The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Sunday, July 31, 2005
The "stupid" question: How big a hole are the Tories in?
by Peter

Not two months after their third succesive general election defeat, speculation is mounting that the Tories may lose next time around too. It is a stupid debate at one level. The two months have seen a myriad of events capable of influencing public opinion over the long-term (bombs, Olympics, the EU) and we can have little idea how these are going to play out. But it is also a "stupid" question: one about how the economy is going to progress.

Mike Smithson has run through some of the issues on politicalbetting, and his article is informed by the interesting analysis of Anthony Wells. Psephology (and reading the runes of the last election) can only take us so far, but this conclusion nearly everybody who shares Conservative values is already voting Conservative does suggest that the tory task is harder than most Conservatives are prepared to admit.

Anthony Wells makes an interesting point about the relatively weak position of the Tories among various age groups, including younger voters where there was an 11% Lab to Lib Dem swing The Conservatives have been here before, and recovered; back in October 1974, the Conservatives trailed the Liberals by 24% to 27% amongst under 25s (although obviously they cannot rely upon Charles Kennedy becoming embroiled in a dog-shooting incident.)

The comment reminds us just what a lucky period 1974-1979 was for the Conservatives. Labour lost a relatively popular leader and replaced him with a man who found it hard to claim a mandate for anything. Jeremy Thorpe became embroiled in a long-running and damaging investigation, in which lurid allegations were aired in the press. His successor, David Steel, was popular with voters, but led the Liberals into a pact which ensured that they took a share of the blame for the things the government got wrong, and little credit for the things the government got right. This alone amounted to a perfect storm for the Tories. But above all there was the economy.

These were the bleak years of stagflation – partly fed by the aftermath of Heath's well intended (but cack-handed) push for growth but mostly by the oil crisis - leading to the Winter of Discontent. Things could not have gone better for the Tories. They would be foolish indeed to expect to recover support the way they did in this period.

The Tories' dearest belief (in my view the belief that sets them apart form the rest of the world) is that they are good at running the economy. This is simply a question of selective memory. The Tories remember their structural reforms (and the money they made personally out of each and every privatisation). The rest of us remember the rocky road we travelled: mass unemployment under Geoffrey Howe; boom and bust under Nigel Lawson; negative equity; and Norman Lamont singing in the bath.

The challenge for the Liberal Democrats is to avoid incidents with animals, and to develop further credibility on the economy. The UK is probably not going to go back to the 1970s. China's boom has provided quite a benign environment for the UK (see this week's Economist). Manufactured goods have declined in price and kept inflationary pressures at bay. And the UK has done better out of this than (say) Italy or Germany because our manufacturing sector was already tiny (and now "completely hollowed out" according to the Item Club).

But the economy is going to get worse. And Liberal Democrats – who share the values of 60% of the electorate - will be in a position to put forward a package of reforms that are trusted. If this also pleases "aspirational" voters, so much the better.
posted by Apollo Project @ 11:29 am   0 comments
Friday, July 29, 2005
Teddy Leigh and the Tory Taleban: Faith, Flag and Family.
by Peter

Tall, blond and blue-eyed, Edward Leigh is the very image of a Conservative Member of Parliament. Admittedly he is Catholic rather than High Anglican, but the Church of England has not been conservative enough for true Tories for some years now. And Edward Leigh is steeped in Conservative traditions. One could imagine that a leather-bound edition of Filmer's Patriarcha sits on the desk in his study. An elected politician for more than 30 years and a Tory MP for more than 20, he was Mrs Thatcher's speechwriter in the opposition years, and held ministerial positions under both Thatcher and Major. Today he is chairman of the Public Accounts Committee - one of the most significant appointments in the hands of the Opposition. Leigh has now entered the leadership contest, not as a candidate, but as kingmaker. He has put together the Cornerstone group (made up, it is said, of 25 Members of Parliament) as a lobby for a return to old-fashioned social conservativism (some of us thought this was what Hague and Howard had offered the country). His publication The Strange Desertion of Tory England provides a call for the Party to get back to its roots and campaign on Faith, Family and Flag.

No surprises here, one might think: Tory traditionalist calls for a return to traditional Tory values - no casualties. Yet there may be casualties. The most forceful words in the book are not for the Tory opponents, but for the enemy within. Liberalism is so dominant that it has managed to infect the Conservative Party like a virus... Allowing libertarian thought to gain a foohold in the Party would be a betrayal of foundational conservative values. Leigh is affronted that many Tories these days draw their inspration from Hayek or (still worse) Nozick rather than Burke or Disraeli.

