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The SpAdocracy And Theresa May’s Flawed Manifesto Plans For Social Care

The Thick Of It

Social care funding and other important policy questions are too important to be decided solely by a couple of Bright Young Things and Special Advisers ensconced in Downing Street

The problem with Theresa May’s disastrous, miscalculated decision to shoehorn dramatic changes to the funding of social care into the Conservative (In Name Only) manifesto – and then perform a humiliating U-turn live on TV – is that it was cooked up by a couple of her closest, most trusted advisers and then foisted on the Conservative Party and the country with zero wider consultation.

The Guardian lifts the veil on the dysfunctional Court of Theresa May:

The manifesto for Mayism was stitched together on an upper floor of Conservative campaign headquarters over the past few weeks by a tight-knit team of the prime minister’s most trusted advisers.

While May has been out on the road giving stump speeches nearly every day, her policy team has been holed up in Matthew Parker Street in Westminster composing a document intended to redefine Conservatism, drawing a line under the elitism of the Cameron era and the individualism of Thatcher.

The document is pitched as representing May’s firmly held world view, but it also has the fingerprints of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, her two co-chiefs of staff, all over it.

The pair, who reigned supreme over May’s Home Office, have been the subject of complaints from MPs that they act like deputy prime ministers instead of Downing Street aides. Now the election campaign has started, they run the show at CCHQ with a tight grip.

Who needs cabinet ministers, think tanks, non-profit organisations, lobbyists, the general public or anybody else in the political ecosystem when you have two loyal SpAds ready and willing to deconstruct and rebuild core functions of the state quietly, in the shadows?

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MPs have complained privately over the past 10 months about the centralised nature of Downing Street, with May, Timothy and Hill sucking policy decisions away from Whitehall departments and other ministers. It comes as no surprise to them that May’s campaign focuses on her personal leadership qualities to the exclusion of other senior figures in the party, with the case for that focus bolstered by the prime minister’s strong poll ratings.

Cabinet ministers say they are not being sidelined, although the reality looks somewhat different. Of 15 campaign events for the press held by the Tories so far, all but one have been fronted by May herself, speaking of “strong and stable leadership” and the need for a mandate to carry through Brexit at every opportunity.

A few – including Boris Johnson, Michael Fallon, Amber Rudd and David Davis – have been used for some media interviews, but they are mainly kept away at constituency visits. By Wednesday, senior cabinet ministers such as Philip Hammond, Johnson and Rudd had seen the manifesto and approved its contents.

But its composition was very much a matter for May’s inner circle.

It is quite frightening to realise just how quickly harebrained, incomplete and otherwise controversial policies can find themselves shoehorned into a party manifesto (and then swiftly become law) if they are adopted and pushed by a well-connected member of the SpAd-ocracy.

In fact, prior to calling the general election the Conservatives had planned to hold at least a basic level of consultation on reforming social care, but some bright spark apparently decided that it would be far simpler to ram the changes through by including half-baked ideas as firm manifesto pledges, as the Telegraph reports:

Politicians who will deliver the Conservatives’ new care policy if they win re-election were left in the dark about their manifesto commitments, it can be revealed.

Senior Government sources have told The Sunday Telegraph they were left “completely surprised” by the wide-ranging package of reforms announced this week.

A series of social care policies were due to be put out to consultation this summer, including some of those adopted by the party in its manifesto.

However the changes would have been followed by months of consideration with less political risk if they were dropped or altered after industry feedback.

As I type, Theresa May is scrambling to defend her social care policy and her broader judgment in a television interview with Andrew Neil (the closest that the prime minister will condescend to participating in a debate) and frankly failing miserably, all of which could have been avoided if her core team behaved less arrogantly and if British political parties sought to formulate and enact legislation in a more open, inclusive way.

When President Barack Obama sought to overhaul the American healthcare system early in his first term, he didn’t slap a fully worked-out, prescriptive solution for single-payer healthcare on the table and demand that everybody get behind the main principles “or else”. While American conservatives rightly point out that the extensive consultation exercise was partly cosmetic and not nearly as welcoming of right wing input as it was portrayed, the fact remains that when American political leaders wanted to change something which impacted millions of people and a significant share of the US economy, there was a consultation (or at least the pretence of a consultation) before the first draft was issued. Sure, congressmen were expected to vote on the final bill having had only a few hours to read it, if they could even be bothered, but this was after every aspect of healthcare reform had been discussed in excruciating detail in committees, public town halls and in smoke-filled rooms with the special interests who (rightly or wrongly) have the power to make or break reforms.

This style of policymaking seems to be anathema to the British system. When David Cameron won re-election in 2015 based in no small part on the promise to hold an EU referendum, he cooked up his own list of demands for the European Union and marched off  to Brussels to negotiate them (and we all know how well that worked out). Cameron and his team presumed to know – without engaging in any special consultation, public or otherwise – exactly what changes the British people wanted to see in our relationship with the EU, without once bothering to actually ask our opinion. The only thing more laughable than David Cameron deciding on our behalf what issues to raise with Brussels was the fact that they still sent him away empty-handed and humiliated. This arrogant, presumptuous approach to government was, and nearly always will be, a recipe for failure.

