Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
This play isn’t for everyone. If you have no interest in constitutional matters, or are not a serious thinker, it’s probably best that you stay away.
I have long believed that the death of our current Queen will have a far deeper and more profound effect on this country than most people realise. When that sad day comes, as it inevitably will at some point within the next 15 years or so, a lot we currently take for granted will suddenly and abruptly become far less certain.
Nobody under the age of 70 has any meaningful recollection of a time when Elizabeth II wasn’t our Head of State. Our current Queen is kind and dignified, but it is a myth that she has remained carefully neutral on political matters.
For example, she did not speak out when she might have done about the surrender of our independence to the European Union, which badly damaged her own position, turning her from a Sovereign into just another EU citizen.
In 1998, Her Majesty went out of her way to endorse the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement, and helped Mr Blair bamboozle Ulster’s Protestants into voting ‘Yes’ to a gradual and on-going surrender to the IRA godfathers.
In her 2004 Christmas Day broadcast, she proclaimed that ‘diversity is indeed a strength’ effectively endorsing the multiculturalism many oppose and dislike.
In other words, the Queen has always sided with, and aided, the government of the day, even if it damages herself and the Crown. Her reign has been steady but highly predictable.
By contrast, Prince Charles is a man of unfashionable opinions and strong conservative instincts (not Tory, by the way, a party which often does some very un-conservative things). I am sorry that the climate change lobby has got to him, but he has a great deal of value to say when he expresses opinions that embarrass the government on matters such as selection in education, rural affairs, medicine, social cohesion, opportunities for young people and modern architecture.
And it’s this entirely plausible conflict between Charles and the government of the day that provides the pretext of this play. The plot is relatively simple to understand: The Queen has died, and Charles, as King, holds his first weekly audience with a slippery Labour Prime Minister, Tristram Evans, who explains that he will shortly be asking Charles for royal assent for a parliamentary Bill that will severely restrict the freedom of the press.
The King’s respect for our country’s ancient liberties kick in, overriding any personal bitterness he may feel for the treatment he has received in the press over many decades. He refuses to support or sign the Bill, thereby invalidating the unwritten rule that the Monarch will give royal assent to all Bills passed by Parliament. The battle between government (supported by a two-faced Tory Opposition leader) and Monarch develops, yet Charles stands firm. He appears to share my sentiment that Parliament, on all sides, is dominated by career politicians who think and behave like teenage social liberals who know little and care nothing of our national heritage and ancient liberties.
Charles attempts to exercise his right to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections, which triggers protests, especially in London. The Duchess of Cambridge plots a solution, which involves William publicly offering to be a mediator between the government and his father. He announces this at a press conference without his father’s knowledge, and, seeing this as betrayal, Charles reacts angrily but ultimately finds himself forced to abdicate in favour of William (and Kate), who signs the Bill and restores the status quo between king and parliament.
The playwright Mike Bartlett, still only 35, clearly has a deep appreciation of Shakespeare and has borrowed ideas from Macbeth, with the ghost of Diana meddling as she plays Charles and William against each other, while the Duchess of Cambridge is revealed to have a ruthless, cruel and ambitious streak.
Robert Powell, one of Britain’s most versatile and diligent actors, is excellent as Charles, while his appearance has barely changed at all since I watched him alongside Jasper Carrott in The Detectives during my childhood in the 1990s.
Jennifer Bryden is spookily convincing as the Duchess of Cambridge. She looks, sounds and dresses exactly like her, while adding a much darker side to her character.
Another stand-out performance comes from Tim Treloar as the shifty, devious Prime Minister with a comically exaggerated Welsh accent thrown in for some light relief, while Lucy Phelps as Prince Harry’s rebellious, socialist, republican girlfriend Jess Edwards provides an important subplot.
A favourite scene of mine is when Prince Harry gets talking to a kebab vendor, who ponders: “When does Britain get so cut down, that it’s not Britain anymore?” He goes on to list the shrinking of the armed forces, and the demise of the NHS and Post Office as signs that Britain is a shadow of the country it once was.
Director Rupert Goold’s careful casting and attention to detail gave the play authenticity. It gets the balance right between entertainment, fun and wit, while still providing a powerful commentary on the monarch’s role in society and an entirely possible conflict in the not too distant future.
The play left me even more concerned about the future of this country than I was before. Britain is an increasingly divided and mistrusting country, and there are simmering tensions behind the orderly façade of law-abiding civility. The political classes consist of youthful, careerist politicians, PR men, retread Marxists and Europhiles who think the country should be governed by bureaucrats in Brussels.
The political establishment is loathed by millions, with both major political parties kept afloat by State funding and dodgy millionaires, rather than the membership fees and donations of ordinary people. If Charles did get involved in such a conflict for real, he could, with some legitimacy, claim to speak for many of the majority of people who did not vote for the government of the day.
Reform of the political establishment is a much more pressing concern than reform of the Monarchy, the House of Lords and the judiciary.
One of the biggest contrasts in the play is between the reassuringly wise yet outspoken Charles and William and Kate, who are youthful and popular.
William and Kate’s popularity, both in the play and in real life, is worthy of further analysis. Unlike Charles, they have never expressed a controversial view on anything. Like the current Queen, they play it safe and are never likely to criticise, let alone attempt to block, the government of the day.
Their popularity is superficial. Young British people, especially women in their teens and 20s, very often treat celebrity gossip with a religious reverence, and feel they must take a deep interest to fit in with their friends. They are interested in William and Kate in much the same way they are interested in the Beckhams and the Kardashians. It’s the celebrity they want, not their role as a constitutional monarch and defender of ancient liberties, which few know nor care very much about thanks to nearly half a century of inadequate comprehensive education.
If you managed to make it this far into my review, you’re the type of person who absolutely must go and see the play if it tours within reasonable commuting distance. I travelled from my Cardiff home to Cheltenham, and it was worth every penny and every bit of inevitable inconvenience on the creaking rail network.
This play deserves much greater attention, and should be made into a film or a TV serial. It provides a thought-provoking yet entertaining peek into a scenario that may well unfold for real one day quite soon. 10/10
By MARCUS STEAD
It’s 30 years since the end of the 1984/85 miners’ strike, and in the coalfield of South Wales, a version of events has gone down in folklore that bears little resemblance to the facts.
The conventional wisdom dictates that Margaret Thatcher had some kind of mad vendetta against the mining communities in general, and that her policies are somehow to blame for everything that’s gone wrong in these communities in the years since.
This crude, caricatured thinking conveniently ignores numerous inconvenient truths, such as that Harold Wilson’s government closed far more coal mines than Thatcher ever did (Wilson closed 260 to Thatcher’s 154).
