Not quite Cameron’s forces of Conservatism…

I’ve mentioned before that since become Prime Minister, David Cameron’s major political speeches read as if the speechwriter has taken an early Blair speech and run it through a Conservativamizer (tm).

So it was this weekend, with the Prime Minister’s “Forces of Conservatism“, Enemies of Enterprise” speech. Unfortunately, the Conservativamizer appears to be faulty.

Yes, it tries to be an early Blair speech, this time the Forces of Conservatism one from 1999. Look at the structure: Amusing letter about the opposition? Blair has “a man who said did I know the Tories had been listening to Britain. They can’t have been listening too hard, he said. They’re still here”. Cameron has “a man from Leicestershire called Ray” who is “a longtime Labour supporter” who has come to see that the “The policies you are making, the changes you are making, appear to be good for this country” and begs the PM to stop before his world view is disjointed. Oh so hilariously, the PM promises to disappoint him.

Notice too who is prayed in aid. Cameron quotes Thatcher and Churchill. Blair appropriates Keir Hardie and Attlee.

This is the real clue to the purpose of both speeches. The old heroes being called to service in the causes of today. In both cases, the speech is a rallying cry against a big bad wolf that needs to be beaten back – The Forces of Conservatism for Blair, the Enemies of Enterprise for Cameron. The challenge our enemies pose to our shared cause are so great, each leader argues, we must rally round and fight them together.

Cameron’s speech is basically a love letter to the Conservative party, and a reminder to the troops that David Cameron’s government, from which the Liberal Democrats have apparently temporarily departed, is truly a Conservative one. Only the Conservatives are the party of enterprise, says the man who made Vince Cable the Secretary of State for Business.

Blair’s speech served a similar purpose – it was a blatant attempt to rally the Labour party around a “third way” agenda by badging all those who opposed him as a small c conservative.

Blair’s “Forces of Conservatism” speech was intended to signal to the Labour party that the government he was leading was a radical one that fitted perfectly into the great values of the Labour movement.
Blair wished to rally a party bridling at a “middle of the road” strategy and refers directly to the attack that he is following tory economic policy.

However, there are two differences between the speeches. Both signal a surprising weakness from the current Prime Minister.

First, Blair’s speech was given to Labour in the 1999 conference, after the midpoint of his first government. Cameron is having to call on the old verities less than a year into his government. He is trying to shore up his support very early indeed.

Second, look not at what is in, but what is left out. Tony Blair’s speech was a paen to progressive politics, but it was also a challenge to the Labour movement. Blair includes a long section on how the Labour party never fulfilled its potential.” Born in separation from other progressive forces in British politics, out of the visceral need to represent the interests of an exploited workforce, our base, our appeal, our ideology was too narrow. People were made to feel we wanted to hold them back, limit their aspirations, when in truth the very opposite was our goal.”

This comes after Blair brands some in the Labour movement as a “force of Conservatism”.

Cameron dares no such move. The Conservative party is not only the only party on the side of enterprise, its history is apparently flawless.

Banks need to lend, Cameron says, but apart from that the only people who stand in the way of an enterprise society are regulatory civil servants, town hall paper pushers and government procurement managers.

Now, I suspect many people will agree that these people are enemies of enterprise, but they make a pretty unconvincing big bad. If Britain has stopped growing purely because of a bunch of clerks wielding complex forms, we’re in bad shape.

Besides, as history it doesn’t make much sense. Yes, regulation is a problem, but do you remember planning officers demanding a multi-billion pound bail out? Procurement is a major issue, no doubt. But I don’t recall procurement staff selling mortgages to any American with a pulse, then refusing to lend to business when their bets went wrong.

This one-sidedness is the great weakness of the speech. It is what keeps it from being anything more than a party rallying cry.

If there had been recognition within Cameron’s speech that there are enemies to enterprise far more ingrained and insidious than can be erased with an enterprise zone or a lifting of a regulation, the message would have rung out more clearly.

