And now the Tories…

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 takesThe 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.

13 Responses to “And now the Tories…”

  1. Cassilis

    The third option is the most likely but don’t raise expectations about how explicit the Tories will be about those alternatives.

    Calculated ambiguity is the political norm for parties in the position the Tories find themselves in at the moment and Labour were equally vague pre-1997. Tactically, of course, that means you’re right and making the choice more explicit is the right Labour response but there’s nothing underhand or deceitful in the Tories approaching their conference like that (or rather no more deceit than Labour themselves were happy to employ).

    p.s. the Redwood mortgage proposals you link to were rejected at the time by Cameron and that hasn’t changed – clever framing Hopi but naughty….

  2. ChrisP

    “If the Tory policy response is incoherent, inconsistent or lightweight”

    Unlike the free theatre tickets / computers for poor kids approach taken by Labour.

  3. hopisen

    Liam, I agree with you that tactical ambiguity is normally a good position for oppositions. However, it’s more difficult to mantain when you are a “presumptive government”. Labour actually weren’t all that vague pre 1997. (No income tax rises, Windfall tax, paying down debt..). Oddly we were much more vague in 2001.

    PS,. I think in some ways this post is my response to your thoughtful email- I’m sure you see the similar themes.

  4. Cassilis

    Agreed but the clarity in Labour’s position pre-1997 only emerged 3-6 months out, not 18 where we are now.

    It’s also arguable that even when that clarity did emerge it wasn’t markedly different from what the Tories are already presenting now. Brown’s “No Income tax rises” then becomes Osbourne’s “No Income Tax cuts” now (both to the chagrin of their base).

    Inevitably your view on the depth of Labour detail then versus Tory detail now is coloured by your politics (as is mine) but in autumn ’95 Labour were every bit as much the ‘presumptive government’ as Cameron’s mob are now – I don’t think there’s a sustainable case that Labour were anymore explicit or better prepared at that stage than the current opposition.

  5. newmania

    Hopi , the way to reach out to lower tax and spending vote is simply not to be Gordon Brown. Conservatives have already accepted that there is little prospect of actual cuts, .The approach will certainly not be handing Brown policies to copy ( as Labour have done )or trash .It will be moderate along lines already available .( The continued claim that there are no policies is just rubbish , you should know you keep copying them)
    In plumping for a man regarded by anyone outside Labour as a statist left wing authoritarian whose instincts are tax spend and control Labour handed over a fabulous weapon. Cameron can , with all honesty , claim the centre without a squeak because no–one on the right would dare risk the nightmare of an unfettered Union funded Old Labour term

    You have undemocratic your mistake, you funked the quick election and you failed to take the remedial steps required . You used your conference to make the job even easier and frankly that sort of triple cowardice deserves defeat. I very much doubt Cameron will play ball. It will be ….style style …(not Brown )…… nice noise ….( not Brown)…….smile …(Not brown)…mood music …( Not Brown).

    Sorry .Its not a schoolboy debate .

  6. Man in a Shed

    An interesting read. It could easily be transformed into right wing comment before the 1997 election ( the wait till the media pick apart their policies bit ). Didn’t work too well then. Perhaps you need a Cameron demon eyes poster ?

    Anyway policies announced at the Conservative conference, or in the party’s manifesto tend to next turn up being announced by Gordon Brown or his minions a few weeks later (remember last year eh ?). The public now understand the need to protect copyright from the likes of Brown and Balls.

    Of course this financial crisis is Labour’s fault and specifically Gordon Browns as:

    1) The Labour party allowed an unsustainable housing bubble to run – putting their own selfish interests ahead of the national good (as usual ).
    2) The botched emasculation of the Bank of England by the novice Gordon Brown and the over complex and now demonstrably ineffective regulation put in its place.

    By the way asking for a clear different vision is a bit rich coming from the uber politics party which did its best to close difference with the Conservative government and wait for their unpopularity to kill them.

    As John Major reminded us – wait long enough by the river and you will see the bodies of your enemies float by.

    What goes around comes around eh ?

  7. david kendrick

    Tory policies are, and will remain, irrelevant. They can’t win the next election (oppositions very seldom can), but Labour can lose it. And they probably will lose it, and deservedly.

    Detailed advertisements (for cars, for example) are only read in detail by two groups—those who’ve just bought one (‘confirmatory advertising’) and by the competition. Similarly, the detailed policies of political parties.

  8. Hollands

    I have it on good authority that Cameron is going for a tax cutting strategy in Birmingham

  9. asquith

    Although I hate Dominic “the cunt” Lawson as much as anyone else, he actually made sense today.

    Fundamentally, people weren’t made to take out loans they could never afford. They did it to keep up with everyone else’s consumer lifestyle. But there’s no need to engage in that sort of shite in order to be a fulfilled person. They should have stayed within their means, not tried to compete with others when they weren’t able.

    There’s no need to be like the Joneses, is there, really?

    If you can’t afford it, don’t fucking have it.

  10. hopisen

    Hmm. Got to admit I’m always sceptical of that line.

    Look at it the other way round. Being offered credit at near zero interest raites is a no brainer. Would you say “If you can’t afford it don’t F888King have it” about your mortgage loan, if offered at a massively preferential rate?

    I prefer to say that it’s the lenders responsibility to ensure that the borrower is likely to be able to pay back before making an offer of a loan.

    They didn’t mostly in the US, because the were working on the basis that asset values would continue rising in the long term.

    Wierdly that’s probably OK in the UK, because it’s hard to expand the housing stock so demand will usually be strong. In the US however, we saw a wave of house building at a time of stable incomes, so oversupply of goods and consequent value decline met inablity to repay…

    Anyway. It’s fashionable to blame borrowers. Fine. Looks like they’ll be the ones bailing out the banks in the end, anyway.

  11. newmania

    Its ridiculous to foster the illusion that these things happen because one class of people is especially greedy.All people are greedy and lazy given chance .If we retreat into statist control it will be a tragedy for future generations ….It would be nice if someone in the Labour Party would start showing some repsonsibility instead of joining in ,desperately ,with the mob

  12. asquith

    Oddly enough, Hopi, I don’t have a mortgage, & go without many things, because I can’t afford any of them. I’m not some twat saying the poor should deny themselves things whilst living in luxury myself, I actually am living on a low income.

    We’d be better off if more people had that attitude. But then again, it would have exposed the emptiness of an economy without real jobs, dependent on the public sector, personal debt & house prices…

    Skilled tradesmen & small businesses will get us out of the mess, then we’ll have an economy not so reliant on bubbles.


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