Few people would disagree that the way we fund social care needs to be tweaked at the very least, if not wholesale reformed. But doing so is an enormously complex process, involving the intersecting demands and interests of numerous groups and political principles. There are the interests of homeowners, taxpayers, council and private care providers, current and future care recipients, all of which will be in competition with one another and must be balanced to maintain a functional system.

But whatever one’s view on the ideal model solution, the manifesto pledge as it stands – together with recent panicked talk of a potential “cap” on care payments, made after four days of relentlessly negative headlines – seems politically naive at best. It is a blunt policy solution, a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and the kind of half-baked idea that would have been kept firmly away from the media had there been any serious ministerial input to the drafting of the Tory manifesto.

Now, there is nothing wrong in principle with having a core team of advisers and ideological kindred spirits aiding a new prime minister as she seeks to put her stamp on the party and the country. Margaret Thatcher did just that when she came to power in 1979, bearing the ideas of the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies. As Leader of the Opposition she had read the famous “Stepping Stones” report which diagnosed Britain’s ailments and proposed radical solutions to lift Britain out of near-terminal economic decline.

But the emergency circumstances in which Thatcher pushed through her reforms were far different to today’s more benign environment. When the country faces existential threat, as we did in the late 1970s, some justification can be made for strong and decisive leadership which doesn’t wait around seeking to hand-hold and achieve consensus before acting. And while some people with a flair for the dramatic might claim that Brexit represents a similar crisis, Brexit and the rise of populism is far more a crisis of political legitimacy than economic survival – and political legitimacy is undermined, not improved, by ramming through ill-considered reforms to the social care system.

Ultimately, the cause of good policymaking is never well served when a couple of “Bright Young Thing” Special Advisers – often with wide but shallow portfolios, and no democratic mandate of their own – decide to rewrite government policy and plan to reshape our national institutions on the back of a napkin. I’m sure that Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Theresa May’s collective brain trust, are extraordinarily bright and capable people – on paper, at least. But the accumulation of evidence increasingly suggests that they lack street smarts, let alone a decent political radar, which is rather strange given their respective biographies. Ted Sorensen they are not.

Hopefully Theresa May will learn from this debacle. She intends to lead the country – never mind the Conservative Party – in a direction that many people have reservations about, some of them quite justified. To succeed in office, she will need to draw on the best that the entire conservative movement has to offer, including those wings of the party that she continues to vilify (cough, libertarians).

And for somebody like Theresa May, a self-confessed pragmatist with no overarching vision for government of her own, that means widening the circle and taking some more advice before tearing up the social contract, crashing out of the single market without a transitional arrangement or implementing Ed Miliband’s 2015 Labour manifesto by the back door.

 

Theresa May - Conservative Party - General Election 2017 - Forward Together

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Labour’s Cynical, Disingenuous National Debt Hysteria

Labour Party attack ad Tories national debt

Pot, meet kettle

You’ve probably already seen them countless times over the course of this general election campaign – the smug, sanctimonious internet memes bandied about by Labour supporters and other left-wing activists excoriating the Conservatives for having presided over a massive increase in the national debt since taking office in coalition back in 2010.

And of course this is factually correct. The only thing missing from these outraged little infographics is an admission of what would have happened to the budget deficit and national debt under fiscally incontinent left-wing economic policies – and the answer, of course, is that the situation would be even worse.

Yet even “serious” publications have been pushing the same disingenuous message, with Alison McGovern recently writing a piece for the New Statesman, demanding “The Tories used the budget deficit to attack Labour – so why haven’t they fixed it yet?”:

Spot the pattern? Tory Chancellors who loudly proclaim the virtues of having a budget surplus, have, in the end, presided only ever over deficits.

But it gets worse. The deficit, as the gap between money coming into the Treasury and money spent, has to be paid for by borrowing. And quite rightly, the Tories’ deficit target was matched by a debt goal. Borrowing to invest in structural improvements to our economy is clearly the right thing to do. But that is very different from permanent borrowing to prop up day-to-day spending.

Yet the Tories have delayed their target on debt three times since 2010

Their original target was to have debt falling by 2015-16. Then in 2014 that was delayed until 2016-17. Then in 2015 the target was to keep it falling every year until 2020-1. Then in 2016 that was changed to be “falling by 2020-1”.

This “goal” looks like one that will always be swerved as the Tory mismanagement rolls on.

Author’s emphasis in bold. McGovern concludes:

The budget deficit was used repeatedly by Osborne as an attack on Labour’s record in office.

This has now been demonstrated to be ludicrous chutzpah. Laughable, if it were not so serious. Ironic, if it were not to have such lasting consequences for all of us.

It’s time we moved on from a debate about the Labour past, and looked at what the Tories are doing today. We should show the leadership the country badly needs, and take this fight on.

Yes, how rude of the homeowner not to instantly repair all of the damage caused by the arsonist.

