Friday, October 31, 2008

Dreams and disappointment

We all have dreams and aspirations, but most of us realise that, unless we make those dreams realistic, then most of the time we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

Over on the IEA, Philip Booth is dreaming.

The most important political upheaval of the last few years has not taken place within the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party has merely evolved to take account of changing political circumstances, as we would expect. Nothing has changed substantially within the Party but it has adapted to a new environment, for good or ill.

So far, so good. I agree that the Conservative Party has "evolved to take account of changing political circumstances" - i.e. it has lurched further and further to the left. I also agree that nothing has changed within the Party as a whole, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Parliamentary Conservative Party has changed substantially and no longer reflects the majority of grass roots membership. Anyway ... so what is this momentous upheaval?

The big change has been within the Liberal Democrats. Many Lib Dem thinkers have rediscovered economic liberalism – a principled belief in economic freedom, though this is a change that is not welcomed by all in the party.

Errr - is Philip for real? All the Lib Dems have done is abandon their own "clause 4" - the increase in income tax. In all other respects they still believe in wealth redistribution. That's the principle by which you take money from those who earn it by the sweat of their brow and hand it over to the lazy and feckless who have learned how to play the system. In other words - from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs - or as we used to call it, Marxism.

Indeed, on some issues, such as public sector pensions, Lib Dem thinking is streets ahead of that of the Conservatives. In other areas, such as in education, and the level of taxation and government spending, there is little to choose between the Conservatives and leading thinkers in the Liberal Democrats. On welfare policy there is a growing common ground.

Yeah, well there is little to choose between the Conservatives and Labour either - that's because they are all left wing progressive liberal parties. Philip believes this "change" is significant because he, like me, sees that the next parliament may well be a hung parliament and, like me, he can not see the Lib Dems forming any formal coalition with either the Tories or Labour.

What will happen instead is that the largest party will form a government and the Liberal Democrats will support legislation on a case-by-case basis. This leaves an opportunity in some key areas for a minority Conservative government to bring in market-oriented reforms that are desperately needed if the most disadvantaged in our society are going to have the opportunities they deserve. This is especially so in education, but also in other areas such as policing, welfare and public sector pensions.

Yeah, right!

The need for a coherent programme of government that reduces taxation, removes swathes of regulations, returns education and healthcare to the people, and eliminates the financial incentives to households to fragment is urgent if our economy and communities are to be revived.

On that point I am in complete agreement with Philip, but it is the next part where he loses it.

If there is a Conservative government some of these radical reforms will be easy pickings because of the changed mood in the Liberal Democrats, and even of some on the Labour benches.

Sorry, Philip - but this is monumental garbage. Even assuming - which I don't - that the Tories actually intend to bring in the reforms you say we need and even assuming - which I don't - that the Lib Dems and even elements of Labour agree, what on earth makes him think that these reforms would be easier to get through with a hung parliament than, say, with a huge Conservative majority?

If the Tories want to make these changes and if they have a large enough majority there is nothing to stop them implementing them. However, as Philip himself points out ......

Even if the Conservatives are in a majority, the opposition that they face when trying to force through policies is important. Despite her huge majorities, Mrs. Thatcher could not make the Community Charge stick and never reduced public spending. She was always fighting on all fronts.

But Thatcher wasn't fighting the Lib Dems or even Labour (for the majority of Thatcher's term in office, The Labour Party was not an effective force). She was fighting the public sector and vast sections of the media - both of which are even more influential and powerful now than they were then.

It's a nice idea, but it isn't going to happen. For a start, the Tories are not planning the reforms we need. They can't as long as we remain in the EU anyway and they have neither the will or the balls to do what is needed. Secondly, all three parties fight over a "centre ground" which is so far to the left of where it was fifty years ago, they would have called it extremism.

The fact is, the Lib Dems have pretty much always voted on a case by case basis. What is more, in recent years so have the Tories. They do so because there is now so little to choose between all three parties - all three have, fundamentally, the same policies. It is only in the detail that there is any difference - and those differences are minor anyway.

So if Philip is genuinely thinking that we're going to see "market-oriented reforms" then he is going to be hugely disappointed.

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