The ‘blame Thatcher every time it rains’ rhetoric also ignores the reality that between 1997 and 2010, the party most former miners loyally support, Labour, had an unbroken period of government (on-going if we include the Welsh Government), and did little to seriously improve these communities or the lives of ex-miners and their families.
As is often the case, conventional wisdom is wrong. It’s easier and more comfortable to run with the theory than to face up to the reality that the miners themselves need to shoulder much of the blame for letting themselves be manipulated by National Union of Mineworkers president Arthur Scargill’s vanity, hypocrisy and madcap leadership.
On this sad anniversary, it’s time for a reassessment. Nelson Mandela believed in truth and reconciliation as a means of healing a society.
First must come truth, for without it those 30-year-old wounds cannot heal. It’s not morally right to continue to indoctrinate the young with the ‘Thatcher’s evil’ version of events, nor is it right for the miners themselves to continue to present Scargill as a hero, for it was his recklessness that led to ultimate defeat and the eventual destruction of the mining industry.
Let’s start at the beginning: The coal mining industry of the early 1980s required enormous government subsidies. In 1982/83, the stated operating loss per tonne was £3.05 (around £10.20 in today’s money), and international market prices for coal were about 25% cheaper.
The industry itself was losing around £1.5 million per day (around £4.6 million by today’s figures), making it an intolerable and unsustainable burden on the taxpayer.
Several years before the strike, the Thatcher government made it clear that to return to profitability, the mining industry would need to modernise, invest in mechanisation, and yes, there would inevitably be subsequent job cuts.
The pretext of the strike was a very modest proposal by Ian MacGregor, head of the National Coal Board, to close, over a period of time, just 20 of Britain’s 170 coal mines with the loss of 20,000 jobs, spread across northern England, Scotland and Wales, undoubtedly difficult for those communities affected, but peanuts compared with what happened in the years immediately after the strike.
Three years earlier, the Thatcher government backed down from plans to close 23 pits after Yorkshire NUM members passed a resolution to strike if any pit was threatened with closure for reasons other than exhaustion or geological difficulties.
Following MacGregor’s announcement, Scargill made an unsubstantiated allegation that the government had a long-term strategy to close 70 pits.
There was absolutely no room for manoeuvre with Scargill. Not a single job loss, whether as a result of pit closure or modernisation in working practises would have been acceptable to him. His demands were to intensify to an absurd degree later on.
Crucially, Scargill, a man of infinite vanity, never called a full, national ballot, which would have strengthened his moral case enormously, and would become a legal requirement when the Trade Union Act 1984 came into law shortly after the strike began.
Upon the enforcement of the Act, striking miners were not entitled to state benefits due to the lack of a national ballot, and Scargill shamefully decided he would rather force miners, their wives and their children to rely on handouts and charity for food and clothing rather than call a ballot and ensure they had the safety net of state benefits to keep them in an acceptable standard of living for the strike’s duration.
Each mine had an individual ballot, with 18 of the 28 pits in Wales voting against strike action. The way ballots were held in pits that voted in favour was also highly dubious, with Betws and others holding a show of hands rather than a secret ballot.
In other words, miners may well have felt intimidated into voting in favour of action, even if they knew it would be self-defeating. Indeed, that year’s Trade Union Act, soon to be enforced, made secret ballots a compulsory precursor to strike action.
Intimidation was the main method used by NUM militants of spreading the strike across the many South Wales pits that didn’t vote for it and didn’t want it, with flying pickets appearing at mines as men arrived for work. This was confrontational, anti-democratic and bullying behaviour from Scargill and his apparatchiks.
Scargill’s other gross miscalculation was to begin the strike in the spring, when demand for coal had peaked. Unknown to most at the time, the Thatcher government was well and truly ready for the strike.
It had stockpiled enough coal to fulfil the country’s energy needs well into the future, thus ensuring the NUM could not hold her government to ransom the way they did with Heath, Callaghan, and indeed Thatcher herself in the near-strike of 1981.
By the summer of 1984, Scargill’s demands had intensified and become even more ludicrous. Preventing pit closures was no longer enough. He now also demanded, amongst other things: A four-day working week; a substantial increase in wages; retirement age brought down to 55; consolidation of the incentive bonus scheme, development of 40 million tonnes of new capacity; new investment to expand all existing pits.
There were other demands, too, but these are the ones that stand out as the barmiest. There was no way the Thatcher government could possibly give in to them.
Scargill himself was now a regular fixture not just on the heavy political TV programmes, but also on light entertainment chat shows, where he made no secret of the fact he was a Marxist who wanted to bring down the democratically-elected Thatcher government.
This was now a straightforward battle between parliamentary democracy and mob rule led by a union baron who didn’t even legitimise his own strike with a full, secret ballot. We should all be glad that parliamentary democracy won, including the miners who lost their jobs.
As time went by, a minority of miners in South Wales returned to work, believing the strike to be futile and knowing it wasn’t in the best interests of themselves, their families, or the long-term future of the industry. They were subjected to cruel taunts of ‘scabs’ by their colleagues, for abandoning a strike that was only ever going to end one way.
It wasn’t just name-calling. Many strike-breaking miners had their properties vandalised, faced physical violence, and were shunned by former colleagues when the strike eventually ended.
One other highly irritating aspect of the strike’s legacy is the way people in mining communities try to romanticise and sentimentalise it, by talking about the sense of community, the togetherness, and of fighting for principles.
The reality was far less happy. The lack of money coming into their homes meant miners were reliant on union reserves for food, as well as parcels from Paris, Amsterdam and even Russia.
Striking miners depended on money gathered from charity collections in town centres to pay their household bills, with public sympathy gradually eroding as the months rolled by as the futility of the strike became apparent, all while Scargill lived a life of luxury cars and properties paid for by his members.
Strains were put on marriages, long-standing friendships were tested, and there were several violent incidents where innocent people tragically lost their lives.
Due to the sheer length of the strike, many pits permanently lost their customers, at a time of extensive competition in world coal markets as well as a concerted move towards oil and gas power production.
There was to be no way back. The NCB accelerated the closure of pits on economic grounds, resulting on a far greater loss of jobs over a far shorter period of time.
The knock-on effect of widespread pit closures was massive. In many valley towns, the pit was the main employer. It was going to be extremely difficult to encourage new jobs to the affected areas to fill the gaps.
Long-term unemployment became a very real problem. Areas that were known for their Protestant work ethic, close families and tight-knit communities began a downward spiral into crime, poverty, drugs and welfare dependency.
