Reflecting on Cameron’s speech it strikes Guido that it had some good themes, particularly the attack on Big Government; “government got too big, promised too much and pretended that it had all the answers” and the little reported promise of a return to sound money policies. The emphasis on the family unit as the essential foundation of society, the emphasis on lower taxes for the lower paid and the education reforms which are the most exciting manifesto promise from the Tories, all sound good.
What is a little unconvincing is the idea that in government the Tories will roll back Big Government, policy after policy is statist; the Tories are proposing 17 new quangos, threatening to put up taxes and devoid of privatisation proposals. When the leader of the LibDems is sounding more right-wing on taxes and implementing “savage spending cuts” than the leader of the Tories, you wonder who is really offering real change?
Prime example of the Tory credibility deficit: it was George Osborne who committed the Conservatives to match Labour’s spending plans until 2011, to howls of outrage from many of his supporters – Tim Montgomerie was very vocal that this was a big mistake, John Redwood was diplomatically unimpressed. Now the Tories decry Gordon Brown’s past overspending and his fiscal recklessness in every speech. Do they think we have forgotten that it was they who supported those very same spending plans? They were asked repeatedly at the time what would happen if there were no “proceeds of growth” to share and ducked the question. The Cameroons have bought into the Finkelstein argument – which is entirely political – that it is expensive to be radical, that it is nigh on impossible to dramatically change the course of the ship of state, that across the board tax cuts are politically and economically too difficult. So much so that these aspirations are hardly voiced. If you don’t aim for the stars you won’t even get off the ground in government, the civil service and vested interests will thwart pragmatists every time.
Except in education policy the rhetoric of change is not matched by commitments to really radical change. The rhetorical onslaught on Big Government is not matched by a commitment to shrink the proportion of GDP swallowed by the state. In some parts of Britain, particularly in Scotland and Wales, the state sector is of Soviet proportions to the local economy, with public sector employment dwarfing the productive sector of the economy. That has to change, Cameron half-quoted Martin Luther King; “When you are right, you cannot be too radical…” – so offer radical change.