Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Tory Party's 15% Strategy

Thankfully conference speeches don't win general elections. There is no denying that Dave's final performance at the Tory party's annual gathering was masterful. It oozed the prime ministerial, that much exalted but seldom-attained quality. His speech was passionate, confident, coherent. Apart from an untimely Freudian ("... these are the people we resent"), Dave acted the part well. He did what he is genuinely good at: putting on a show.

As delegates pack their bags and fish forgotten prawn vol-au-vents from their pockets, those not thinking forbidden UKIP thoughts might have a spring in their step. Dave pitched the Tories as the party for everybody, as a trade union for the stalwart hard-working people of Britain. They are the party of social justice, the one who will abolish youth unemployment by refusing social security assistance to anyone aged between 18 and 21; the party who makes work pay by taking more low earners out of tax while clobbering them with £500 worth of tax credit cuts; and lastly the party intent on rewarding hard work by raising the 40p tax threshold to £50k/year, handing yet another tax cut to Britain's 15% wealthiest people. If social justice is the redistribution of resource from the poor to the well off, then no one can touch the Tories.

In many ways, Dave speech was pitched to the middle ground. The thing is the Tories haven't a clue what that middle ground looks like. The way IBS punched the air when Dave paraded his tax cut for the rich tells you that that's where they think middle Britain is, and it's not at the average and median wage of around £24k. On the tax credit cut too. Osborne defended this on Monday by suggesting the majority had brought into austerity and would be happy to do their bit. And this is the man many Tories hail as a political genius. It doesn't take a particularly canny operator to note that while the rich gain, those of more modest means will be covering the bill. Here's some news for Osbo, Dave, and their hired Australian help. The centre ground is sceptical of Europe, immigration and social security, but is to the Tories' left on job security, tax, privatisation, the NHS, house building, pensions, the minimum wage and a good deal more. Unfortunately, that centre ground is also mired in fatalism, hence no slam dunk for a Labour leadership determined to softly step its way to victory next year.

What Dave delivered today was a speech that wallowed in British patriotism, a celebration of our country as a collective endeavour embracing everyone. Yet despite himself this was a core vote speech. And even then, the core who are swinging or have swung to UKIP will find nothing here to dissuade them from supporting the purple people bleaters. As Matt Goodwin notes, a few tax bribes will not buy off UKIP support. They are for the most part deeply anxious, anomic, and ill at ease with what they think Britain has become. Forget the economy. It's that sense of self-security, stupid.

Can we take anything from Dave's speech? Yes. If Labour have a so-called "35% strategy" then this is the Conservatives' 15% strategy. It signals the hard limits of the Tory imagination and their incapacity to overcome the organic crisis afflicting British Conservatism. A good speech, yes; but a loser's speech all the same. The general election next year is Labour's to lose.


Gary Elsby said...

Labour's to lose?
£12.5K top rate and 100% pension fund?
Dave's commitment to withdrawing from the human rights act is his weak spot and he should be absolutely wasted by the left in concert.
My guess is that he can't actually do this without breaching all EU and International laws thus making Great Britain an Internal pariah state.
To be a member of the EU a country has to agree to the HRA.
It's going to be fun.
Who isn't a signatory to the act?

David Timoney said...

@Gary, the HRA is a purely domestic piece of legislation. It is not mandated by the EU.

Though the EU requires all members to be signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights, that convention (and the Stasbourg court that upholds it) is actually the work of the Council of Europe, not the EU, and dates from 1953. The UK was a founder signatory.

The EU subsequently extended the Convention (notably to workplace rights) through the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which came into effect with the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, however the UK secured an opt-out as part of the treaty negotiations, which makes the Charter irrelevant in practice.

The original reason for passing the HRA was to "bring rights home" by making UK courts the chief adjudicator of breaches of the Convention, though final appeal to Strasbourg remains.

Abolishing the HRA will not change the UK's status vis-a-vis the Convention, nor will it compromise our membership of the EU. Ironically, it will deprive UK courts of power relative to Strasbourg.

The abolition should therefore be seen as of a piece with a new Bill of Rights, which would presumably "restore" power to UK courts and include various eye-catching guff about ancient liberties, to distract from the actual repressive shit (which Labour will unfortunately support).

Anonymous said...

I think the speech was pitched to the middle ground family and not the middle ground individual. For example a woman who works for £20K a year but is the partner of someone on £40k+ per year (or the other way round) is part of the middle ground.

Andreas Paterson said...

I've written a blog offering an alternative view, suggesting in a similar way to "anonymous" above that the reach of the Tories tax cutting might be a little further than just the top 15%.

Phil said...

I think some might wish to look up 'rhetorical device' :)

Andreas Paterson said...

Good point, well made ;)

Gary Elsby said...

Thanks for the detail David.
I'm aware that we signed up to the HRA via the Council of Europe soon after WW2 with Churchill's insistence and it includes almost everyone in Europe, including Russia.
Our departure from the HRA and the European Convention (one and the same) puts Great Britain on a collision course with the world as an International pariah state.
That is my view.
I gather that my rights will still be upheld via the courts regardless of anything going on in the UK but Cameron faces being expelled for not being a member of it.
For example:
Prisoners are entitled to a vote at election time, but not according to Cameron.
We shall see in 2015 who is right here.
The ruling doesn't entitle prisoners compensation but is entitling them a vote.
A 'supposed' terrorist challenges through the courts the 'no' evidence given against him and lo and behold, 60 million British subjects lose their right to challenge under the HRA.
This is a useless bit of paranoia dressed up as credible politics.

David, you are saying that our removal from the HRA doesn't compromise our membership.
The Leaders of Europe have made it crystal clear that tailoring membership to suit a single country is a non starter (as Dave signed the paper employing Jean-Claude Juncker while still protesting).

Anonymous said...

"I think some might wish to look up 'rhetorical device' :)"

If you hadn't said that the Tories didn't have a clue what the middle ground is this might make sense. However, concretely the Middle Ground should be looked at in terms of families (or demographics) and not individuals.

So I think you are more clueless than the Tories here.

BTW I am a communist and effing hate the Tories!

Phil said...

Of course you're another lefty, only we have raised fratricidal hairsplitting to an art form! :)

But you're wrong. Because you assume the Tories have a complex picture of the demographics constituting the mythical Middle Britain, and that then informs their politics accordingly. They don't. If they did, then perhaps they'd be more reticent about doling out tax cuts with one hand and clawing the savings back with hefty cuts to working tax credits on the other, for example.