“Mortgage Regulation. We see no need to continue to regulate the provision of mortgage finance, as it is the lending institutions rather than the client taking the risk.”
Conservative Party Economic Competitiveness Group Policy report, August 2007
“We must learn from the US, says George Osborne: ..The contrast between the responses of the US authorities and the British Government could not be starker. In America, the attitude is: we will do whatever it takes…The answer from the US president and Congress is to help struggling families and businesses with a huge reduction in taxes”
Geroge Osborne, Daily Telegraph, March 2008
“President Bush says the US economy could slip into financial panic unless a seven hundred billion dollar bank bail out deal is approved by congress”
BBC news, 25th September 2008
The Tory conference in Birmingham will be the first for almost 15 years where the gathering will be one of a party with continued, significant leads in the polls. On that basis, it will be vital for the media to treat them not as an interesting, even charming opposition party, but as a serious potential party of Government.
So the Tories will need to spell out not only their critique of Labour (which we’ll all expect in spades) but what their own attitudes and policies would be. (which I think they’ll find a little less easy).
It’s a defining moment for the Conservatives. The media think they’re going into government, they have a big poll lead, The conference will have more lobbyists, more journalists, more sense of occasion. It will also be more carefully observed.
The Tories claim to have changed. People are vaguely aware Cameron says he’s different to previous Troy leaders and they’re glad to hear it, but they aren’t clear on the details of how. Now the global economy is challenging those details become sharper and more urgent. What would they prioritise? What would they change?
So far, Cameron, Osborne and co have stayed as quiet and as vague as they can, betting that the public would simply blame Labour for the crisis and ask less of them. At their conference next week, that position will not be sustainable. After all, this is the party that just last year was calling for an end to regulation of the mortgage markets and spent much of the year contrasting Britain’s policy failings with the far better approach taken by the Americans. Have their instincts changed? Who do they wish to help?
So Labour strategists should be ready for three different Tory responses.
The first would be to simply empty a bucket of ordure onto Gordon Brown and Labour’s heads, while proposing little of substance themselves. This is the easiest political response.
The second is for the Conservatives to reach out for a lower tax, lower public spending approach. With power on the horizon and growth looking less certain, The right of the party will be sceptical of plans for tax cuts funded by growth in government income, and will want to see some proposals up front, justified by the need to kick start the economy. If George Bush can find Seven hundred billion dollars to help the American economy
The final option will be Cameron pledging no tax cuts, a maintenance of public investment, and focusing on reform of services not revising funding, while trying to draw a difference with Labour on social and style of government issues – with an attack on the economy but little actual policy difference set out up front.
I think this latter is the most likely route the Tories will take. However, it contains significant risks. If the Tory policy response is incoherent, inconsistent or lightweight it will match some media and voter doubts about the Conservative leader’s “Bottom”, if I can use such a phrase.
So what Conservatives will we see on display next week? I believe we’ll start to see the answers that will decide what the choice facing the country is. The Tories might well do well next week, but I’ll be pleased as long as we all get a clear idea about what the Tories would do differently. The next election will be a choice between competing visions., Anything that makes it clearer what that means in practice will be good for the country, and in my insignificant opinion, good for Labour.