Imagine if Cameron had said that the reforms of the eighties were vital, but in truth not all boats had been lifted by the rising tide. Too many had sunk, and that was not good enough for the new national challenge.

Cameron could go on to say that the enemies of enterprise included those who were willing to allow only market forces to decide where businesses could prosper, and that he saw it as his job as PM to change that for ever, to extend to everyone the chances Thatcher gave to some.

It would have involved an attack on the soft bigotry of low expectations, a belief in the entrepreneurial power of everyone, a passionate call for the nation to provide the skills, education and support for those who have never had the chance to build businesses that could create growth.

Such a pro-enterprise agenda would place infrastructure, both the hard infrastructure of road rail and cable and the soft infrastructure of skills, research and talent at the heart of what makes Britain a great place to build a business. It would be a “Big society” type of plea and one firmly in the one nation tradition.

Instead, there’s a brief reference to an enterprise allowance scheme, with another plug for a Thatcher era-programme, and then it’s back to pressing traditional Conservative hot buttons.

So after reading the speech, my question is – why did Cameron feel he could not take on a single verity of his party, even as he praised it to the skies?

My nagging suspicion is that the speech reveals a concerning truth – Cameron genuinely does not think there is any enemy to enterprise in Britain that regulation and supply side changes can’t fix. In which case, his “growth” agenda will be just be reheated Redwoodism.

35 Responses to “Not quite Cameron’s forces of Conservatism…”

  1. Philip F Nelms

    A very fine point here Hopi:

    ‘Cameron could go on to say that the enemies of enterprise included those who were willing to allow only market forces to decide where businesses could prosper, and that he saw it as his job as PM to change that for ever, to extend to everyone the chances Thatcher gave to some.’

    Such a narrow, regressive mindset and, in my opinion, the major flaw in all Conservative thinking. If Cameron ever meant anything by the Big Society, if it was ever anything more than a scheme to outsource government responsibility, this is the moment that little progressive flicker died out.

    A sad time for true enterprise, long live the status quo…

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  2. Dan Filson

    As we are all quoting past lions, I think it was Churchill who once said of a dessert “Take away this pudding, it has no theme.” That’s the problem Cameron faces and he knows it. His “Big Society” is so much window-dressing for passing the blame for spending cuts to local councils and pretending you can get unpaid volunteers to substitute for paid staff. His defence review was not a defence review but a cuts exercise, and is now unravelling as the defence staff awake to the consequences.
    So Cameron calls up the old favourite of the politico with his back to the wall – a speech laden with abstract nouns and supporting quotations from imagined man-in-the-street characters who invariably back the speaker’s contentions.
    Empty vessels make most sound – and this seems very true of Cameron. He has difficulty in creating and articulating a vision – his vision – of Conservatism because he has little intellectual analytical apparatus. The brainier Conservatives in government – Maude, Willetts, Gove, Lettwin – know they are geeks and perceived as geeks, and are currently keeping their heads down with their ‘work’. The rest are repeating their master’s lead in boring us to death with the mantra of the inherited chaos.

    The danger to Cameron therefore is that, at any moment shortly, John Redwood will pick his spot and utter ex cathedra bon mots that express, far better than Cameron can, the true essence of current Conservatism. And what that will be is nothing to do with Cameon’s huggy version.

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  3. gameviewview

    Hopi, you seemed to be very clued up about speeches. Could you recommend any reading on the subject, for instance a commentary on famous speeches or a collection of speeches? I’m particularly interested in Blair, Regan, Thatcher and Obama- not all for ideological reasons, just mere rhetoric.

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  4. Newmania

    The fact that Blair`s challenge to the Labour Party was to embrace the market does not mean Cameron`s is to creep back to some re heated Old Labour redistribution and control agenda .In fact both men want to go in the same direction which a rhetorical symmetry handles rather poorly .On long terms supply side change I think welfare and educational reform are indeed being radically over hauled in the teeth of Labour opposition with a view to spreading opportunity.
    Otherwise its so hard to know what sort of thing you have in mind t .I have heard mention of a environmental special super zone something or other in the North East . I cannot say how fresh and exciting it all sounds .

