The Apollo Project
Liberal Ideas for the 21st Century
Sunday, January 08, 2006
Cameron's critics on the City pages
by Peter

Not everyone reads the City pages, but those who do have seen a number of attacks on Cameron. Jeff Randall in the Telegraph gave him quite a kicking the other day (I reproduced some of the juicier attacks here). Peter Preston has returned to this in his Media column today.

A few pages earlier, Frank Kane joins in the fun.

I never thought I'd see the day when the head of Tesco was able to put up a better defence of capitalism than the leader of the Conservative party, but that's exactly where we are now.

Sir Terry Leahy, the man many think is the most powerful in Britain, can explain precisely the role of the big corporations in the modern world, and how these capitalist giants can be agents of social change and improvement. Leahy, a friend of Labour by background and inclination, may have been forced into serious consideration of these issues by the anti-Tesco lobby, but he has at least given them serious thought, and come up with persuasive arguments.

David Cameron, by contrast, seems ready to abandon the Tories' longest held political beliefs at the drop of a hat. His exhortations to 'stand up to big business' and condemnations of capitalism left most business friends of mine giggling with embarrassed disbelief. 'He's only doing it for the votes, don't worry, he doesn't really mean it, you'll see' was the typical reaction, but it was all said with a worried little laugh.

The case against Cameron is slowly taking shape: he´ll say anything to get votes; he was ...poor in business himself; he was Lamont's right-hand man y'know; he can´t be trusted with your daughter's pocket money...

Better still there is a case for the Liberal Democrats being made elsewhere in the finacncial press. Here is the FT.

The Conservative party has a new leader and Tony Blair will not be leading Labour into the next election. Now the Liberal Democrats are set for a change at the top following Charles Kennedy's admission that he had been treated for a drink problem - treatment he had repeatedly denied receiving. The change in leadership will offer an opportunity to carve out a distinctive role for Britain's third party...

...As with the Conservatives, the election of a new leader is an opportunity for the LibDems to go beyond a change of faces. The strategy of outflanking Labour on the left while presenting an image of moderation to the right has reached its limits - as the modest gains in last year's general election showed.

Happily for the LibDems, there is a gap to be filled in British politics. A party is needed that is strong on individual liberty, distrustful of big government and in favour of local democracy. It should be low tax and pro-market - using market mechanisms to curb public spending while promoting welfare.

The Tories could adopt such a platform, but their coalition includes cultural conservatives uncomfortable with such unbridled liberalism. That should be no problem, however, for a party whose origins in the Liberal party of the 19th and early 20th centuries ideally position it to fill the gap.

Okay, not everyone is gonig to agree with all of this. And the challenge for people (like myself) who generally go along with it is certainly to show how the market can delver more for poorer people. Nor do I entirely agree that the leadership change is going to lead directly to a great change in direction for the party. As Alex Sweet has said on this blog, it is impossible to imagine that this party is going to ditch one half of its philosophy.

But this is a good moment to get such an endorsement. And thinking it through, a further line is emerging to be used against the Tories. With the election of a semi-aristocratic leader, they look less than ever like a business party. The Goldsmith move is of the same kind: his "ecological" vision has always seemed backward-looking and semi-feudal. Perhaps this is the emerging shape of Cameron's tories.
posted by Peter Pigeon @ 12:27 pm  
  • At 08 January, 2006 15:05, Anonymous Andrew Toye said…

    The point of economic policy in a liberal context is to balance the aims of 'liberty, equality and community' - not to get obsessed about the mechanisms. Therefore, not to undergo intellectual contortions to "show how the market can deliver more for poorer people", but see how we can improve the lives of poorer (and other) people, using whatever tools are available. It would be absurd to outflank the Tories on the market, just as it would be ridiculous to outflank Labour on the "left". As Cameron is saying anything to get votes, it could become impossible to outflank him on any issue.

  • At 08 January, 2006 15:27, Anonymous Valerie said…

    Andrew - I agree with you about the not going into intellectual contortions (although I don't think it was being suggested). However, I'm not sure that it's a question of flanks (as you more or less suggest in your last sentence).

    Cameron seems to be showing a number of deficiencies in terms of willingness to challenge Labour incompetence in a number of key areas, and it would be both irresponsible and unwise for us not to take them up. It's a question of meeting the challenge rather than outflanking anyone on any side on 'the market' as some sort of whole.

  • At 09 January, 2006 11:19, Blogger Tristan said…

    The FT is largely correct here.

    We should be setting ourselves out as a party based upon individual liberty, small government and helping the poor, but not penalising others. This I feel is core to the philosophy of the party.
    How to help the poor is tricky, we certainly don't want dependency on the sate, that just increases the state's power over them, but we cannot let people fall through the cracks (unfortunately I do feel that some always will, but we should keep an eye out for them and try to stop it for too long).

    Personally I feel markets are supurb systems in many situations, so long as they are interfered with as little as possible. The problem comes when people cannot take part in the market so they fall out of it and it cannot possibly help them. I can't believe in a 100% laissez-faire system, then again the Liberal party never did. Free trade was primarily about providing cheaper food, the economic growth this provided was a very large bonus.

    One of the challenges facing us is a new tax policy. I think this should consist of a vastly simpler tax system (a flat tax is appealing to me, but not essential) and raising the taxable income thresh-hold. This removes the need to give money back to people (as in the disatrous tax-credit system) and enables the poor to do much more with their money themselves, giving them more freedom and responsibility but also meaning the state is there to help when necessary. I'd even consider axeing National Insurance, or at least massive reform as it is now merely another income tax.

    As a party we should make much clearer out committment to reducing government power and beurocracy and increasing local control, all things which are part of the party's central philosophy, but don't seem to be articulated enough outside the party (partly I feel due to the media's continuing obsession with left/right class based politics, even if they don't place it in those terms).

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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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