Increasingly it seems that the Conservative Party ain't big enough for all its various currents of opinion. The modernisers' agenda is directly opposed to that of the Cornerstone Group. Libertarians like Duncan want a party that stands for free market policies (Leigh has spotted that there is nothing very Conservative about a free market) and for tolerance of individual choices on lifestyle. Many younger Conservatives see this as the way forward. Perhaps this is why they are also interested in a name change.

Elsewhere the Conservative 44% peple have identified three groups within the Conservative Party engaged in a "cold war": the Soho modernisers; the Easterhouse modernisers; and the "core strategy" group. They would like them to cooperate. But is this likely when each group has had a leader knifed in the back?

In any case, the Conservative Party's problems probably run much deeper. They enjoyed eighteen years of power. They achieved some structural reforms to the economy. And they implemented their manifesto in full. What we are left with is a party in search of a message. This is not too far from the situation of the Liberal Party after the implementation of Lloyd-George's People`s Budget. Once you have achieved your goals what do you do next?

The Tory answer? Squabble.
posted by Apollo Project @ 2:44 pm   1 comments
The Second Time Around – Repairing the Liberal Schism
by Steve Travis

“There are those who'll bet love comes but once, and yet I'm oh, so glad we met the second time around … “

The lyrics of this Frank Sinatra song refer to a couple re-kindling their early love later in life, in the face of the prevailing view that such love can only occur once. The prevailing view in politics is that the Conservatives benefited during the Twentieth Century from the schism caused by the establishment of the Labour Party and the loss to Liberalism of the Trades Unionists and the working class. Whilst this is undoubtedly true, the other great loss to Liberalism, those whose patience with the party finally departed in the 1930s, were the new suburban Middle Class. Curiously their departure is a much less remarked-upon phenomenon.

Faced with the looming spectre of unfettered socialism following WWII, Churchill and others reached out the hand of friendship to the Liberal rump. Some suspected that their warm embrace was actually designed to smother us, and eventually this attempt to forge a small-government alliance failed. A fortunate thing too, as the Conservatives became ever more adicted to the levers of power.

As the Twentieth Century drew to a close progressives such as Roy Jenkins and Paddy Ashdown sought ways to heal what they saw as the rift in progressive politics. Given the situation of nearly two decades of untrammelled right-wing hegemony such a position was understandable. Unfortunately, this project has foundered on the rocks of Blair’s acquired taste for unfettered power, Labour’s lip-service to some Liberal tenets and the needs of the electoral system. A decade later, following Labour’s third election victory, the picture looks different - New Labour is a fundamentally illiberal party. The challenge for Liberals is to assemble a liberal collective to oppose the most pernicious measures emanating from the Blair government.

Where do we look for these allies?

Most Liberals would baulk at the idea of any kind of co-operation with the Conservative Party in its present form, and they would be right to do so. Yet, contained within the ranks of the party are a minority of social and economic liberals who would be far better suited to being Liberals. However, through reasons of tradition and loyalty they plough their lonely furrow, tolerated but unloved. Some of the more thoughtful of their number are agitating for the Tories to move in their direction in order to capture the number of votes required for majority government. Make no mistake, were their advice to be heeded it would be catastrophic for our party.

During the Twentieth Century the Conservative Party established itself as a powerful election-winning machine. But it was more than just that. It absorbed the aspiring middle classes into strong local and family networks. The party became woven into the fabric of middle class life in this country. Whilst this aspect of the party is a shadow of itself following the post-Thatcher implosion, the afterglow can be still be seen in the support that the party manages to retain. Voters whose views no longer chime with the party still vote for them because their family did, their friends do, their newspaper supports them, and they’ve been offered no alternative.

It may well be that in some cases there is no hope to convert such people into Liberal voters. But if we as a party are to ever win a significant presence in Parliament we need to reach out beyond 20% of the vote, and we are not going to pick up sufficient support just from Labour.

There are some green shoots of hope from the last election. The demise of the Tories in the cities has led to our emergence as the party of urban liberal Britain. We need to build on this by creating a liberal economic and social agenda to persuade those who cling onto the Conservatives by habit that their interests are best served by a forward looking and thinking party. They can quietly divorce themselves from their marriage of convenience and return to their first true love.

Perhaps then the Liberal Diaspora will finally have returned home.
posted by Apollo Project @ 1:59 pm   2 comments
 
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"What is Liberalism?: I should say it means the acknowledgment in practical life of the truth that men are best governed who govern themselves; that the general sense of mankind, if left alone, will make for righteousness; that artificial privileges and restraints upon freedom, so far as they are not required in the interests of the community, are hurtful; and that the laws, while, of course, they cannot equalise conditions, can at least avoid aggravating inequalities, and ought to have for their object the securing to every man the best chance he can have of a good and useful life." C-B.

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