I am not sure how many of you spent a lot of time watching the various Party conferences during Conference season.
Political anoraks like me find them fascinating. But, for most people, all they see is the coverage in the news bulletins, which usually focuses on the key speech of the day, how it is received by the man and woman in the street and by the talking heads in the media. So, I watched with great interest the coverage of the Conservative conference in Manchester. I wanted to see how Cameron’s new Conservative party would be portrayed.
The conference began, like many in the past, overshadowed by traditional Tory divisions over Europe. Their position on the Lisbon Treaty remains deliberately unclear and they have yet to explain why they think that their alliance in the European Parliament with right-wing parties in Poland and Latvia is appropriate, given those parties’ stances on issues like race and gay rights.
Their delegates were on best behaviour throughout, with only one Tory Boy arrested for the drunken theft of a Champagne bottle. Reports suggest that he wasn’t even a member of the Bullingdon Club.
Cameron’s keynote speech was, in my opinion, not amongst his best. It was slickly delivered and well received by the Tory faithful. But once you strip away the rhetoric, there is little left. There were no new policy announcements, apart from a freeze on public sector pay for those earning more than £18000. Whilst he would freeze pay for hard-working people who keep our hospitals, schools and councils running, he plans to raise the inheritance tax threshold, benefiting only the richest 2% in the country.
Cameron is quick to blame our economic problems on “big government,” apparently, the cause of all of our woes. He doesn’t seem to understand that it is “big government” that stepped in to rescue our economy from total collapse when the banks began to fail: ”big government” that acted decisively to introduce measures like the VAT cut and Vehicle Scrappage Scheme to lessen the impact of the global downturn: “big government” that pays for an ever-improving health service, which combats the cancers and diseases that a lesser funded service would never manage.
At a time when much of the private sector is finding it tough, Government must step in and expand the support it offers. Those of us who remember the recession of the 80’s and 90’s also remember how, for example, a generation of young people was left behind amidst massive levels of unemployment and we remember, too, the impact that had on families and communities. Back then, a Tory Government failed to support young people and, given the chance, they would repeat those same mistakes over again.
The Tories say we can’t afford to continue to invest in the things we have over the past years – our health service, jobs, apprenticeships, education; but the truth is we can’t afford not to. The Tories see this recession as an opportunity to cut down to the bare bones those very services that they did so much to destroy in the past. The Government believes that the investment of today can, and will, be paid for from future growth. A failure to invest now will mean many more hard pressed families and young people struggling in the future.
It comes down, as ever, to the same old choice: investment for the many, or tax cuts for the wealthy few.