Of course this is something to be regretted, but former miners owe it to themselves, and to future generations, to acknowledge that were it not for Scargill’s gross mishandling of the conflict, the speed and scale of pit closures would have been far less severe, as indeed would the social impact that followed.
We have to admit, however grudgingly, that the right team won the World Cup. There was no obvious stand-out team for most of the tournament, but following their 7-1 annihilation of Brazil in the semi-finals, it was clear that Germany had by far the most balanced team.
They didn’t have a megastar player like Ronaldo or Messi, but there were no significant weaknesses in the team either. To use that tiresome cliché, Germany were ‘efficient’. The rest of the football world is playing catchup.
But it goes beyond football. In terms of economic growth and an approach to life, we in Britain have much to learn from modern-day Germany. It’s very easy to get to Germany in this age of the Channel Tunnel and cheap flights, but it’s remarkable just how little most Britons know about our old rival.
Last year, the BBC made a fascinating programme called ‘Make Me a German’ in which journalist Justin Rowlatt and his wife, Bee, spent a week in Germany and tried to live life as typically as an average German would.
They went to great lengths to get the specifics right, and consulted an advertising agent who had done much research in this area. Everything from the time they got up in the morning, to the supermarket they shopped in, to how they spent their spare time had to be as typical of the average German family as possible. So much so, that they left two of their four children with the grandparents in London, as the average German birth-rate is 1.4 children per couple.
The findings of this programme were fascinating, and each aspect of life can teach valuable lessons to us here in Britain:
Germans work less and earn more than we do. Two thirds work for small and medium sized businesses, most of which are family-owned.
There is no Microsoft, Apple or Amazon in Germany. These are specialist businesses – they tend to do one thing and do it very well. In this instance, Justin went to work at a pencil factory that exported all around the world.
The way they prepare young people for work is different. In Britain, the emphasis is on getting young people to university, even if that means saddling them with huge debts with no guarantee of a good job at the end of it. In Germany, more than half of young people do apprenticeships, something far less rare in Britain due to social snobbery and businesses being unwilling to shell out the costs of training someone up.
There is a sense of loyalty – a lot is expected of the staff but in return the company will do certain things to try to retain them. Like everything else in the programme, Justin’s job at the pencil factory was average and typical of the country.
Germans typically work an eight hour day, which includes an hour for lunch, in which Justin went for a hot meal at the heavily-subsidised staff canteen.
The work itself is hard and disciplined. You are there to work, not to discuss your personal life, gossip about celebrities, or spend half the day on Facebook. You owe it to yourself, your colleagues and your employer to do an honest day’s work.
One of the ways the pencil company helped its staff was by a doctor carrying out regular health checks on the staff. This also gives staff the chance to discuss minor medical matters, something that in Britain would involve making a GP’s appointment, which could quite easily take them away from the workplace for around half a day.
The pay is good, and although wages don’t really rise much above inflation, job security is high. In Justin’s case, he earned €2,250 per month. In addition, he received a transport allowance and extra for working shifts, taking his total monthly salary to €2,802 per month. He also received 30 days holiday per year.
There are taxes to be paid: Income tax, health insurance, pension insurance, unemployment insurance and payment towards nursing care. Justin also pays less tax because he and his wife have children (more on that later).
On top of his salary, Justin will receive a production bonus. It’s yet another incentive to work hard and not let your colleagues down.
Compare this to Britain, where the culture is work long hours in insecure jobs, have the bare minimum of holiday leave, have to rely on a very basic, bureaucratic healthcare system in the NHS, as well as make your own provisions for your old age in terms of nursing costs and anything beyond the miserly state pension.
There is no property owning fetish in Germany, and unlike Britain, there is no social snobbery attached to renting. Taking out a huge mortgage just so you can say you ‘own’ your own home is not the norm. More than half of Germans rent, including many in well-paid jobs. As ‘typical Germans’, the Rowlatt family lived in a fairly spacious rented 1970s apartment.
Wives and Children
This is where Britain really has lost the plot. Radical leftist and New Labour disciple Patricia Hewitt described stay-at-home mothers as a ‘problem’. Many British women consider being out of the house working, and dependant on the state and an employer rather than a husband as being ‘liberated’. The role of the parent has largely been taken over by the state in the form of ‘childcare’, namely handing very young children over to strangers whose attention will be split between yours and other children.
British ‘childcare’ is a very peculiar concept indeed. Many lower income families have no choice but to do it. Those with higher incomes often decide to let one parent (usually the mother) to stay at home, while making significant sacrifices. They rarely complain, but many draw the line at having to pay taxes to subsidise ‘childcare’ for other families of similar means where both parents choose to work.
We have to wonder why Ms Hewitt and other New Labour apparatchiks are so keen on this. Separating children from their parents as soon as possible so that the state can install its conformist values on them has long been one of the key cardinals of communist regimes, the sort which many New Labour ministers supported in their youth (Hewitt, Reid, Clarke, Mandelson, and others). How many of them still hold these views deep down, but are too politically savvy to say them in public?
Things are very different in Germany. The tax system is unashamedly designed in such a way that it is both affordable and practical for mothers of young children to stay at home and bring them up. There is a social stigma against mothers who go out to work, called ‘raven mothers’. Germans rightly understand that young children require a level of attention that cannot be provided by a stranger in ‘childcare’. They teach them such things as table manners and appropriate behaviour, which would be very welcome indeed in Britain where children running around restaurants and making a noise on public transport has become increasingly common in recent years.
As toddlers, children typically spend a few hours each day in kindergarten, which costs just a fraction of ‘childcare’ in Britain, but these take a very different form. In the programme, Bee took her children to an outdoor kindergarten in a forest. Toys were banned, children bonded with nature and developed their communication skills with each other. Importantly, they also learnt to clean up after themselves and the site was spotless as they left. They seemed happy and content – they were allowed to be children and spent time in a natural environment, rather than in stuffy rooms with computers and plastic toys.
Primary school doesn’t start until the age of six and the school day is short. At secondary school age, there is a three-pronged system which sends children to schools that best suit their abilities and natural skills. There isn’t some cruel ‘Eleven Plus’ style exam to determine this, instead, it takes the form of a discussion between parent, pupil and teacher, and the decision can easily be changed if it turns out to be the wrong one.
The overwhelming majority of Germans shop at discount supermarket chains, with Aldi having by far the biggest market share. Credit cards are frowned upon – the German word for ‘debt’ is the same as the word for ‘guilt’ – ‘schulden’, and people mostly pay for things with good honest cash.
