By Tim Montgomerie
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Two evenings ago I felt like I'd been transported back two years. David Laws gave a fascinating speech to the self-styled progressive Conservative group, Bright Blue and his continuing enthusiasm for the Coalition was almost infectious… almost.
Mr Laws paid tribute to the great success of the Coalition – unity around the deficit reduction goal:
"Remember the rather striking early claim made by both Leaders that our programme would be better – better, not worse! – as a consequence of it selecting from the strongest policies of either party… Amongst all the challenges of the last two years, the dog which has failed to bark has been any division over economic strategy – this has been hugely important for the Coalition, and the country."
Bright Blue's Ryan Shorthouse remains another person in love with the Coalition and has written for the New Statesman this afternoon floating the idea of a full Tory-LibDem merger. Ryan argues that a liberal-right could dominate British politics if it embraces the political mix that has, he writes, dominated British government since the 1990s. "All recent governments," he writes, "have sought low taxes, light-tough regulation and private sector engagement in public services. But, at the same time, there has been commitments to tax credits, enhanced investment in hospitals and schools, better workers' rights and a determination to protect personal freedom." In other words it's a party of Blairites, Orange Bookers and Cameroons. Ryan sees a liberal-right alliance as a protection against "throw-back" ideas like a marriage tax allowance. He doesn't specify anything else but I imagine such a OrangeCamBlair alliance would also frustrate Euroscepticism and fight against a tough approach to immigration.
The final word deserves to go to Laws, however. He warned the Left of his own party and the Right of the Conservative Party not to risk presenting a caricature of themselves by over-asserting the issues that differentiate themselves from their Coalition partners. In the Tory case this means not going back to the period when we could only talk about crime, tax, Europe and immigration. Remember the drawing above with which ConHome was launched? Some Conservatives are acutely aware of this. With his very important RightAngle website Rob Halfon is fighting an uphill battle to reclaim some ownership of the £10,000 income tax threshold. In the Commons yesterday, during a debate on help for first-time buyers, Paul Maynard MP encouraged his Tory colleagues to plant a Tory flag on all popular Coalition policies…
“At a time when the Liberal Democrats are taking policies in my manifesto and planting a nice yellow flag on them as though they had always owned them, I want to ensure that we claim both those policies as having been born, brought to fruition, made aware and brought to life in the Conservative party, with a big blue sticker on them”.
This is really important. In the next few years as we remind the electorate that they'd get tougher crime policies and a lower tax burden with the Conservatives we mustn't forget to claim ownership of Michael Gove's policies for inner city schools and George Osborne's commitment to health spending and Iain Duncan Smith's commitment to a higher state pension and so on and so on.