What did I learn from the conservative conference? Well, after attending Labour conference last week for the first time, I realise that there is a difference to what is reported in the papers, shown on TV and what actually happens. But there are some things we can conclude from what we have seen, and they ain’t pretty.
The first and overwhelming one and one which contrasts so much with the Labour conference are the delegates themselves. They are overwhelmingly white and male. Many of them are middle aged or older – and even the younger attendees are acting as if they are already middle aged – the “young fogey” effect. Those women, who do attend – like those on Newsnight earlier this week, seem to either accept their place in the world, or just echo the comments of their male counterparts, rather than offering anything distinctive to the party. At the Labour conference, there were people from every background, every colour, every race, every gender and every sexual orientation. All were welcomed, and had something to contribute. Despite claims of having been modernised, the Tory party gives every impression of not wanting to know you unless you are white, male, middle class and middle aged.
We’ve also found out that the economy – or rather reducing the deficit – really is the only thing they care about. And worse still, they truly don’t have a plan B. It appears that they really thought (and I include the orange book Lib Dems) that massive cuts would magically sort out the deficit. The lack of a growth strategy is now becoming apparent, and the scraps thrown at this conference simply aren’t enough to kick start the economy. The reason why they’re so small is because they can’t do more without ditching the rest of the strategy – after all, how can you cut spending, by spending more? And any change in strategy now could easily be this governments Black Wednesday, the time when a massive change in course derails a government and destroys its economic credibility – even if it does result in a better outcome for the country as a whole.
The Tories are also determined to press on with their privatisation of the health service. Andrew Lansley announced the extension of his health voucher scheme, where patients would be given vouchers to pay for treatment at either an NHS hospital or in private care. Originally just a trial, after which the Department of Health would evaluate it, it now seems that this is to be extended nationwide, without seeing if there are any problems or issues to be addressed, whether it can be improved, or whether it should be scrapped. These vouchers are coming whether you like them or not, whether they work or not.
We’ve also had some of our stereotypes confirmed. The Tories really are controlled by the headlines of the Daily Mail, as Cat Gate has revealed. It doesn’t matter about the truth; facts don’t come into it, whether its illegal immigrants, benefit seekers or the EU, there’s a group to be bashed. And as for being the “Greenest Government Ever”, whether its Osborne rowing back on our emissions targets or the delay of the Renewable Heat Incentive it seems that the rhetoric of opposition has given way to the scepticism of old. Why shouldn’t the EU introduce minimum standards for diabetics driving HGVs? And what is the problem if our own DVLA has tougher regulations than required by Europe?
The bashing of those unfortunate enough to be out of work continues, as claimants will be required to search for work for several hours a day, and be expected to take a job anywhere within a 90-minute radius. Even the Telegraph has attacked these as being unrealistic. Perhaps the reason why job seekers in the UK only take 4 minutes a day to look for a job is that all the time it takes to search the internet, look in the paper or scan the vacancies in the job centre to realise there are no jobs available. And how on earth is someone expected to travel for 90 minutes (it’s not said by which mode of transport, but presumably Bus) to reach that minimum wage job? And that’s assuming of course that the minimum wage stays at all.
This brings us back to growth and plan B (or lack thereof). Last week, the Labour conference was upbeat, talking about the promise of Britain, while this week, the Tory conference is doom and gloom. Quite simply the Tories are playing a game of Chicken with the British people, hanging on until the last possible minute, by which time irreparable harm will have been done.