Social life in Germany seems more varied and more interesting than in Britain, where millions come home from work and spend night after night watching television, barely knowing their neighbours or having much to do with the wider community. In every German town and city, there are lots of ‘societies’ where people take part in purposeful social activities. In this instance, Justin joined a singing society (a particularly popular activity), a group of about 30 people, male and female, from a varied age group. There was plenty of time for eating and drinking both in the interval and afterwards, but the singing itself was structured and had a purpose.
In Germany, Sunday is a genuine day of rest. The shops are closed and people are expected to behave quietly. Noisy activities such as drilling and mowing the lawn are prohibited and police have the power to impose fines, on a scale of proportion, for people who violate such laws. In this programme, there was an incident (possibly staged) where the Rowlatt children were making a noise that disturbed the neighbours, and they received a visit from a neighbour, a policeman, who informed them of the Sunday laws.
In Britain, the Sabbath was largely abandoned in 1994, when the Sunday Trading Act effectively turned the day into one of shopping and spending, rather than worship, relaxation and family.
The way in which German football clubs are run is radically different from those in the English Premier League. In Germany, the fans own 50% plus one share. Tickets for good seats cost around €15, meaning ordinary fans can easily afford to watch their teams play.
The English Premier League is to a large extent predictable, with leading clubs more-or-less buying a place in the near the top of the league. There is a soullessness about it. Well over half the clubs are now under foreign ownership, and there is a real sense of detachment between the clubs and the communities in which they are based. The stadiums may be full, but the atmospheres are flat as ordinary fans are priced out of the ground with corporate interests and the well-off filling the seats.
Many foreign owners see buying a football club as a snobbish status symbol, the same way insecure men in Britain buy Porsches to draw attention to themselves. Another motive for a person of extreme wealth to buy a football club is that it can effectively become a form of money laundering.
The way German clubs are structured prevents this from ever happening to them, and what’s more, they’re very successful! German clubs have been far more prevalent in the latter stages of the Champions League than their English counterparts in recent seasons, and, as is now blatantly obvious, a far better structure is in place to ensure the German national team has a good supply of talent. The matches themselves are played in atmospheric, noisy stadiums populated by real fans.
In conclusion, German people, it seems, do not take their lifestyles for granted. The country was flattened and bankrupted after World War II, and it required hard work, discipline and good management to build it up. Much more recently, the cost of reunification in the period after 1989 was hugely expensive. Today, Germany is effectively bailing out countries caught up in the Eurozone crisis.
Personal financial responsibility is taken seriously. As we’ve already established, debt is discouraged, while people on average save far more of their incomes, allowing banks to loan out far more to people starting their own small businesses.
Germany will continue to face difficulties and challenges in the years ahead as the Eurozone crisis continues, yet in terms of work, family, leisure and overall quality of life, there is much we in Britain could learn.
It’s true to say there are causes for optimism with regards to the British economy at the moment – unemployment is falling, consumer confidence is rising and the private sector is expanding. But this ‘recovery’ is fragile, and there is still a very long way to go before the nation’s balance sheet is back on a stable footing.
Let’s take a moment to remind ourselves how we got into this mess, and what the true causes were. Gordon Brown’s track record as Chancellor was largely to blame for the scale and severity of the recession. During his decade as Chancellor, he sold off much of Britain’s gold reserves when it was at the bottom of its economic cycle, he raided the private pension funds of working people who had saved and done the right thing by preparing for their old age, he introduced 157 new taxes, he borrowed more money than all previous British governments in history put together, and he paid for public sector ‘investment’ by private finance initiatives, a form of borrowing that was to land future governments with hefty bills that would need to be paid years after he was off the political scene.
Brown was fortunate that the chickens didn’t come home to roost a lot sooner than they did. He was lucky in that the global economy was largely stable for much of his tenure as Chancellor, and currencies weren’t as affected as they might have been by instability on Japan or the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
When the rain eventually came, there was nothing in reserves to help the country battle through a few hard years. Every responsible individual, and every responsible family puts some money to one side in case they lose their job or are unable to work due to circumstance. Mr Brown did not do the same with the nation’s money.
The banking crisis has its origins in legislation President Clinton brought in during the 1990s that effectively removed the boundaries between the day-to-day banking most of us use and the high-risk casino banking very few of us will ever encounter. The USA sneezed, and the world caught a cold, though it is worth remembering that during its 13 years in power, New Labour did absolutely nothing to stop ordinary people being exposed to the consequences of casino banking, nor did it do anything to prevent high street banks from merging, which led to them becoming too big and resulted in a lack of competition.
Then we have the elephant in the room, the big issue that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough – personal debt.
UK personal debt has doubled since the turn of the millennium. Our cultural attitudes need looking at if we are to address this problem. In Germany, the word for ‘debt’ is the same as the word for ‘guilt’. That, combined with looming memories from the financial ruin of the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s means that the German people have a completely different, and much healthier attitude to debt.
Most Germans pay for their weekly shopping in cash. Credit cards are rare. Most people, even middle class professionals, rent, rather than own their homes. We, as a country, need to learn lessons from this. In many cases, the debt burden of having a mortgage is too great, and people would be better off renting, which allows people to move house easily and at short notice as their jobs and personal circumstances change. You are only ‘throwing money away’ by renting if property prices rise indefinitely, if you are willing to gamble on what state your life will be in 25 years from the start date, and if you are willing to spend large sums on maintaining the property.
Then there is the issue of consumer debt. This will require a massive cultural shift. I hate consumer debt with a passion. I cannot imagine, at any time, or under any circumstance, taking out a loan or credit agreement to pay for a car, a new sofa, or a holiday. If I cannot afford something, I go without. I choose not to run a car because I wouldn’t use it anywhere near enough to justify the cost. It’s 10 years to the week exactly since I returned from my most recent foreign holiday (I have been abroad much more recently for work purposes). ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ is not one of my hobbies. Many people subtly try to outdo their friends by buying flash cars, building conservatories and holding fancy wedding days. They don’t fool me. I’m not impressed with any of that, because whenever I see it, my first question is: How did they pay for it?
This combination of factors means that George Osborne’s task wasn’t and isn’t one to be admired. Since he became Chancellor in 2010, his track record has been mixed. He deserves credit for raising the Personal Allowance, which has removed millions of low earners and part-time workers from income tax completely. He can take credit for the fall in unemployment and for creating the conditions that have allowed the private sector to grow.
The ‘tax cut for millionaires’ has been nothing of the sort – they’re actually paying more tax than before, and besides, Mr Osborne understands full well that raising taxes for the richest only leads to them taking their money, and their businesses, to other countries with a more competitive rate. That was a mistake Labour made during the 1970s and it would be even more disastrous in today’s globalised economy.