The bare-faced gall of these people is astonishing. Heading into the Great Recession, the Labour Party under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown consistently ran budget deficits, despite the fact that the economy was growing and boom and bust had apparently been “abolished”. And so when the downturn hit, there was almost zero room for fiscal manoeuvre by the government. Sure, we printed lots of money and nationalised failing banks – didn’t the Left used to angrily call that “privatising the profits and nationalising the losses?” – but we were in no position to undertake the kind of stimulus spending that America unleashed and which Keynesian economics dictates is the correct way to deal with a recession.

The budget deficit naturally exploded and reached a peak just as the Conservative / Liberal Democrat coalition government came into office, reaching a peak of around £160 billion when Labour left office. This means that the national debt was being added to every year at the fastest rate in modern history. To their partial credit, the Conservatives have succeeded in at least reducing the budget deficit every year (thereby slowing the rate of increase in the national debt) though they have consistently relaxed and missed their own targets for doing so, with the budget deficit now not due to be eliminated until the year 2026. And so we now have the spectacle of  smarmy left-wing internet meme-sharers lambasting the Tories for having failed to eliminate the deficit and significantly lower the national debt.

Well, what would they have had the Evil Tories do? The Left squealed like self-entitled pigs when George Osborne made even modest efforts to trim the deficit, repeatedly relaxing the timetable by which he planned to return Britain to a budget surplus. Are the Left now saying that they would rather have had deeper budget cuts? Abolishing the Army, perhaps? Surely not reducing funding for Our Blessed NHS (genuflect)? Or perhaps they secretly intended to eliminate the budget deficit by dramatically hiking income tax and national insurance on all tax bands, in angry defiance of the Laffer Curve? But what when this only suppressed economic activity even further?

Let’s be clear – the Conservative Party, under chancellors George Osborne and Philip Hammond, has been depressingly unambitious when it comes to eliminating the budget deficit. The party of David Cameron and Theresa May has not been the party of fiscal responsibility, and their constant lying about “fixing the roof while the sun is shining” and “paying down Britain’s debts” when in fact they have done no such thing only makes matters worse.

But the only thing more ludicrous than a Conservative Party which struts around pretending to be the guardians of fiscal responsibility is a Labour Party which ran budget deficits in the good years, leaving Britain particularly vulnerable to the loss of tax revenue accompanying a recession, attacking the Tories for having failed to enact measures which they would never have enacted themselves, and which in fact they repeatedly criticised the Tories for even attempting to do. It is simply mind-boggling that the Labour Party dares to attack the Tories on the question of deficit reduction and the national debt when their “anti-austerity” policies would have increased the deficit even further and made the national debt even larger.

Blogger Paul Goldsmith has had enough:

I actually can’t take it anymore. It is economically illiterate and it is self-defeating and it has to stop. It is like someone lighting a fire, which is an inferno when the fire brigade arrives, and then the person who starts it runs around replacing the brigade’s water with oil, and fanning the flames, whilst screaming at the fire bridgade that they can’t believe the fire isn’t out. Yes, Labour’s repeated taunts about the national debt really are that preposterous. Self-defeating too, as it brings attention back onto how the fire got started in the first place.

And then launches into this glorious tirade:

So, having left a deficit of £160bn, and a national debt (cumulative deficits added together), of just under a trillion, Labour have noted that the debt is bigger. Well, duh! Were the Tories supposed to have eliminated the deficit in their first year in Government? Impossible. In fact, what the Tories chose to do is to cut spending, added to a few tax rises, and slowly eliminated that deficit. Very slowly, slower than they originally hoped. But at every turn, every cut, Labour opposed them. Every single one. So yes, every year a lot of deficit (decreasing every time) got added to the national debt, but that is because Labour left such a massive deficit.

Now, yes, they left that deficit mostly because of the action they took to save the banking system and to try and stimulate the economy to stave off depression during the financial crisis. A financial crisis that wasn’t caused by Labour.

But look at the seven years between 2001 and the start of the crisis in 2008. Those were times of economic growth. During times of economic growth that deficit should have been a surplus (tax revenue greater than government spending). But it wasn’t, as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown chose to spend and maintained a deficit of around £40 billion a year. This means there was no financial room to manoeuvre when the inevitable recession came. Of course, Brown had boasted that he might have abolished boom and bust, so may not have been ready for that recession. But when it came, a huge amount of public money was thrown at it, which meant the Conservatives inherited a massive deficit.

Here’s my point, every time Labour mention the addition to the debt under the Conservatives, the Conservatives can just point to what they were left with. Best summed up by the note left by the last Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liam Byrne, to the first Coalition replacement, David Laws: “I’m afraid there is no money.”

It’s funny. Transport these same leftists to the United States, where beloved Barack Obama ruled from 2009 to 2017 in the aftermath of the same global recession, and they would doubtless shriek with outrage at similarly cynical efforts recently made by the Republican Party to pin the blame for American budget deficits and increasing national debt squarely on the Democrats. They would rightly point out that President Obama inherited a mess, an economy in freefall and public spending jacked up artificially high by his fiscally incontinent predecessor George W. Bush. They would correctly point out that nobody can work economic miracles like making a large structural budget deficit and cumulative national debt disappear in an instant.

