A week ago I spoke to North Shropshire Conservatives as the guest of Owen Paterson MP. It was my first attempt at a big picture overview of the political scene since Brown bottled out of an autumn election. The post below is a development and update of what I said. I’d be grateful for reactions…
There is good news and bad news. The good news is political. The bad news concerns everything else.
First the good news. Labour is in trouble. Brown’s ratings are tanking and for good reason. People are wising up to the scale of his government’s incompetence. Brown’s lack of team skills is frighteningly bad. ‘Ratner Saturday’, the cosy deal with Andrew Marr and repeatedly poor PMQs performances have transformed how political journalists see Brown and how they’re beginning to see and report him.
At the same time the Tory team is firing on all cylinders. Announcements are coming thick and fast. There’s energy. There’s ‘And theory’ balance. There’s passion from David Cameron. The Tory team is getting stronger. Osborne on inheritance tax. Davis against Smith on 56 days. Gove on many fronts. There’s enthusiasm again amongst the grassroots.
But if that’s the good news for the Conservatives, the bad news is that Britain is in a bad way. I believe there has been a massive underestimation of the extent to which Britain is in danger of becoming a declining nation once more. The extent of this decline hasn’t yet registered in the polls but the scale of emigration (and the desire to emigrate) is a warning of underlying national disquiet. It’s arguably not as serious as 1979 but it’s real. An excellent paper by Policy Exchange on Britain’s economic performance – More mirage than miracle – set me down this path.
Deciding whether we want to manage decline or reverse decline may well determine the outcome of the next election. The extent to which the next Conservative manifesto is a radical manifesto may well be David Cameron’s biggest decision. If the electorate want reassurance that Britain is basically doing okay and they want a change of management but not of fundamental direction, the Conservatives should eschew big policies and make their agenda small so that the Brown attack machine has little to target. But if the electorate is wise to the extent of Britain’s challenges, then a radical manifesto – that doesn’t depressingly dwell on Britain’s problems, but offers a hope-drenched path to renewal – may be what will lift the party from today’s hung parliament territory and to a working majority.
It’s not yet clear to me what the British voter will want but I’m pretty sure that Britain needs significant change.