In today’s papers, we read that Mr Osborne is planning to merge income tax and National Insurance if the Conservatives win next year’s general election. It’s about time too – it’s a total myth that there is a separate pot of money set aside to help individuals in times of need, and it would be far more honest, and ultimately far more efficient, to make the two a single tax.
Yet Mr Osborne’s track record is far from perfect. Perhaps his biggest piece of good fortune is that most people don’t know the difference between the terms ‘debt’ and ‘deficit’. Understanding this point is crucial. ‘Debt’ refers to money owed historically, whereas ‘deficit’ refers to the amount the government borrows every year. Mr Osborne has indeed cut the ‘deficit’, but the ‘debt’ itself is still piling up year on year.
Government borrowing, namely the ‘deficit’ was £107.7 billion in 2013-14, down from £115.1 billion the previous year. That means that Mr Osborne has made up for an income tax shortfall to the tune of £107.7 billion this year by borrowing. There are two ways this figure can be reduced: 1. By increasing the amount of money the government receives from taxation. 2. By spending less.
Option one can be achieved by getting more people into work and paying tax, which, to his credit, he has helped to make happen. It’s important not to fall for the myth that the government could receive more tax revenue by raising taxes – this would lead to people having less money to spend on products and services, and therefore fewer jobs would be created, whilst business is lost to overseas markets.
Option two means accepting the cuts, making the public sector work more efficiently, and accepting that the government should do less, which means individuals and families would have to take far more personal responsibility for their lives.
Only once the deficit drops to zero, and the government receives more tax revenue than it spends (a surplus), can it start paying down the debt. And boy, does that mountain of debt need to be dealt with. It currently stands at around £1.3 TRILLION, but when we add in all government liabilities such as state and public sector pensions, the true figure is closer to £4.8 TRILLION. That works out at roughly £78,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. The interest alone currently amounts to £1 billion per week.
In conclusion, we are going to have to accept the ongoing cuts. There are numerous examples, especially among Labour-run councils in places like Sheffield, of pet projects continuing and the number of well-paid consultants increasing while frontline facilities like libraries and leisure centres are closing. The electorate needs to be vigilant in ensuring that their taxes are spent wisely, and that their council is run for the benefit of local people, rather than the people who work for it.
We should also fully acknowledge Labour’s role in creating the economic crisis. Gordon Brown’s closest adviser while he was playing hard and fast with the nation’s finances was Ed Balls, the current Shadow Chancellor.
There appears to be an inbuilt belief among the Labour hierarchy that all problems can be solved by throwing money at them, or by expanding the role of the state. Indeed, the public sector expanded by more than one million workers between 1997 and 2010. Good, efficient management and increasing productivity doesn’t seem to register with them. Of course, the fact that public sector union votes were the key to getting Ed Miliband elected as Labour leader, and that union donations are keeping the party afloat probably clouds their judgement somewhat. As far as Labour is concerned, all public sector cuts are bad and the current government is only making them to be nasty. They haven’t come close to grasping that these are necessary measures to clear up their mess.
The problems are many, and it’ll be a good while yet before the nation’s finances are back on an even footing. We are being kept afloat at present by the availability of cheap credit, which won’t last forever, so carrying on as we were before is not an option.
No matter how bad things are, and however much we may dislike the cuts, letting Labour back into office would lead to things being far, far worse.
Gordon Brown ruined this country’s economy. Don’t let his closest adviser do the same again.
FOREIGN policy is, by definition, messy. To be too ethical and moral would result in no oil imports from the Middle East, no gas imports from Russia, and no cheap clothes and electronics from China, not to mention the economic investment they’re giving this country. Yet if we have an ‘anything goes’ policy, we are accused of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and aiding terrorism.
It’s a fine line all world leaders need to tread, and the correct answer is not always obvious. President Obama is cautious in relation to the unfolding chaos in Iraq. He’s a second term President, so doesn’t need to worry about re-election, but at the same time, he knows he leads a country weary of the human and economic cost of military conflict, and, for the time being at least, he has decided against sending the troops in to fight ISIS.
Depending on who you believe, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was about overthrowing Saddam Hussein, an evil dictator who apparently had weapons of mass destruction, or it was about American oil interests in the Middle East.
Oil may or may not have been the agenda, but there is no escaping the importance of oil supplies to the Western world. Or, at least, that used to be the case. By the time President Obama leaves office in early 2017, US oil imports from the Middle East will have reduced to almost nothing as it moves towards oil self-sufficiency, and it already imports absolutely no gas from the region. From the USA’s point of view, energy dependence is becoming less and less of an issue all the time. The two major factors behind it are shale gas ‘fracking’ in the US itself, and oil drilling from within its own borders. If foreign policy is a priority of Obama’s at all, his primary interest is now the Pacific.
In other words, the only questions Obama needs to ask in relation to Iraq and ISIS are political rather than economic. That’s not to say these questions aren’t important. If ISIS were to conquer a large part of Iraq and establish a Taleban-like terror state, that would have serious consequences for the security of the wider region and indeed of the United States itself. Yet at the same time, sending the troops in would result in the bodybags coming home, and would largely scupper the economic recovery. Send the troops in, and this will be inevitable; stay out, and he risks going down in history as the President who sat back and did nothing while Iraq fell into the hands of terrorists.
These are the thoughts that will be going through the minds of Obama and his administration. For the time being at least, Obama has decided that his war-weary nation doesn’t need another conflict, either in terms of economics nor in human life. Oil doesn’t come into it. This is a luxury Obama has due to the energy independence his country will soon enjoy. It’s a very different story here in Britain.
Ours is a country sleepwalking into an energy crisis. Anyone under the age of about 45 will have no meaningful recollection of the regular power cuts of the early 1970s when Edward Heath’s government had to deal with the coal strike, the Arab oil crisis and the consequences of a three-day week.
Those over 45 (and I am still many years away from it) will have no idea what it’s like to have to endure regular power cuts. It’s assumed that with the flicks of switches and the pressing of buttons, all the devices in our homes will work. Actually, regular power cuts now would be far more damaging to our lives than in the early 1970s. Manual typewriters and shop tills have been replaced by electronic versions. Coal fires have been replaced by gas or electric alternatives. Shopping by candlelight before coming home to spend an evening talking and singing around a coal fire with your family would not be possible. The shops would be forced to close and the evenings would be spent shivering in darkness, while the most serious consequences would inevitably be for the elderly and vulnerable. It is perhaps good to remind ourselves that ‘change’ and ‘progress’ are two very different things.