But the sanctimonious meme-sharers do not live in America where an admired left-wing president ruled for the past eight years. They live in Britain, where the callous, heartless Evil Tor-ees (they’re lower than vermin, don’t you know!) have been in charge since 2010, and so all of the leeway and understanding that they would demand for themselves is stubbornly withheld from the other side under identical conditions.

As is so often the case, Labour Party propaganda relies on voter ignorance and lack of medium or even short-term memory in order to make an impact. With these lowbrow memes and the highbrow articles which underpin them, Labour Party activists and sympathetic commentators are counting on the British people being too stupid to ask what Labour would have done differently to have achieved a budget surplus and reduced national debt given the same circumstances faced by the Tories.

That’s certainly one way to go about trying to win an election, but there is nothing to be proud of in this tawdry, disingenuous approach.

 

Labour Conservatives National Debt - General Election 2017

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Left Wing Self-Awareness Award, Part 2

Samuel Hooper - Left Wing Self-Awareness Award - British Politics - Socialists

Jon Ashworth sees the light

More credit where credit is due to Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, who took a break from leading public worship of Our Blessed NHS (genuflect) to encourage Labour activists to see Conservative voters as potential hearts and minds to be changed rather than unconsionable, amoral degenerates.

From the Guardian:

The shadow health secretary has urged Labour to see Conservative voters as the party’s “friends and neighbours and relatives” rather than portraying those who are attracted to Theresa May’s offer as the enemy.

[..] He claimed that while there was no intention by Labour figures to portray Conservative voters in a negative light, the “febrile world of Twitter and social media can sometimes inadvertently convey that”.

Ashworth said his message was to stress: “Those who vote Conservative aren’t our enemies. They are our friends and neighbours and relatives. We need to be convincing them to switch to Labour where we can.

“They are people who live in our communities – we need to be persuading them as well as ensuring that those who voted Labour in past elections are sticking with us again.”

It’s a little bit cheeky of Jon Ashworth to suggest that there has never been any intention by Labour figures to portray Conservative voters in a negative light. The mere fact that prominent Labour politicians and activists choose to argue in such stridently moral terms about left-wing policies being altruistic and right-wing policies being motivated by base self-interest makes a clear implication that Tory voters are morally deficient – there simply is no other inference to be drawn from the rhetoric.

One might also consider the official Labour party leaflets distributed in the recent Copeland by-election, warning that a Conservative victory would literally “cost mums their children”.

The Guardian reported at the time:

A graphic Labour pamphlet warns voters in Copeland that a Tory victory in the by-election will “cost mums their children” in an open letter aimed at highlighting the risks of NHS cuts in the constituency.

The handwritten letter in support of Labour candidate Gillian Troughton, a St John ambulance driver and former hospital doctor, is from local mother Paula Townsley. The leaflet is the second posted through letterboxes by Labour activists to contain dire warnings about the closures of maternity services at West Cumberland hospital.

Accusing conservative voters of aiding and abetting in the death of babies doesn’t seem particularly inadvertent. On the contrary, it sounds like a deliberate attempt to make conservative policies seem not simply misguided and erroneous (as conservatives believe left-wing policies to be) but deeply, profoundly wicked. And presumably this election pamphlet was signed off by somebody with at least some authority within the Labour Party.

That being said, Jon Ashworth’s clear and explicit exhortation to Labour activists encouraging them to see the humanity in conservative voters (rather than Evil Tory vermin to be avoided or exterminated) can only be a good thing.

Not everybody agrees, though. A below-the-line commenter over at LabourList retorts:

What troubles me is the sacrifices in our values we have to make in order to appeal to Tory voters. What aspects of our manifesto would we have to dump? And how would that go down with our core vote?

None! At this point, you don’t have to make any sacrifices to your values. Just stop treating the other side as though they are pantomime villains, and you will be at least 30 percent of the way there. Dare to imagine that your opponent’s conservatism is borne of a legitimate moral framework and a sincere belief in what is best for society and the country, just as you believe that left-wing policies are the panacea. That’s all you have to do at this stage!

When it comes to toxic left-wing activism, it is the grassroots that do 80 percent the damage – on social media and through their coarse and vulgar protests. Jon Ashworth is correct to say that it is not usually Labour MPs themselves who are most responsible for whipping up anti-conservative hatred – or at least they tend not to do so while the cameras are rolling. Therefore Labour politicians have a responsibility to warn their more hot-blooded activists that treating Theresa May’s really very moderate centrist government as some kind of evil Nazi-like regime to be “resisted” is counterproductive and highly offputting to those who vote Conservative in good conscience.

Jon Ashworth’s conversion to the cause is therefore most welcome.

More, please.

