Boris Johnson with a thoughtful piece on why liberal Tories are strangely drawn towards Blairism, whilst Bruce Anderson has the sharpest piece of pro-Tory analysis we’ve seen in a long long time:He certainly tells it like it is on the perception that Margaret Thatcher was able to cut spending:
As so often, however, the Tories’ task is complicated by the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. On both taxes and public spending, her rhetoric frequently bore no relation to reality. In her 111/2 years, taxation and borrowing did fall as a percentage of GDP, from 39 per cent to 37 per cent. She did reduce public spending’s share of national income, to around 40 per cent. Because of economic growth, she was also able to finance large increases in government expenditure, especially on health. Anyone who examines her actual record in search of the ‘cuts’ indelibly associated with her name will search in vain.
Anderson, accurately, believes that the key to their policy problems is rooted in:
the widespread belief that the Tories are opposed to public expenditure is the party’s greatest single electoral liability: it’s equivalent of Clause 4 and the rest of Old Labour’s socialist baggage. It will probably take more than three-and-a-half months to expunge that, but the phrasemakers must try their hardest.
In accordance with the lessons of the prisoners dilemma laid out in our own Long Peace document, he believes that
…they should look at what Mrs T. did, not at what she sometimes said. They should also listen to those in charge of the party’s opinion research. Much of this was conducted by people keen to cut taxes and certain that the voters wanted tax cuts. But the evidence was overwhelmingly the other way. The voters might be persuaded that in the context of an anti-waste campaign and guaranteed spending increases on health and education, a £4 billion tax cut was reasonable. If the Tories were to offer much more than that, the voters would regard them as irresponsible, and also as dishonest. They would refuse to believe that it could ever happen.
The ground being conceded here seems to be that there is no way that central government can be cut back. It’s doubtful that it’s possible to achieve that aim incrementally through anti waste campaigns. But if there is a case for government to get further out of the road of the citizen, the Tories will need a bigger idea to measure up to Thatcher’s privatisation scheme.
This time however the polemic will likely need to invite the public to examine what government is for. Then identify what it does well, and what it doesn’t. Then, if the public case can be won, look in those specific areas of weakness for your cuts.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty