Monday, 19 November 2007

Why I am still not a Conservative...

It's tempting to cross the line at times like this...the Conservatives are over 40% in the polls, the Liberal Democrats barely into the teens. David Cameron seems to have captured the zeitgeist while the Lib Dem leadership hopefuls quarrel publically and rancorously.

Yet, deep down, I know I'm not a Conservative. Even if many of the young Tory activists don't or can't remember, I remember the Thatcher/Major years and can't forget the blighting of hundreds of thousands of lives in the north but also elsewhere and the missed opportunities to genuinely improve the lives of the people of our country. Yes, a few did very well but the majority did less well than it appeared at the time and the failure to tackle issues of declining public infrastructure and the growing issue of climate change meant time was lost and money had to be spent by Tony Blair's administration in 1997.

The main problem I have with the Conservatives, however, is that I don't trust them. To be honest, even if David Cameron came down my front path with a wheelbarrow full of £50 notes, I wouldn't vote for him. Tories are either centralisers or paternalists. In other words, they will either tell you what's best for you or simply take the decisions without consultation. They parrot the language of devolution and decentralisation but they don't mean it. Yes, they might repatriate powers from Europe but they won't give real powers back to directly-elected local authorities.

Last week David Cameron tried to play the "decentralisation" card twice and twice showed that at heart he is a control-freak in the Blair mode. Let's start with his thoughts on co-operative schools. On the surface, interesting but it's not about real power to real people - no, all Cameron wants is for Tory activists to run schools by appointing them to governing bodies. So much for giving power to local people. If you're a local Conservative activist, fine, if you're not a Tory, forget it.

Then we had the absurdity of Council Tax referenda. This is of course from the party that refused the Scots a vote on devolution for a generation. The problem with Cameron's idea is that it is nothing new - Labour-run Croydon held a poll offering its residents a choice of three budgets a few years ago but I don't recall a single Conservative-run authority offering residents a similar choice. It's all very well people wanting lower Council Tax and from a selfish standpoint it's an attractive option but Council finance doesn't work that way. The Daily Mail may believe that local authorities are full of profligate, idle workers who do nothing, earn too much and have good pensions to look forward to.

The truth, of course, is much more complex. Councils are being squeezed by a combination of falling grants from central Government and an almost exponential rise in the cost of adult social care which sweeps away all the efficiency savings and other cuts. Have the Conservatives got a solution for this ? No, of course not. In Opposition, they steer clear of the hard questions and concentrate on aimless whingeing about "too much tax".

We are not, of course, an overtaxed country. However, the mainstream media has spent the last decade convincing us we are and now people believe we are overtaxed. Compare to the 1970s, we have it easy. Indeed, those who claim we pay too much tax are all too often the same people who want more money spent on the Police, prisons, the armed forces etc.

At no point does anyone say where all this money will come from. The claim is that the public sector is bloated and full of waste and that too many people spend too much time enforcing petty rules and regulations. It may be true that we have a lot of rules but unfortunately too many people treat society as their personal dustbin or hotel rather than something to which they need to contribute or belong to. Whether it's the binge drinker on a Saturday night or the person abandoning their car in a side street makes no difference. Too many people live their lives too often in a manner detrimental to the overall community. The so-called petty rules and regulations are often the only safeguard individuals and families have against the petty anarchy of the selfish.

And so IF David Cameron and the Conservatives form the next Government, it will be just as I have argued before. Not a change of culture, nothing radical but a change of management. The "rich", whether home-grown drug dealers, foreign football club owners or wherever, will continue to grow richer and society will continue to suffer.

I won't vote Conservative (or Labour) because I want to protect society both from the tyranny of the fortunate and the anarchy of the selfish.

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