 

Jonathan Ashworth - Labour Party - shadow health secretary

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Labour Manifesto: Voters Know Left Wing Policies Are Individually Alluring But Collectively Foolish

Labour Party General Election 2017 Manifesto - Jeremy Corbyn - For The Many Not The Few

Left-wing party manifestos fail to deliver electoral wins despite the popularity of their individual components because voters are smart enough to realise that promising the moon on a stick is not realistic

One self-deceiving mantra that we hear time and again from the Labour and the British Left is that people supposedly love individual left-wing policies but fail to vote Labour in the same numbers, and that if only they change X, Y or Z then the public will fall in love with the great package deal of free stuff + no responsibility and usher in a perpetual era of socialist government.

Currently, the excuse for failure is Jeremy Corbyn, and a number of leftist activists are busy consoling themselves that the Labour leader’s reputation is the only problem. Swap him out and keep the same policies, the self-deception goes, and everyone will suddenly start clamouring to vote Labour at all times.

How many times have we heard the likes of Polly Toynbee sanctimoniously declaring in a TV news debate that people “overwhelmingly” support left-wing policies like the renationalisation of the railways and the utilities sectors, hiking taxes on “the rich” or funnelling ever-increasing sums of money toward “Our NHS”? Too many to count.

And yes, certain individual policies can be very popular, particularly left-wing ones. If you prance around promising more stuff for less money – better public services, faster healthcare, higher welfare payments, all conveniently paid for by somebody else – you are bound to pick up a number of gullible admirers. But more importantly, when pollsters test the appeal of individual policies, people are likely to be very warm to left-wing, redistributive ideas when they are named individually.

It is only when you look at the systemic effect of implementing a basket of left-wing policies all at once that the appeal begins to wear off, as people engage more deeply with the question and the shine starts to come off the socialist Utopia. You might be able to convince voters that a punitive tax raid on the most productive people in society will cobble together enough money for one shiny new government programme, but when you start spending the revenues from that same tax hike multiple times and promising to do fifteen wonderful things with the same small pot of cash, that’s when voters’ natural scepticism kicks in.

Here’s the Guardian, falling into the same trap:

Renationalising the railways was backed by 52% of voters, with 22% opposed and 26% saying they did not know. Nationalising the energy market was supported by 49% with 24% against and 28% saying they did not know.

Labour’s most popular policy among those surveyed was banning zero-hours contracts, with 71% in favour and 16% against.

Despite the strong support for the party’s policies, only 30% agreed with the sentiment that Corbyn should be given a fair chance at leading the country, while 56% said he would be a “disaster” as prime minister.

And the Mirror, doubling down:

There is also widespread support for increasing income tax on those earning more than £80,000 a year.

This is backed by 65% of voters, with just 24% opposed.

A small majority (51%) of Tories also support the policy as do 80% of Labour voters, 72% of Lib Dems and 69% of UKIP voters.

Labour’s pledge to limit the state pension age to 66 is supported 74% of voters, with 15% against and 11% don’t know.

Again this policy goes down well with Tory voters, with 67% of them supporting it and just 22% against.

Here’s Manuel Cortes banging the drum at LabourList:

Make no mistake, Labour’s programme is transformative in a way not seen since 1945 or, Thatcher’s counter-revolution. We know our policies are overwhelmingly popular. Our challenge between now and June 8, is to turn the debate in our country away from Brexit onto the bread and butter issues which our policies tackle.

The polls tell us this will be a Herculean task but they are also saying that our manifesto commitments, on a raft of issues, have huge majorities in favour.

Meanwhile, Josiah Mortimer at Left Foot Forward at least recognises that voter preference is more complex than approval for a basket of individual policies, but still manages to miss the point:

It begs the question: if voters agree with most of Labour’s headline policies – what’s going wrong?

The latest poll of polls has Labour on around 30% – 16 percentage points behind the Conservatives. It’s a divide that makes sense only if you understand politics as being about much more than policies – but leadership, and above that: presentation of those policies and that leadership.

There are of course the usual misgivings over Jeremy Corbyn’s qualities as a statesman (56% say they think he would be ‘a disaster’ as Prime Minister while 30% think he should be given a ‘fair chance at leading the country’).

But beyond that, there is the issue of presentation. It’s been said time and again that Labour’s current policies aren’t significantly to the left of his predecessor (‘warmed up Millibandism’). From renationalising the railways and ending private involvement in the NHS, to prioritising council housing and clamping down on the energy companies: all this has been done and said before.

But it often feels that the left do ourselves few favours – in presenting policies as more radical than they really are – and voters do perceive Corbyn as much more left-wing than he is: with 0 being effectively a communist, and 10 being the most right-wing, voters put Corbyn at 2.2, and Labour at 3.

But the discrepancy between individual policy popularity and overall opinion poll performance is due to more than the “Corbyn effect”, and it is disingenuous of the Guardian and other left-wing media to pretend otherwise.