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  5. Guido Fawkes

    ** CLAPS **
    Your conclusion was usual centre-leftie bollocks mind you.
    You know they will take it as a compliment that you compare Dave to the maestro.

    Reply
    • hopisen

      I think you’ll find _all_ my conclusions are like that, GF.

      I think what’s interesting about DC is that he knows how to imitate the form and structure of Blair’s speeches, but seems mystified by the political purpose of them.

      Reply
      • Gilliebc

        Hopi, regarding your reply to Guido. Well said. Your observation on DC trying to be the “heir to Blair” by imitated Blair’s speeches is as Dan remarked, spot on.

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      • Scary Biscuits

        Hopi, as a right-wing Conservative I totally agree with this ‘DC knows how to imitate the form and structure of Blair’s speeched but seems mystified by the political purpose of them’.

        Blair and indeed Thatcher prospered at the polls because they took on the old-fashioned, out-of-touch elites of their own party (the unions in Blair’s case and the old boys’ club in Thatcher’s). Thus Blair overturned Clause 4 and made his party recognise for the first time that creating wealth was just as important for social justice has how you spread it about. Thatcher overturned the soft-left, watered-down socialism that had captured her party in the post war years and innovated a new economics based on sound money. Both were widely popular with their own party and with the voters, winning repeated landslides.

        Cameron, by contrast, copies the language and ruses of Blair but doesn’t seem to understand why he is using them. Worse, instead of attacking the old-fashioned elite of his party he is instead attacking ordinary members. So whereas Blair and Thatcher reconnected their party leaderships with ordinary members and voters, Cameron is driving them away. Both Blair and Thather were outsiders in their own party, Thatcher from common upbringings and Blair from Fettes. Both were hated by the old elite – viz Heath’s epic sulk and Kinnock and the unions’ delight at the end of New Labour.

        Cameron unfortunately ia an insider, part of the old-fashioned elite. This is why he can’t attack it and instead creates these false bogie-man Right Wing (otherwise known as the Conservative Party, where I would say the majority of members are pretty left wing, especially councillors). Cameron is in a position where he is loved by old-timers like Clarke and Nick Hurd (whose son now works in No. 10) but ordinary members are mostly between indifferent and hostile. Unfortunately for Cameron, party members are far more in-touch with public sentiment than the party elite (as they were for Blair).

        The only way the Conservatives will win the next election is if they jettison Cameron. He can stay on as PM but he should be removed as party leader and replaced with somebody who understands it.

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      • hopisen

        Sacry – thanks really interesting comment. I think the outsider point is an interesting one. It takes rare circumstances for people thought of as outsiders to reach leadership positions within their own party.

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      • hopisen

        Scary – thanks really interesting comment. I think the outsider point is an interesting one. It takes rare circumstances for people thought of as outsiders to reach leadership positions within their own party.

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  6. Gilliebc

    Excellent blog post Hopi. When this lot came to power in May last year, I think a lot of us were willing to give them a fair chance. The British being fairly tolerant people on the whole. Plus the fact that there was no other option, at that time.
    However, the word disappointing doesn’t even come close to describing this Tory Led Government. Apart from cutting too far much too fast, which any foolish government could do as it doesn’t really require much in the way of planning and implementing. They appear to be completely clueless about the direction they are going in and quite unable to cope adequately with events such as snow and Libya, to name but two events.
    In short, they are not fit to govern. A General Election is urgently needed.
    It’s not as if they have much of a majority. The LibDems should pull the rug from under them asap.
    If a general election were called now, Labour would walk it. Even with Ed M
    in charge.

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  7. Newmania

    I would be pretty happy with a general election now . the problem the coalition have got is that Brown lead a race to the bottom of false hopes and expectations and the mandate was not clear.
    Its a simple choice , pay our way or let the Union Lead Opposition do again what they did before . If you thought it was a good idea fine and it is quite clear they think so .Personally I trust the good sense of the British people would prevail and we would not enter the sweety encrusted fairy tale house that the little brownies are building.
    Bring it on , and the strikes … time we had a clear out , you need a good fight every now and then to clear the air . Come on then !!!

