In case anyone cared, or noticed, blogging took a back seat last week as (a) an interesting job opportunity occasioned some deeper research than can be found here and (b) the election speculation put a heavy discount on abstract wonderings about how someone should vote. Another way of saying: if the political scene was about to be thrown up in the air for the next 5 years, the blogs to be reading are those closer to the powers that matter, the Cameroons and Brownites, the Dales, Dizzys, Lib Dem Voices, Conservative Homes, not this sort of thing.
Also, this last couple of months has actually worked. I understand better what I value in a political programme, what turns me off. As at the beginning, the pompous cultural superiority in the middle of the Telegraph is still a heavy disincentive to voting Tory - but I am much more aware, through the pamphlets and publications of the central command, that The Tories Know This. At least, half of them do. Read "from the ashes" and you find a text littered with insightful references to their unpopularity, such as
"Tory pronouncements which had the most positive impact on the enthusiasm of Conservative voters at the last election also had the most negative impact on floating voters". A quote from Ashcroft's "Smell the Coffee".
Which I have been saying for weeks, they have been saying (quietly) for years.
Most of "from the Ashes" appeals to me. The worst piece is ironically from D Cameron, the great communicator, who writes in non-sentences like an addicted speechifier ("Literacy in primary schools. Standards and discipline in secondary schools"). But it is written about with far greater lucidity and depth in the two Liberal Books, the Orange Book and Britain after Blair. Centre Forum's analysis of the Blair years is a far better and more honest appraisal than the usual Tory version, which tends to horribly exaggerate Britain's ills and leave one with the impression of an angry squire looking over his estate and finding annoyance with the unfamiliar looking rabble beyond the gates. If Britain is horribly broken, it was still worse in 1995, before the re-orientation of much tax-payer money towards some clearly neglected public goods. No-one is arguing for a return to 1990's levels of public services.
However, this post is not about to signal a broad applause for Labour. One of the consequences of the Labour conference and its ripples was a real fear of the One Party State, and an insight into what it might look like; the illiberal sight of a horde of Trade Unionite worshippers cheering Gordon Brown against a blue background -if that image was not enough to turn one against the Government, then what else could? The strongest political instinct to be awakened in me in the last few weeks was that favour De-centralization - less targets, less smart-arses at the centre, bullied by public-sector-feeding-trough lobbyists into ever more complicated centrally driven overanalysed 'reforms' and changes, draining the independence and responsibility out of the country. Reading in depth about the Tax Credits fiasco reinforced my disquiet about Gordon Brown's ways and "philosophy". I can't vote for him.
Which means which of the other two parties are best placed to champion the liberal, decentralizing, still caring (because life is unfair), anti-special interest agenda. There is NO DOUBT that a significant wing of the Tory party fulfills a part of this. There is no doubt that a clearly-identified wing of the Liberals do too. Right now, my preference is for the latter, for a few reasons:
- The Tories are still undecided on this route. There is still a large number of them who voted "are you thinking what I'm thinking". I hear convincing anecdotes of their activists effectively thinking "we have to go along with this drivel to get elected".
- Too many of them are personally unappealing. For every Michael Gove (very considered and intelligent at a Civitas lunch I attended) there is a Boris Johnson or worse. And they still like policies like giving billions to happily married people as a reward for being happily married. There are biases in the benefits system, but surely cheaper ways of fixing them.
- The Tories are addicted to the current voting system. They would like to rule the country with 38% of the vote falling in the right way. You still get a sense of their thinking, like Labour, or a god-given right to rule. I do not like this. I would like a situation where the compromises were explicit, argued about in public - in the chamber, in a coalition.
- The Tories' fear of Europe is still too driven by blind hatred and ideology. I think Europe's powers need controlling, but this approach will not do it. It offends my intelligence.
So, for now, I am hoping for a resurgence under a sensibly economically liberal LD party, committed to destroying the DTI and freeing up our schools. If a leftwinger wins over there, Lord knows what I should do.