We see similar enthusiasm gaps between individual left-wing policies and overall voting intention throughout recent British political history – support for rail renationalisation has been high since the railways were privatised – and also in the United States, where Democrats love to crow that many voters actually support their high-taxing, pro-union, pro-redistribution policies only to be disappointed on election day when conservative Republicans keep being elected to various levels of public office.

But many leftists genuinely seem to struggle with this notion. To their minds, if one promises one wonderful free thing after another, the cumulative effect will be enormous and should result in nothing but a Labour landslide in the general election. They make no allowance for the diminishing returns of left-wing fiscal incontinence, or realise that each further promise makes the complete package less believable rather than more.

Owen Jones actually gets closer to the truth, admitting to Varsity:

However, Jones is quick to point out that popular policies aren’t enough saying “individual policies don’t win elections, you need a clear vision to inspire people in terms of what you’re going to do.”

And developing his point in the Guardian:

As has been noted, Labour’s recent policies are indeed electorally very popular. You don’t win elections, though, with policies that – taken individually – have high levels of support, as Ed Miliband discovered. There has to be a vision to bring them together. If you don’t define what you are for, you will be defined by your opponents, already the critical problem afflicting Labour’s leadership. You need a sunny, optimistic vision, not a miserable shaking of the stick at everything that’s wrong.

Jones is right and wrong here. A vision certainly helps. However, the Tories have just launched their 2017 general election manifesto which contains no discernible vision or philosophy of government at all, beyond a final repudiation of Thatcherism, a spiteful kick at libertarianism and a pledge to make random gestures to the Just About Managing (JAMs) by pinching from the Labour playbook.

This blog certainly wishes that it were otherwise; that Theresa May had decided to fight the 2017 general election on an unapologetically small-government, conservative platform – particularly since electoral victory is all but guaranteed, together with the opportunity to reshape the country if only the political will was there. But the Conservatives’ imminent victory is proof that one does not need a logical set of policies or a coherent philosophy of government in order to win support.

If anything, the problem is that many voters know the left-wing vision only too well, and simply want nothing to do with it. Jeremy Corbyn may be bad at communicating an appealing left-wing worldview, sometimes couching even relatively pedestrian policies in the off-putting language of revolutionary struggle, but his predecessor Ed Miliband was as bland as bland can be, and still nobody took the bait. Likewise, since leaving office the heavy fisted Gordon Brown has developed a talent for giving angry TED-style intervention speeches at crucial political junctures, but he too was unable to sell an attractive, convincing left-wing vision to voters tired of centre-left New Labour rule.

The problem is not that the left-wing vision does not exist, or lacks decent salespeople to pitch it. The problem is that people who know it tend to dislike it. Envy of the rich, a desire to tear the successful down rather than build the underprivileged up, a seething antipathy to business and entrepreneurship, the stubborn insistence on inviting the government deep into the private lives of every citizen, treating half the country as perpetually helpless and “vulnerable” people in need of constant nurturing by the state, endless moralising about being the sole keepers of compassion, and now the embrace of toxic and divisive identity politics – there is no confusion about what Labour stands for, only dislike ranging from mild indifference to complete revulsion.

Unfortunately, though, these beliefs and attitudes run deep through the political Left. Even when voters like a particular individual Labour policy they are too often unconvinced to give Labour their vote because they rightly perceive that the policy is borne from the wrong motives.

Labour could promise to cut income tax to zero for everybody earning below £50,000 and throw in a £10k rebate on top, funded by punitive taxes on millionaires and confiscatory wealth taxes on assets, which would be a hugely popular policy, but they will not persuade an election-winning coalition of voters to back them based on it because in the back of their minds, voters know that even if they are to personally benefit from one of Labour’s pie-in-the-sky ideas, everybody will suffer – themselves included – when they quickly succeed in driving the country into the ground.

Hard as it is for some on the Left to believe, voters sometimes actually appreciate it when political parties level with them rather than endlessly trying to flatter and bribe them with “free” stuff. It was a Democratic president, John F. Kennedy, who exhorted his fellow citizens to ask what they could do for their country rather than what their country could do for them. Somewhere along the way, on both sides of the Atlantic, the Left seems to have lost this spirit, and replaced it with the gnawing certainty that voters want a shopping list of bribes, a promise to be perpetually looked after by the state and alleviated of all responsibility for their lives.

Fortunately this is not the view of most voters, which is why the Labour Party and the British people look set to continue talking past one another, on June 8 and into the future.

 

Labour Party Manifesto 2017 - For the many not the few

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Is It Time For Conservatives To Get Over Thatcher?

Theresa May - Conservative Party Tories General Election 2017 Manifesto Launch - Halifax

Theresa May is proving to be more Ed Miliband than Margaret Thatcher

Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman thinks that we should all flop around on the ground and praise Theresa May for tearing up tried-and-tested small-government conservative ideology in favour of an interventionist, paternalistic, stubbornly large state. Apparently at this challenging point in our history, when decisive leadership and a clear direction of travel is needed more than ever, we should swallow our reservations and lustily cheer on a pragmatist, paternalistic prime minister who still has not even properly articulated her vision for Britain.