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  8. Alan Barnes

    Comparing David Cameron to Blair is a thoroughly tedious and deliberate tactic designed to smear him with a bit of historical turd and portray him as so weak he has to take his inspiration from some Asda Cliff Richard who managed to arse lick his way to the top and make it to the front cover of Hello Magazine with his clothes off. Who the hell wants to emulate Tony Blair?

    Blair and Brown for all their smoke, mirrors and grand rhetoric really did nothing apart from create a public sector monster full of overpaid loyalists. Their permanent obsession with image and headlines to the detriment of real groundwork hasn’t done us (or the middle east) any favours at all.
    For the past 13 years Labour have been a train crash of a government. They inherited a healthy economy yet their pseudo-Socialist farting and fatuous political chess playing have nearly bankrupted us.

    Yes I think David Camerons’s Big Society talk is manufactured PR cobblers but I do believe he and the rest of the coalition government have a sincere desire to get us back on an even keel and cut this swollen monster of a public sector.
    “Yes the deficit needs cutting but YOU’RE CUTTING IT TOO FAST” is pathetic and the last desperate gasp of a party that know they are wrong but cannot bear to dilute their maniacal tribal loyalty. They will lie, cheat and deny to their deathbeds if it gives them one more taste of power.

    And this is exactly the problem we have with these overpaid expense jockey’s on Labour councils. They are blatantly playing political games with frontline services to try and discredit this government – and you know this Mr. Sen. There are plenty of cuts that can be made without much pain to the wider community, it’s just that bloated Labour councils would rather sacrifice other peoples standards of living than their own.

    My girlfriend does a very important job for the NHS. She has 4 bosses over her who receive 3 times her salary and do 10 times less work. She has to park half a mile away. They get to park their Audi TT’s and BMW’s in their own parking spaces. They roll into work 2 hours after her and leave at the same time as her. They spend a lot of time on all expenses paid training courses or ‘personal improvement’ days or ‘off sick’. She has to correct or redo a lot of the work they are supposed to be doing and it is a miserable state of affairs.
    This I’m sure is repeated up and down the country.
    At a school I teach at, the pupils can pass GCSE Music by performing a 2 fingered version of jingle bells on the keyboard. This gives them a qualification.
    Of course even mediocrity must be celebrated because it’s inclusion. And the school end up with record performance figures. Job done. Labour are the saviours of education!

    THESE are the parts of the public sector that need to be violently shaken up and this is what the Coalition government are trying to do.
    It’s about common sense, fairness and higher standards of real delivery without the bullshit.
    Tell me exactly what’s good about this country after 13 years of ‘fairness’ under Labour Mr. Sen? Without lying or mentioning benefits. Go on please..

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  9. Richard Nabavi

    “My nagging suspicion is that the speech reveals a concerning truth – Cameron genuinely does not think there is any enemy to enterprise in Britain that regulation and supply side changes can’t fix”

    Correct, in both senses: I believe Cameron thinks that, and he is certainly right.

    By definition, enterprise is spontaneous and comes from the drive, risk-taking, imagination and hard work of the entrepreneur. All that government needs to do, and all it can do, is to remove, or at least reduce, the obstacles to enterprise.

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  10. Dan Filson

    But, Richard, there is no evidence that “All that government needs to do, and all it can do, is to remove, or at least reduce, the obstacles to enterprise.” has anything to do with enterprise not flourishing. Prove it.

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    • Richard Nabavi

      Well, the massive boost in Britain’s place in the European economic league tables in the two decades following the Thatcher reforms is one very strong piece of evidence. The failure of Labour’s attempts to boost enterprise through direct intervention, both before Thatcher and in the Blair-Brown government, is another: look at changes in the private sector employment figures in the north of England, compared with the south, for example. All that costly intervention has been a miserable failure, which is no surprise.

