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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Conservative policies and spending plans

The Conservative Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, has been speaking to a City audience (annual CBI dinner) about Conservative spending plans.

It seems that the Tory leadership is concerned about the explicit and implicit spending pledges being made by shadow spokespeople - pledges which are being costed by Labour. So there is a new rule - a spending pledge will only be valid if approved by Cameron and Osborne and by the Shadow Cabinet, and if it is contained in a draft manifesto. In addition, Osborne has stated a future Tory government would not spend more than Labour.

Keeping control of spending and maintaining Party discipline is important but I suspect if forcefully applied it will rather stymie the Tory front bench. There are signs the public is getting tired of talk about endless warm words from the Conservatives without policy commitments. Perhaps this is why some Opposition spokespeople have begun making specific policy pledges, frustrated at being unable to adequately answer the question 'well, what would you do?'

This really is a Tory weak point but in fact I don't think the they are doing that well any more in talking about general values and the direction of policy. They are sounding warm and welcoming to everyone (though less so to single mums and dads) yet I still have little idea about what priorities a future Conservative government would adopt. I do know that it would probably talk a lot about being green and no doubt there would be a few initiatives in that direction. But that still seems peripheral. Cameron has talked about rolling forward the frontiers of society, for which read rolling back the state. So, there still seems a fair bit of old Tory Party in there. The contrast is with Labour's agenda of an enabling state, which admittedly still needs further work.

What is clear though is that Conservative supporters are feeling more confident and the party is generating a sense of expectation and potential. Labour does need to pay attention. Our policy reviews and the ideas being discussed on the Left need to be connected to an overall vision of the future.

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