On the day of the Conservative Party’s 2017 general election manifesto launch, Paul Goodman tells us that it is time for us to “get over Thatcher” and “get on with May”, because apparently a New Labour government with a blueish tint is the best that conservatives can now hope for.

Softening the ground in advance of what will surely prove to be a frustratingly unambitious general election manifesto launch – particularly given the paucity of opposition faced by the Tories and the near certainty that they will be returned to government with an increased majority – Goodman simpers:

Theresa May does not support a big state: in her very first major policy speech outside her ministerial responsibilities, she said that it should be “small, strong [and] strategic”.

Oh, well that’s fine then. She said it, so it must be true.

Nor, for that matter, is her so-called Red Toryism as crimson as is sometimes claimed.  Many of the headlines generated during the last few weeks will look less alarming to liberals if they peer at the small print.  May wants more council houses, but it isn’t clear where the land to build them on will be found.  She supports more rights for workers, but it isn’t evident whether taking leave to care for a family member, for example, will be paid – and nor is she planning to scrap the employment tribunal fees that David Cameron introduced.  She has resuscitated a requirement to put employees on boards, but it looks as though companies will choose them.  The red spray is mixed with blue paint.

So now we are to celebrate that Theresa May apparently wants to build more council houses? What about houses for upwardly mobile young people to buy – people who now find it exponentially harder to get on the property ladder than Theresa May’s generation? Where does Theresa May think that the next generation of conservative voters will come from when it is so difficult for so many to take the stake in society that comes from property ownership? And are we to rejoice that an unfunded pledge to allow workers to take family care leave could hurt small businesses and make companies quicker to fire in a downturn and slower to hire in an economic recovery?

She doesn’t want to state to get bigger, but she does want it to intervene more.  The industrial strategy won’t seek to pick winning companies, but it will search for winning sectors.  There will be an energy price cap – not the relative one floated by John Penrose and others, but an absolute one.

I’m sorry, but what is the functional difference between a bigger state and one which simply “intervene[s] more”? Most people judge the size and bearing of the state on the number and nature of interactions they must have with it over the course of their daily lives – everything from speeding tickets to planning permission to small business red tape to the amount of tax taken from their pay cheque every week or month. Even if Theresa May was technically shrinking the percentage of Britain’s GDP accounted for by government spending – and there is no indication that this key indicator is even on her main dashboard of concerns – her record as Home Secretary and subsequently as prime minister suggests that her “intervening” state will only seek to take on an even larger role in our lives.

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But while we agitate about the detail, the Prime Minister sees the big picture – and has assimilated its scale and size more clearly than her Thatcherite critics.  The Conservative Party travels through the landscape of its times.  These are not the same as they were in the era of Thatcher’s first landslide, over a quarter of a century ago, any more than they were a quarter of a century or so before that, when Harold Macmillan won his own overwhelming victory in 1959.  The world has globalised.  Family structure has been transformed.  The western world has low birthrates and high immigration.   Britain is a multi-racial country.  The Soviet Union has collapsed and Islamist terror has risen.  The crash happened and recession followed.

Free market absolutists will claim that the former took place because there is too much crony capitalism, and too little of the real thing.  They have a good point.  But the argument only draws one deeper into probing whether the system works as well for the working man and woman as it did in Thatcher’s day.  There are three big reasons why it does not.  First, relations between capitalism and nationalism are strained now in a way that they weren’t then.  Many of those who do well out of it feel they have more in common with their counterparts abroad than their fellow citizens at home.  If you doubt it, ponder the politics of immigration – and look, to pluck just one example out of the air, at how George Osborne at the Evening Standard now beats a pro-migration drum.

Second, the changes in the way we live now have created winners and losers.  The latter are simply out-wrestled by Iain Duncan Smith’s five giants – failing schools, crime, sub-standard healthcare, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency.  For those who can’t read or are mired in debt or trapped in substance abuse, the traditional free market nostrums of lower taxes, a smaller state and less red tape are not so much wrong as irrelevant: if a man isn’t working because he can’t count, cutting taxes won’t help him.  Finally, capitalism in the western world is simply not creating well-paid white and blue collar jobs on the same scale as it was in the immediate post-war period.  Welcome to the gig economy.

Nobody seriously disputes any of this, but Theresa May’s prescriptions are all wrong. Globalisation does present real social challenges in terms of ensuring that people are no longer left behind as they have been by many callous elites who otherwise consider themselves enlightened and compassionate. And of course Britain’s industrial makeup and labour market are very different today than in the 1980s, but this doesn’t mean that a heavily interventionist state is the answer.

This blog has often noted that the challenge falls hardest upon conservatives to come up with answers to the problems of globalisation – to find ways to retool and retrain a population so that they can participate in the industries of tomorrow rather than clinging to the dying industries of the past. This was clearly one test that the Thatcher government failed, and the legacy of broken communities left behind as side effects of the Thatcherite medicine is why there are still many people who would shoot themselves before voting Tory, and why the Labour Party’s electoral floor remains so stubbornly high.