      As someone who actually has first-hand experience, as well as a good knowledge of the venture capital industry and of small firms trying to grow, I do know what I’m talking about here. Government just needs to get out of the way as much as possible, and let the thousand flowers bloom. Most will fail, but amongst them will be the future ARMs and Vodafones.

      The absolute key thing, which governments and civil servants never understand, is that small companies need to know they can cut their costs if a risky venture doesn’t succeed as they hope, or if revenues are delayed. If not, the risk/reward balance becomes too unfavourable.

      That is why successive changes to employment law have been so damaging.

      The other key factor in my experience is premises. Making it easier to get out of long-term rental agreements would be an excellent reform. The big commercial landlords would squeal, but current leases are often inequitable.

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      • hopisen

        I wonder at your certainty about that all being needed.

        Take the centres for cities report linked in my next post. That shows VAT registration rates twice as high in some English cities as others.

        Given government is on the backs of business in Cambridge to the same extent as it is in as in Middlesbrough, isn’t that conclusive that there are other factors at play here than simple “getting out the way”? (indeed, you might argue that cambridge, being a haven of restrictive planning because it’s so darn pretty, is less “free” than Middlebrough)

        Now, that’s a pretty seperate isssue to regional development spending – and indeed I can imagine a credible case that what is needed is something akin to cultural/technical/capital transformation of low enterprise areas. But surely it indicates that just getting out of the way isn’t enough. (In the specific case of Cambridge/Middlebrough, I suspect that a combinaton of university, capital availability and general prosperity are important)

        What I’m saying is that I can imagine a pretty credible “right-wing” analysis of the need to extend entrepeneurship throughout society, and I’m suprised Cameron doesn’t even attempt to make it, preferring to poke a few civil servants. I mean, even the awful Philip Bland could make that leap, burbling about re-capitalising the poor as he does.

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      • Dan Filson

        I note you pick two decades as your base period. That may include some of Blair’s governance and will certainly include the period that followed (a) the Lamont debacle devaluation of the pound (disguised as ‘floating free’) at the exit from the snake, and (b) the decidedly Keynesian injection of a lot of money into the economy in the dash for growth 1990-1997 (shades of Reggie Maudling 1963-1964 and Tony Barber whose spurt never got off the ground given the internal contradictions of the Heath government). You could certainly argue that a lot of growth in the period since 1979 has been fuelled by a floating and falling pound, by closing wholesale Britain’s manufacturing and by oil prices coming off the artificial high of the 1974 period. But even accepting the economy got moving more steadily from Thatcher onwards (from a low base point after Howe wrecked it 1979-1982), there is no evidence there was any significant reduction in the so-called burdens on business or that it was this – if it happened – that fuelled the growth. The regeneration of London Docklands, for example, was engineered by being free of business rates at an effective taxpayer subsidy running into billions.

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      • Richard Nabavi

        Actually, I think government is not on the backs of business in Cambridge as much as it is in Middlesborough (because of squeezing out by the public sector, and a general anti-business stance by many local authorities), but, yes, of course there are other factors. Cambridge has a rather significant local university! It also benefits from a virtuous circle of the local cluster effect.

        The question is what governments can do about those factors, to boost entrepreneurship in place like Middlesborough.

        What we do know for sure is that direct intervention is of very limited use. It just hasn’t worked, and anyone familiar with small business will know why.

        What would of course help are more indirect and longer-term measures, most notably improving education in place like Middlesborough, and dealing with the perverse incentives of the welfare system. Gove and IDS are working on these, but realistically those improvements are not going to have much if any effect on entrepreneurship in the timescale of this parliament.

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      • Richard Nabavi

        Dan – “there is no evidence there was any significant reduction in the so-called burdens on business or that it was this – if it happened – that fuelled the growth.”

        Yes there is. Big Bang, 1986.

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      • Dan Filson

        Big Bang was an event, which may or may not have been beneficial to business, not ‘evidence of growth’ created by removal of burdens on business.

