I recently became involved in a spat on Facebook. Someone had posted an article from the Bristol Evening Post reporting on the allocation of Lottery funding to projects in the city of Bristol. Of £700,000 available, a community theatre group received £170,000 and the local scouts £130,000. The remaining £400,000 – almost 60% – went to a charity called Educational Action Challenging Homophobia, which promised to use the cash to help LGBT people "become the best person they can be".
Leaving aside the laughably patronising nature of the group’s mission (I have never needed a penny of taxpayer cash to help me become "the best person I can be" nor has any other gay person I know), I was amazed that there could not have been more worthy projects in Bristol, a city of half a million people, which could benefit more than a tiny handful of the community. Bristol, for example, is the guardian of several of the greatest engineering achievements of my hero, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge and SS Great Britain. Surely money spent on safeguarding our national heritage would have been a wiser use for the £400,000? Richard Eddy, leader of the Conservative Group on the Council, called it a "mistaken and misguided, outrageous waste of money". I rather think he is correct, given what the money could have gone towards.
The lady who had posted this on her Facebook profile posited that the Conservatives’ opposition to the grant was proof of the party’s rampant homophobia and yet another reason why she would not be voting "Tory" – have you noticed how leftists love to spit out the word "Tory"? – at the next election. In chimed the usual voices of support for such a view.
I piped up, saying that the Conservative Party I knew was tolerant and friendly, and run by open-minded and pleasant people like David Cameron and Michael Gove, and also quite disproportionately gay in its activist base. I finished by saying that the country needed a change of government and that all people, gay or otherwise, would benefit from such a change.
Well, they did not like that one bit. "Keep telling yourself that and you actually might believe it one day," said one. "Misinformation is not helpful," said another. My favourite part came when someone mentioned Daniel Hannan, linking to a BBC article about him as if providing ultimate proof of the Conservatives’ bigoted ways, Dan being one of the most libertarian people in the Party.
I realised that these people – and so many others like them – were utterly incapable of viewing the political landscape from any perspective other than that of their narrow, parochial single-issue interest. I also realised that our early years in government, if we are fortunate enough to win the election, are likely to be bloody.
Great Britain has run out of money. The cupboards are bare, the credit cards are maxed out and that shaven-headed bloke hovering outside the front door is a bailiff. According to The Spectator’s uniquely scary Debt Counter, every single family in the UK has a share of Public Sector Net Debt of over £27,000. The Conservative Party has recognised that cuts in expenditure are necessary. Even the Labour Party has recognised that, albeit belatedly, and Gordon Brown has switched his dividing line from "Labour investment versus Tory cuts" to "Labour cuts are better than Tory cuts" with all the grace and poise of a hippopotamus in a tutu.
We cannot afford to go on funding special interest groups in this manner. This is a time for prioritisation and things like saving people’s lives in hospitals, making sure our soldiers have the equipment they need and getting people off benefit and into work just have to take priority over giving way cash so that Bristol’s gay teens can "become the best people they can be".
The special interest groups will hate us for it, with all the bile and vitriol that we know they can muster – we’ve all experienced it on the doorstep. They will cite the stopping of their money as ultimate proof that they were right all along, that the Conservatives really don’t care; that we have not changed, that we are still the party of the rich. Let them think that. In power it will be our job to make the hard choices and to be responsible. The last twelve years have seen a government reckless in its use of public money, with appalling consequences. We will be paying the price for Labour’s failure for many years to come.
I believe that for all the damage it has caused, some good can be salvaged from the economic vandalism wrought by the Labour Party. I hope that a Conservative Government will think carefully about what, exactly, government is there for: what it is supposed to do, and what it should not do. I hope that the Party’s high command will conclude that funding special interest groups is not a legitimate activity for a responsible government.
Maybe this recession will lead to a rolling back of the size of the State, of a new age of reverence for public money and a new sense of responsibility in Westminster and Whitehall. If that happens, then the suffering caused by the recession will not have been in vain.