If you asked me to describe the Conservative Party in a couple of words, my answer would not be “low taxes”, “strong on the economy”, “law and order” or even “conservatism”. I would probably say the Conservatives are now the party of Brexit or even the party of power for the sake of power. The Conservative Party has lost its way.
On the other hand, it’s clear what Labour now stands for. Jeremy Corbyn is intent on radical social and political change that aims to tackle inequality head-on and bring about a peaceful, more environmentally-friendly world.
Agree with it or not, it’s blindingly obvious what Labour stands for.
Law and order
The Conservative party are also often associated with the idea of “law and order”, but with new ONS figures pointing to a significant increase in crime in England and Wales, including an 18% increase in violent crime, the change casts significant doubt on such a notion. On top of that, since the party came to power in 2010, police numbers have fallen by 20,000, according to Channel Four, a figure which Jeremy Corbyn used to beat the party with in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Rising crime-levels and less policing? That's not a very Conservative coupling of facts in Conservative Britain.
The Tories are also traditionally the party of limited government intervention – both in terms of the economy and people’s personal lives. The energy price cap proposed in the recent manifesto – taken straight from the Ed Miliband playbook – is probably the most striking example of Theresa May’s willingness to intervene in the markets. A pre-election Spectator piece by Fraser Nelson does a great job of pointing out the divides in the government over this and other similar issues, showing the divisions and confusion in the party.
The party of free-markets equalling free people? I don't think so.
Taken in contrast with Labour, the Conservatives are more fiscally restrained and keen on making the deficit a real priority. But when you look at the facts, it is hard to believe they have managed to get away with the image of being so-called “fiscally responsible” for so long. The party went into the 2010 election promising to get rid of the deficit by 2015. True, they went into coalition with the Liberal Democrats and could not deliver their full manifesto, but their 2017 manifesto only mentioned the word deficit three times, and pushed the pledge back further.
The manifesto said:
“We will continue with the fiscal rules announced by the chancellor in the autumn statement last year, which will guide us to a balanced budget by the middle of the next decade."
Although there is an argument that mentioning the deficit does not correlate with commitment to tackling the deficit, it is still worth noting that the word was mentioned seventeen times in 2015 and thirteen times in 2010. Furthermore, the 2017 manifesto included the word “Brexit” fifteen times, five times more than “deficit”, and "European Union" was included thirty-nine times.
Are the Conservatives now just the party for delivering Brexit? Possibly.
As for their promise to eliminate the deficit by he middle of next decade, that is ten years after their initial goal of 2015. On top of that, the DUP deal has hardly made their promise any more realistic.
According to the BBC, each year’s deficit has been lower as a share of GDP than the previous year in the Conservatives’ time in power, but in 2016 it still stood at £57 billion. Add to that the new ONS figures saying that June 2017’s borrowing was £2bn higher than it was the same time the previous year, there is a strong sense that the Conservatives have lost their sense of fiscal discipline.
One traditional notion associated with the Conservatives is that they are the party of low taxes, but even this fundamental pillar of conservative ideology has been eroded. The 2015 manifesto committed the party to no tax rises, something which got Philip Hammond into a spot of bother when he proposed increasing NICs for self-employed workers before the election, suggesting the Conservatives are willing to raise taxes. Even under Cameron they lost their way on this, increasing VAT from 17.5% to 20% back in 2011, according to the BBC.
While they are not proposing tax rises on Labour's scale, it looks highly likely that some taxes will go up under this new government.
In government but in the wilderness
This LBC article points to nine U-turns since May came to power from social care to taking in refugee children. It’s a clear example of the Conservatives being governed in part by trying to make decisions and then changing their minds following a backlash from, primarily, the media.
While some of their U-turns will be viewed by many as the right decisions, their recent willingness to change their mind on key issues suggests that Conservative party is a machine for taking power no matter what, not a movement for delivering a set of policies based on a coherent group of principals.
A warning for the Conservatives
UKIP went from 13% of the vote to 2% of the vote in the recent election. Why? Because the core issue they stood for – Brexit – is on its way to being completed. Their job is done. Without a mission, British parties die. Once the Conservatives deliver Brexit, what next? Let UKIP's death be a warning to the Conservatives who are all over the place.
So much for strong and stable.
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