        Incidentally the removal of jobbers meant that automated share and security trading became possible, and we know where that could lead..

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      • Richard Nabavi

        Dan – Blimey, how literally do I have to spell everything out?

        Yes, of course Big Bank was an event, namely the removal of a whole bunch of restrictive practices and of artificial burdens. That’s the first bit, right?

        Then the second bit followed, as night followeth day – growth of the City to become an economic powerhouse and the envy of Europe. Pity Brown and Balls messed up the regulatory environment and left no-one clearly in charge of overall banking supervision, with exactly the consequences Peter Lilley warned about in 1997.

        Anyway, must go now. I only popped in to help Hopi with his understanding of what Cameron is trying to do. I know he finds it puzzling!

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  11. Leslie Smith

    Hopi,
    I agree your point that John Redwood could and should articulate the “real conservative values and priorities, which he would do far better than Cameron. DC sadly seems to have no intellectual skills, no ability to articulate a broad strategic goal, then only change his tactics to achieve it.

    The Country is in deep finanical “Doo Doo” and it can only get worse as the price of Oil relentlessly rises. DC actions and comments over Libya have been nothing short of a political disaster. DC needs a clear and articulate National Financial Plan to convince Voters that they are not going to lose their homes, their jobs, and for the Older Voters, their savings too.

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  12. Dan Filson

    Curious footnote – Redwood is way down the odds on the next Conservative leader. I wonder if the bookies are wrong on that.

    As to outsiders, Canning, Peel, Disraeli, Joe Chamberlain (not a Tory leader, I know, but boy influential!), Lloyd George, Bonar Law, and Baldwin were all outsiders really; as all Labour leaders, almost by definition, are – with the exception of Blair (but as Scary Biscuit explains, the Fettes thing – and being an after-the-event Gaitskellite – made him an outsider within Labour). It’s being an outsider that drives them on. Like lefthandedness with 4 of the last 7 US Presidents.

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    • hopisen

      I doubt Redwood would be ocnsidered as anything other than a stalking horrse, but if Cameron were to fall, I’d expect someone to fulfill the Bonar Law role in his decapitation. Big if, though.

      Reply
      • Dan Filson

        But would take the premiership willingly if it fell into his lap. Perhaps “Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike” but he would strike if he sensed his push would bring him home.

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  13. John Reid

    It was ironic that the Left flet that the Forces of conservatism speech was an attack on so called rightwingers (like the police who were’nt happy at the time With Blunketts proposed pay cut) actually it was an attack on htose who didn’t want change ,Blair was just aobut to give a speech to the TUC, when 911 happened and blair withdrawl the speech ,in it he was saying that the Conservatives who were agisnt change were actually the unions who didn’t want to go along with spanish practices that the likes of the post office with there , you go half hour over shift, you get a double one,

    the fact that some of the labour movement didn’t realize it was an attack on them show’s their blinness how much tehy would admire Blunketts time in the Home office.

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  14. Nick Brown

    Hopi, I note that your wonderful Labour education has left you unable to spell the word separate. Must do better, see me after class etc…..

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  15. Gilliebc

    @ Dan Filson
    For what it’s worth, I’m inclined to agree with your opinon on John Redwood. I’ve read a few of his blog posts and to my surprise I’m inclined to agree with some of the things he says. The problem he has is that he just doesn’t appeal to many people. That’s part of the problem with modern politics unless a politician is a smooth operator type, they don’t seem to get anywhere nowadays. Today, most of them are all style but no substance.
    The majority of the electorate have been dumbed-down to such an extent that an election means voting for good-looking people that perform well on the “telly”. Anyway, I truly believe that sadly democracy in this country as in the USA is just an illusion. It’s the wealthy ruling (albeit behind the scenes for now ) elite that really rule and run this world. They are prepared to do the unthinkable in their quest for ultimate power and a return to the feudal system. All under the guise of it being for “humanitarian reasons”

    Reply

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