Joe Armitage is a Conservative activist and works for a Conservative MP.
As Conservatives, we have to ask ourselves what our mission is and what we want the United Kingdom to look like socially and economically in 2020. It’s a given that the state should aim to reduce unemployment and facilitate stable economic growth but this seems to be the only intended mission at present. Nobody envisaged a clear Conservative majority government; it meant the promise of an EU referendum and introduction of a British Bill of Rights had to be implemented but it’s not part of a mission the current leadership wanted to pursue. Indeed, the Queen’s Speech last month was not one that many in Conservative command thought they’d have to write at all.
The Queen’s Speech was content-rich precisely because there is an extremely small window of opportunity for the key promises that hinged on a Conservative majority to be implemented. The explicit in/out EU referendum, introduction of a British Bill of Rights and revamped communications data legislation are all such examples. The leadership has been shrewd in appointing people such as Crouch, Raab and Stewart as junior ministers – despite having never been whips or PPSs. Their loyalty might be shored up but discontent from colleagues, who will question why they were overlooked for promotion despite being more loyal, will brew. That is why there is such a small window of loyalty to enact the juicy and contentious aspects of the manifesto that nobody thought would apply.
The election was not won off the back of a vision for the country; it was won because a campaign of fear about the potential of Miliband in cahoots with the SNP provoked the English to stick with the Conservatives. It was evidently a good strategy but the consequential impact is that nobody has any idea what will be in the four remaining Queen’s Speeches of this Parliament and what David Cameron wants his legacy to be. Increasing the budget of an NHS restructured in a way nobody understands, protecting pensioner entitlements and introducing a piece of legislation to ban deficits in ‘good times’ is not impressive enough to be considered monumental. For a legacy to be considered historically significant, a sea change is required; all Cameron has done to date is prevent the sea from turning mucky.
A government that does not know what to do will start doing things seemingly with no justification. Major predominantly followed the direction of Thatcher; he ended up introducing 39 per cent more laws than her government per year – he even set up a helpline to report unnecessary traffic cones. Blair was much the same: he changed the direction of his party but by and large not the country – he introduced 11 per cent more laws than Major. When a government lacks the motivation to fundamentally change the status quo, the state acts like a rudderless ship. We need a vision to get our teeth into.
No government for almost four decades seems to have had the motivation to think long-term – they all pass the mantle of short-termism. The health service is on the brink; anybody who thinks that perpetually throwing money at it is sustainable needs to look at the UK’s demographics and the percentage of NHS spending accounted for by the elderly. Pensioner entitlements are the same; they are simply not sustainable, having been introduced at a time when the average person was in retirement for four years. Even dealing with the dilapidated condition of Parliament has been left by the wayside for decades, meaning it might cost £7 billion to put right now.
The Conservative leadership needs to cash in on the weakness of Labour. It should set itself a mission to make our healthcare sustainable and ensure a dignified retirement is available to future generations. If no mission is carved out, I fear we will simply drift into a period of futile law creation and land the next government with a huge bill born of our our inertia. Much like the one the current government faces to repair Parliament.