If you’re under 45, you have no comprehension at all of what long, regular power cuts are like. If you’re over 45, it’s worth reflecting on how much more severe the impact would be this time around.
European Union carbon quotas mean that it’s highly likely that Britain will cease to be self-sufficient in electricity generation within ten years. Last year, Didcot ‘A’ power station in Oxfordshire, which had many years of life left in it, was mothballed to fulfil the quota. Meanwhile, our countryside is ruined with useless wind farms, which, combined with solar panels, cannot come close to producing the levels of energy Didcot ‘A’ and other closed stations once did. The fact remains that quite often the sun doesn’t shine and it’s not that windy.
Similarly, and very unlike the United States, we are dithering on shale fracking. Once we look beyond the scaremongering of Caroline Lucas and her allies, it becomes clear that provided sensible safety precautions are taken, those living near fracking sites have nothing to fear. Add into the mix the possibility of Scottish independence and the inevitability that North Sea oil will one day run out, it’s easy to see how Britain is facing an energy crisis.
They say beggars can’t be choosers. We are already seeing this is the case with our economic dependence on China. Just last week, our Queen received Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, even though he was not on a state visit and therefore not entitled to such a meeting. Similarly, do not expect the Dalai Lama to be given a warm welcome at Downing St or Buckingham Palace any time soon. Britain’s subservience to China on economic matters is very real and is here to stay. We are going to have to get used to it. The days of Britain lecturing China on ‘human rights’ are now over as well.
Soon, we will face a similar situation with regards to our energy needs. As we shiver in the cold and dark, our leaders, possibly including Ed Miliband who, as Energy Minister, did much of the damage that led to the shortage, doing deals with Russia and Saudi Arabia. President Putin or his successors would no longer take moralising lectures from Britain about its policy on Ukraine, and we’d just have to shut up about the limb amputating and woman oppressing that goes on in Saudi Arabia. They would sell us their oil and gas, but on their terms, just as the Chinese are currently bailing us out of our economic crisis.
The sad fact is that this coming crisis is entirely avoidable. By withdrawing from the European Union, we would no longer be subject to its absurd carbon quotas, based entirely on dodgy science and the dubious cult of man-made climate change. We could have kept Didcot ‘A’ and other power stations like it open; we could have developed modern, clean, open-cast coal mines, lots of them, in our vast coal fields of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and South Wales; we could have built nuclear power stations whenever and wherever it suited us.
We have chosen the wrong future for ourselves. The question is: do we have the will and courage to reverse it before it’s too late?
The annual Bilderberg conference took place this weekend in Copenhagen, Denmark. A full list of participants is below.
Among those in attendance was the head of MI6, the former director of the NSA, the boss of Google, as well as George Osborne, Ed Balls, Justine Greening and Peter Mandelson. Henry Kissinger was also there at the age of 91. I don’t think he’s missed a single Bilderberg meeting since it was founded.
The BBC and the rest of the mainstream media didn’t mention it at all. I don’t think all these big names gathered to discuss the weather or to look at one another’s holiday snaps.
Here’s the full list:
FRA Castries, Henri de Chairman and CEO, AXA Group
DEU Achleitner, Paul M. Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Deutsche Bank AG
DEU Ackermann, Josef Former CEO, Deutsche Bank AG
GBR Agius, Marcus Non-Executive Chairman, PA Consulting Group
FIN Alahuhta, Matti Member of the Board, KONE; Chairman, Aalto University Foundation
GBR Alexander, Helen Chairman, UBM plc
USA Alexander, Keith B. Former Commander, U.S. Cyber Command; Former Director, National Security Agency
USA Altman, Roger C. Executive Chairman, Evercore
FIN Apunen, Matti Director, Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA
DEU Asmussen, Jörg State Secretary of Labour and Social Affairs
HUN Bajnai, Gordon Former Prime Minister; Party Leader, Together 2014
GBR Balls, Edward M. Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer
PRT Balsemão, Francisco Pinto Chairman, Impresa SGPS
FRA Baroin, François Member of Parliament (UMP); Mayor of Troyes
FRA Baverez, Nicolas Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
USA Berggruen, Nicolas Chairman, Berggruen Institute on Governance
ITA Bernabè, Franco Chairman, FB Group SRL
DNK Besenbacher, Flemming Chairman, The Carlsberg Group
NLD Beurden, Ben van CEO, Royal Dutch Shell plc
SWE Bildt, Carl Minister for Foreign Affairs
NOR Brandtzæg, Svein Richard President and CEO, Norsk Hydro ASA
INT Breedlove, Philip M. Supreme Allied Commander Europe
AUT Bronner, Oscar Publisher, Der STANDARD Verlagsgesellschaft m.b.H.
SWE Buskhe, Håkan President and CEO, Saab AB
TUR Çandar, Cengiz Senior Columnist, Al Monitor and Radikal
ESP Cebrián, Juan Luis Executive Chairman, Grupo PRISA
FRA Chalendar, Pierre-André de Chairman and CEO, Saint-Gobain
CAN Clark, W. Edmund Group President and CEO, TD Bank Group
INT Coeuré, Benoît Member of the Executive Board, European Central Bank
IRL Coveney, Simon Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine
GBR Cowper-Coles, Sherard Senior Adviser to the Group Chairman and Group CEO, HSBC Holdings plc
BEL Davignon, Etienne Minister of State
USA Donilon, Thomas E. Senior Partner, O’Melveny and Myers; Former U.S. National Security Advisor
DEU Döpfner, Mathias CEO, Axel Springer SE
GBR Dudley, Robert Group Chief Executive, BP plc
FIN Ehrnrooth, Henrik Chairman, Caverion Corporation, Otava and Pöyry PLC
ITA Elkann, John Chairman, Fiat S.p.A.
DEU Enders, Thomas CEO, Airbus Group
DNK Federspiel, Ulrik Executive Vice President, Haldor Topsøe A/S
USA Feldstein, Martin S. Professor of Economics, Harvard University; President Emeritus, NBER
CAN Ferguson, Brian President and CEO, Cenovus Energy Inc.
