure why. I think Mr Cameroon is rightly moving the party away from this position as fast as he reasonably can.
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