August 4, 2002


Tories need a big idea (Ed Vaizey, August 2, 2002, The Guardian)
In the 1980s the Tories were taking on massive vested interests - privatising nationalised industries, battling the unions, allowing council tenants to become property owners. It was a time of flux, with the liberal establishment carping on the sidelines and an ineffectual Labour opposition reaping the benefit every so often.

But the Tories find themselves, in confronting this government, without big issues being debated or a coherent intellectual idea to attack. In the absence of a major
ideological divide, the Tories must play a more subtle game. Their dilemma, and the difficulty they have in playing their hand, is illustrated by last month's Comprehensive Spending Review. Most commentators say that, as public spending takes off, this should be an open goal for the Tories. But it is not that simple. If the Tories oppose it wholesale, they will be embedded on the twin horns of aspiration and reality. No one likes to be seen to be cutting public spending, and there will be nothing to cut in any event as Labour's plans are now bedded in beyond the next election.

This real difficulty for the Tories is, perversely, where they will find their salvation. The perennial question asked by left and right alike - "Is Tony Blair a Tory?" - harks back to a threat that is now dissipating. The traditional divide between the left and the right had always been between the size of the state and the needs of the individual. Blair's third way was the first time a Labour leader had tried to cross that divide and acknowledge that the state had its limits. Five years into a Labour government, this vision is not a reality. The partnership between individual and state has become a bear-hug embrace.

The Tories problem is nearly summed up in that one phrase : "No one likes to be seen to be cutting public spending". Why have a conservative party if they don't want to cut public spending especially in a state that's as bloated as Britain? Posted by Orrin Judd at August 4, 2002 11:44 AM
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