GBR Flint, Douglas J. Group Chairman, HSBC Holdings plc
ESP García-Margallo, José Manuel Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation
USA Gfoeller, Michael Independent Consultant
TUR Göle, Nilüfer Professor of Sociology, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
USA Greenberg, Evan G. Chairman and CEO, ACE Group
GBR Greening, Justine Secretary of State for International Development
NLD Halberstadt, Victor Professor of Economics, Leiden University
USA Hockfield, Susan President Emerita, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
NOR Høegh, Leif O. Chairman, Höegh Autoliners AS
NOR Høegh, Westye Senior Advisor, Höegh Autoliners AS
USA Hoffman, Reid Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, LinkedIn
CHN Huang, Yiping Professor of Economics, National School of Development, Peking University
USA Jackson, Shirley Ann President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
USA Jacobs, Kenneth M. Chairman and CEO, Lazard
USA Johnson, James A. Chairman, Johnson Capital Partners
USA Karp, Alex CEO, Palantir Technologies
USA Katz, Bruce J. Vice President and Co-Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, The Brookings Institution
CAN Kenney, Jason T. Minister of Employment and Social Development
GBR Kerr, John Deputy Chairman, Scottish Power
USA Kissinger, Henry A. Chairman, Kissinger Associates, Inc.
USA Kleinfeld, Klaus Chairman and CEO, Alcoa
TUR Koç, Mustafa Chairman, Koç Holding A.S.
DNK Kragh, Steffen President and CEO, Egmont
USA Kravis, Henry R. Co-Chairman and Co-CEO, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
USA Kravis, Marie-Josée Senior Fellow and Vice Chair, Hudson Institute
CHE Kudelski, André Chairman and CEO, Kudelski Group
INT Lagarde, Christine Managing Director, International Monetary Fund
BEL Leysen, Thomas Chairman of the Board of Directors, KBC Group
USA Li, Cheng Director, John L.Thornton China Center,The Brookings Institution
SWE Lifvendahl, Tove Political Editor in Chief, Svenska Dagbladet
CHN Liu, He Minister, Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs
PRT Macedo, Paulo Minister of Health
FRA Macron, Emmanuel Deputy Secretary General of the Presidency
ITA Maggioni, Monica Editor-in-Chief, Rainews24, RAI TV
GBR Mandelson, Peter Chairman, Global Counsel LLP
USA McAfee, Andrew Principal Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PRT Medeiros, Inês de Member of Parliament, Socialist Party
GBR Micklethwait, John Editor-in-Chief, The Economist
GRC Mitsotaki, Alexandra Chair, ActionAid Hellas
ITA Monti, Mario Senator-for-life; President, Bocconi University
USA Mundie, Craig J. Senior Advisor to the CEO, Microsoft Corporation
CAN Munroe-Blum, Heather Professor of Medicine and Principal (President) Emerita, McGill University
USA Murray, Charles A. W.H. Brady Scholar, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
NLD Netherlands, H.R.H. Princess Beatrix of the
ESP Nin Génova, Juan María Deputy Chairman and CEO, CaixaBank
FRA Nougayrède, Natalie Director and Executive Editor, Le Monde
DNK Olesen, Søren-Peter Professor; Member of the Board of Directors, The Carlsberg Foundation
FIN Ollila, Jorma Chairman, Royal Dutch Shell, plc; Chairman, Outokumpu Plc
TUR Oran, Umut Deputy Chairman, Republican People’s Party (CHP)
GBR Osborne, George Chancellor of the Exchequer
FRA Pellerin, Fleur State Secretary for Foreign Trade
USA Perle, Richard N. Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
USA Petraeus, David H. Chairman, KKR Global Institute
CAN Poloz, Stephen S. Governor, Bank of Canada
INT Rasmussen, Anders Fogh Secretary General, NATO
DNK Rasmussen, Jørgen Huno Chairman of the Board of Trustees, The Lundbeck Foundation
INT Reding, Viviane Vice President and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, European Commission
USA Reed, Kasim Mayor of Atlanta
CAN Reisman, Heather M. Chair and CEO, Indigo Books & Music Inc.
NOR Reiten, Eivind Chairman, Klaveness Marine Holding AS
DEU Röttgen, Norbert Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee, German Bundestag
USA Rubin, Robert E. Co-Chair, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Secretary of the Treasury
USA Rumer, Eugene Senior Associate and Director, Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
NOR Rynning-Tønnesen, Christian President and CEO, Statkraft AS
NLD Samsom, Diederik M. Parliamentary Leader PvdA (Labour Party)
GBR Sawers, John Chief, Secret Intelligence Service
NLD Scheffer, Paul J. Author; Professor of European Studies, Tilburg University
NLD Schippers, Edith Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport
USA Schmidt, Eric E. Executive Chairman, Google Inc.
AUT Scholten, Rudolf CEO, Oesterreichische Kontrollbank AG
USA Shih, Clara CEO and Founder, Hearsay Social
FIN Siilasmaa, Risto K. Chairman of the Board of Directors and Interim CEO, Nokia Corporation
ESP Spain, H.M. the Queen of
USA Spence, A. Michael Professor of Economics, New York University
FIN Stadigh, Kari President and CEO, Sampo plc
USA Summers, Lawrence H. Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University
IRL Sutherland, Peter D. Chairman, Goldman Sachs International; UN Special Representative for Migration
SWE Svanberg, Carl-Henric Chairman, Volvo AB and BP plc
TUR Taftalı, A. Ümit Member of the Board, Suna and Inan Kiraç Foundation
USA Thiel, Peter A. President, Thiel Capital
DNK Topsøe, Henrik Chairman, Haldor Topsøe A/S
GRC Tsoukalis, Loukas President, Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy
NOR Ulltveit-Moe, Jens Founder and CEO, Umoe AS
INT Üzümcü, Ahmet Director-General, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
CHE Vasella, Daniel L. Honorary Chairman, Novartis International
FIN Wahlroos, Björn Chairman, Sampo plc
SWE Wallenberg, Jacob Chairman, Investor AB
SWE Wallenberg, Marcus Chairman of the Board of Directors, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB
USA Warsh, Kevin M. Distinguished Visiting Fellow and Lecturer, Stanford University
GBR Wolf, Martin H. Chief Economics Commentator, The Financial Times
USA Wolfensohn, James D. Chairman and CEO, Wolfensohn and Company
NLD Zalm, Gerrit Chairman of the Managing Board, ABN-AMRO Bank N.V.
GRC Zanias, George Chairman of the Board, National Bank of Greece
USA Zoellick, Robert B. Chairman, Board of International Advisors, The Goldman Sachs Group
And here’s the agenda of what they were apparently going to discuss:
- The key topics for discussion this year include:
- Is the economic recovery sustainable?
- Who will pay for the demographics?
- Does privacy exist?
- How special is the relationship in intelligence sharing?
- Big shifts in technology and jobs
- The future of democracy and the middle class trap
- China’s political and economic outlook
- The new architecture of the Middle East
- What next for Europe?
- Current events
As the Conservative Party gathers in Manchester for its annual conference, attentions are beginning to turn towards the next general election, which is now less than two years away. To give themselves the best possible chance of winning an outright majority in 2015, the Conservatives need to ditch David Cameron as soon as possible.
