I recently blogged that "In the General Election campaign, no mainstream party is talking about debt reduction." Today I read the new Conservative manifesto and there, on the first page, are these words:
Today the challenges facing Britain are immense. Our economy is overwhelmed by debt, our social fabric is frayed and our political system has betrayed the people.
On the face of it, I was wrong. Or was I? Let me begin by saying that I want to be wrong. Nothing would please me more (apart from a massive swing to the Libertarians) than for a party with some chance of winning to address the crippling national debt incurred by Labour.
I like the style of the manifesto. It's clean. It's business like. It's in plain English without being too condescending. It pushes many of my political buttons, peppered as it is with references to what the State cannot do, and to the importance of action by individuals and communities. The illustrations are well done, stylish and even occasionally informative. It's a good piece of work and contrasts well (as it needed to) with the Soviet style of Labour's desperate effort. If an election were a manifesto contest, the Tories would deserve a landslide.
I cannot now accuse Cameron of dodging an unpopular issue. But what do the Conservatives propose to do about it? Well to begin with, a much-needed change in the philosophical approach to government in Britain:
...the change we offer is from big government to Big Society...
They could hardly go further in refuting the idea attributed by leftists to Thatcher that "there is no such thing as society." There is, apparently, and the Tories want it to be bigger. But that's going to take two terms to achieve. In the meantime, there is little choice but to swallow Labour's political poison pill by radically scaling down the state bodies that employ so many voters.
As things stand, the costs of life's necessities (food, clothing and shelter) are so high in Britain that in most households it takes two wages to pay for them; especially given the high proportion of income which now goes in tax (and of net income that is absorbed by VAT etc.). So who is going to do the volunteering? Not young people with families, that's for sure. If the Conservatives can drive down taxes and other elements of the cost of living, then the Big Society becomes plausible. Until then, it's fol-de-rol.
Labour has done structural damage to the economy. The State's employees and other dependants may be the only people with the leisure to man Cameron's "Big Society" and - by definition - they are pretty unlikely to be Conservatives.
The manifesto's objectives (e.g. the benchmarks for change in the "Economy" section are great, but there's little explanation of how to meet them. It says the Tories;
...will cut wasteful government spending to bring the deficit down and restore stability
It also says;
We will provide an emergency Budget within 50 days of taking office to set out a credible plan for eliminating the bulk of the structural current budget deficit over a Parliament.
I am prepared to believe there were billions of pounds wasted under Labour, but I doubt the necessary savings can be achieved by doing what Labour did more efficiently. Even if they could, "..eliminating the bulk"..." of the budget deficit, still leaves us sliding further into debt.
If the cuts are drawn out too long, there will be little or no "feelgood" in the Conservatives' first term. With the constant whining that can be expected about "Tory cuts" a second term is not going to be easy. The best chance of re-election after painful measures is if people can already see good results. Pain, after all, is not the objective!Worryingly, there are even pledges to create new government agencies (e.g. to give free advice on debt management). If Cameron is just going to wear a different uniform while steering the same ship of state, nothing good will come of it - especially if he's adding even more superstructure to a vessel that's already unseaworthy.
Only together can we can get rid of this government and, eventually, its debt.
...says Cameron in his introduction. He's not wrong. But are the Conservatives really able to get the government out of our way to make that happen? Or will the first sad story of life being "unfair" have the enemies of freedom (never much inclined to act themselves nor organise their communities to do so) demanding that the government "do something"? And, if the story is sad enough, will David Cameron and his colleagues have the strength to refuse?