But the answer to this challenge is not to steal wholesale from the left-wing playbook and seek to make the government the energetic auxiliary parent to millions of grown adults, people who should be expected to find their own way in life. The answer is to find the least invasive way possible of incentivising people to retrain and gain skills that make them competitive in the labour market – perhaps the kind of vocational adult education common in America’s community colleges, but either tied to the welfare system (so benefits become contingent on learning), made tax-deductible or a requirement for larger companies seeking to make redundancies. As this blog has previously noted, Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for a National Education Service connecting adults with further education is not actually a bad one – it is just the left-wing execution (funnelling everybody off to university, free of charge) which is wrong.

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We will have seen more of the Conservative Manifesto by the end of the day.  But what we know already is that May, if she can win her own landslide, wants to correct the liberal excesses of the Thatcher era by making peace with the state – of seeing it, as this site puts it, not as Big Brother, but Little Brother.  This ground has the merit of being where most voters stand: very, very few speak the Westminster Village language of making it bigger or smaller.  And the Prime Minister seems set to use her mandate to do much of what this site has been pressing it to do – such as dropping the tax pledge and ending the pensions triple lock, thereby setting the scene for more flexibility in deficit reduction and more fairness between the generations.

It doesn’t matter whether people speak the Westminster Village language or not. When Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, most people had not read the “Stepping Stones” report – that influential document which diagnosed all of Britain’s economic and social ails, and prescribed a comprehensive cure. But the man in the street didn’t need to have read the report, or necessarily have a firm sense of the ideology behind it. What was important was the fact that Margaret Thatcher came to office with a pre-formed ideology already in her mind, while her government’s policies generally flowed from that same consistent approach.

Theresa May is the precise oppose of this – the anti-Thatcher, if you will. Theresa May ascended to 10 Downing Street as the ultimate pragmatist – somebody who kept her head firmly under the parapet while Home Secretary, almost never stirring the waters or causing controversy by ramming through serious reforms in her department and being notable only for her willingness to take advantage of terror attacks in Western countries to vest ever more powers in the security services and clamp down on civil liberties.

There is no Theresa May governing philosophy. While Margaret Thatcher somewhat vaguely quoted St Francis of Assisi as she entered 10 Downing Street for the first time as prime minister, Theresa May spoke quite specifically about helping the JAMs (people who are Just About Managing). But Thatcher’s vagueness concealed a deadly seriousness of intent, while May’s specificity seems only to hint that she will steal shamelessly from the Labour playbook in order to steal their voters.

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Thatcherism was right for its times, and has lessons for today.  But the world has moved on, and the Conservatives must move with it.  This is a Party, not a mausoleum.  None the less, the Prime Minister’s plan contains a stinging irony.  May, the former Remainer – as Thatcher also was – has not only embraced Brexit but grasped, perhaps more fully than any other British politician, what it means, what the British people wanted in backing it, and where it is leading.

It is Brexit that is empowering May within her own Party, because the free marketeers are so often Brexiteers too.  Since she has won their trust over the EU, they will forgive her views on the market – for the moment, anyway.

That’s not how it works! Even if one agreed with Theresa May’s ill-considered Brexit approach, merely agreeing to carry out Brexit in accordance with the referendum result does not and should not automatically build up reserves of goodwill ready for the moment that the prime minister chooses to chuck conservative economic policy overboard.

Brexit is incredibly important, but so is the day-to-day government of the country. And rejecting the lighter touch, non-interventionist policies which have benefited this country so much should not be done lightly, as Allister Heath warns in the Telegraph:

This jobs explosion [from 1975 onwards] is an extraordinary achievement, and one which, tragically, the Tories now take for granted. Their policies are no longer geared towards job creation – yesterday’s issue, they clearly think – but towards “improving” the labour market and making it “work” for more people.

[..] The answers from Mayonomics are much more simplistic. There is a demand for lower energy prices, so she will simply deliver them by fiat. The jobs market will be fine regardless of how much more red tape is thrown at it, the new doctrine asserts – after all, the minimum wage keeps going up and the roof hasn’t fallen in. The existence of invisible side-effects, or the fact that we may well be nearing a tipping point, doesn’t enter the calculation. Mayonomics advocates blaming business for “not doing enough for their workers”, but hitting them with yet more non-wage costs will merely put further downwards pressure on wages, in a dangerous vicious circle.

Heath concludes:

To make the most of Brexit, the UK needs to embrace free markets, not retreat to the quiet economic certainties of the Sixties. The Tories will eventually come to realise this, of course, but not before they squander an immense opportunity to retool this country into a 21st century trading superpower.

As I write, Theresa May is on her feet in Halifax, Yorkshire, launching the Conservative Party manifesto. People are standing and cheering. It is an election manifesto which will almost certainly receive the endorsement of the electorate on June 8. But contrary to the hysterical shrieks of the British Left, it will not be a Thatcherite manifesto. In some cases, it will barely be recognisable as a small-C conservative manifesto.

And small government conservatives should not take this lying down.

 

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