Firstly, his failure to win an outright majority at the 2010 election is unforgivable. Labour’s track record during the previous 13 years was easily the worst of any government post-1945. On economics, Labour raided the private pension funds, sold off the gold reserves when it was at the bottom of its cycle, introduced 157 new taxes, and they borrowed more money than all previous British governments put together. During the so-called ‘boom’ years, they failed to put any money aside for an economic downturn, and when the crash inevitably happened, the British economy was affected far more than other leading nations.
Politically, Labour signed Britain up to the European Union treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon without a democratic mandate. Labour allowed immigration to spiral out of control, many of whom came from countries that do not share Britain’s Christian heritage and values. Labour brought in the Human Rights Act, which has done enormous damage to our legal system and has made it virtually impossible to deport Islamic extremists. Labour released unrepentant murderers and terrorists in Northern Ireland in the name of ‘peace’. Labour allowed Mr Blair to continue as party leader and Prime Minister for four years after he lied to Parliament over weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Winning an outright majority against such a discredited government should have been easily achievable with the right leader, a strong manifesto and a good campaign. Mr Cameron’s attempts to present himself as a Blair clone did him no favours. 1997 was long past by this stage, and the British people had largely sussed Blair for the incompetent, lying crook that he was. The Conservative grass roots made a serious mistake in choosing Mr Cameron over the much more able David Davis. Mr Cameron’s credentials were talked up and exaggerated by a largely sympathetic political broadcast media, who regarded him as the heir to Blair, while Mr Davis’s speech to the 2005 party conference was nowhere near as bad as they made it out to be.
A lot of rubbish is talked about how you go about winning elections. First of all, forget any talk of ‘swing’. To win an election, you need to persuade your supporters to come out and vote, while trying to get those who would naturally support your opponents to stay at home. On this ground, Mr Cameron failed miserably. In 1992, John Major formed a small Conservative majority with 14,000,000 votes. In 2010, Mr Cameron managed 10,700,000. Most of those three-and-a-half million lost voters have not all died or emigrated, and would consider lending their vote to the party again if presented with the right policies and leader. Then there are the millions of younger people who have come onto the electoral register since 1992. Yes, it’s true that a significant minority of young people never give a moment’s thought to anything apart from their jobs, their immediate circle of friends and celebrity culture, but many more others would be willing to get out and vote if they felt a party deserved it.
Mr Cameron undoubtedly enjoys being in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, because he has much more in common with them and their leader than he does with grassroots Conservatives, and indeed with many of his own backbenchers. That’s why he sees fit to say and do things that insult and offend the grassroots.
For instance, in 2006, he referred to UKIP supporters as ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly’. Much (though by no means all) of UKIP’s support base comes from disaffected ex-Conservatives. When in power, he bullied his party into supporting gay marriage, despite it being absent from the 2010 manifesto, and there being no mandate for it. He knew this would be a popular on the dinner party circuit in Islington, but it wouldn’t go down well with the grassroots, many of whom have religious or moral objections to such a fundamental redefinition of marriage.
Earlier this year, Lord Tebbit, still Britain’s best political strategist, compared the challenge the Conservative Party faces to that of a retail store that has lost its way. He said that three things need to be done. The first is that the owner needs to stop shouting insults at potential customers as they walk past (in other words, stop the kind of thing mentioned above). Secondly, ask whether the right products are being displayed in the shop window. Thirdly, ask whether they have the right people trying to sell these products.
This brings us on to the mythical ‘centre ground’. In modern terms, this means more-or-less supporting everything New Labour stood for: EU membership, high immigration, a large public sector, a large welfare state, comprehensive education, soft on crime. Well, the so-called ‘centre ground’ has become rather crowded, with all three main parties now adopting such policies, and it is evidently a massive turn-off for millions of potential voters. Cameron and his ‘modernisers’ are wholly out of touch with how ordinary people think. At the same time, Conservative Party membership has nearly halved to 134,000 in the years since Mr Cameron became leader.
Forget the ‘centre ground’ and instead focus on the ‘common ground’. People in pubs up and down the country are talking about similar things. There is no great dividing line between Conservative and Labour heartlands when they talk about their concerns. Similar things are being said in pubs in Newcastle as in the more affluent parts of Kent. Broadly speaking, people are: Fed up of immigration spiralling out of control; fed up of people abusing the welfare system when they should be pulling their weight; fed up of EU interference in British domestic affairs; fed up of their taxes going towards ‘overseas aid’ when Britain has a growing pile of debt, and plenty of problems of its own; fed up of bureaucracy and inefficiency in the public sector; fed up of the police and courts being soft on criminals; fed up of Islamic extremism and our inability to deport those who preach hatred and anti-British values; fed up of British service personnel being asked to risk their lives in unnecessary foreign conflicts, and at the same time not being provided with the proper equipment nor given sufficient psychological support when they return home.
These are the issues people are talking about. These are their concerns. There is still time for the Conservative Party to engage with the British people and offer them a fresh leader and set of policies before the next election.
There is everything to play for. Ed Miliband is doing a dreadful job with Labour. His ‘energy price freeze’ policy was quickly seen for the fraud it was when it became clear that the power companies would hike their prices up shortly before it was implemented. His plans to give votes to 16-year-olds have been widely ridiculed, and rightly so.
Mr Miliband is an oddball. The son of a Marxist academic, he was brought up in a household where Marx and his teachings were treated with a religious reverence. The key lines in his speeches sound over-rehearsed and forced. He has the appearance of a goofy sixth former. He and his front bench have shown no contrition for the absolute mess they made of the British economy. Mr Miliband has failed to acknowledge his own role in rising energy bills due to the ‘green taxes’ he introduced during his time as Energy and Climate Change Secretary. Ridiculing Mr Miliband’s policies should be easy, and hammering the message home that Labour cannot be trusted with the economy is not especially difficult.
However, the time has now come for the Conservatives to ditch Mr Cameron. He would love nothing more than another coalition with the Liberal Democrats. That would let him off the hook when it comes to offering a referendum on EU membership, or repealing the Human Rights Act. Being in coalition with the Lib Dems gives him the excuse he needs not to behave like a conservative. Alternatively, he would be just as happy to lose the next election, after which he would blame those against ‘modernising’ the party for the defeat, banishing them from the party for good, and turning it into a clone of New Labour.
The Conservative Party cannot afford to risk going into the next election with Mr Cameron as leader. He has been a miserable failure during the last seven years, and has proven himself to be slippery, unprincipled, and lacking the essential qualities needed to lead. The party needs to act now, and time is running out.