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Monday, September 29, 2008 

Our new overlords.

If the Liberal Democrats' conference was overshadowed by "Meltdown Monday" two weeks ago, the Conservatives hardly seem to be cursing their luck for suffering the same fate. Even with the polls suggesting that Labour's conference, or rather, Gordon Brown's well-received speech, has given the government a boost, the edict from on high was obvious: try not to look too triumphalist.

Accordingly, even if the swinging dicks in the party are on the inside brimming with confidence which only the most expensive private education followed by Oxbridge can provide you with, their faces and actions must be the opposite: stern, determined, serious. It's almost reminiscent of a faintly apocalyptic sect that are constantly reminded that they are living in the last days, and that The End could come at any time; when it does, they must be ready, lest the outsiders be put off by their exuberance at being saved whilst all around them are set to burn in economic hellfire.

The deeply depressing thing, apart from that fact that all the banks are going to collapse tomorrow leaving us in a Threads-like future eating rats to survive, is that the Conservatives truly do look like the government in waiting. A party flush with cash and the knowledge that they probably already have the next election in the bag is always likely to be able to put such a powerful show on, but that it's so apparently natural is what digs in and inspires anxiety. Not only are they appealling aesthetically, but also on policy they are finally starting to cobble together something approaching the beginnings of a manifesto. Their plan to set-up an Office for Budget Responsibility to monitor government spending is one of those simple ideas which is all the more effective for it. The announcement that they will not build a third runway at Heathrow and instead opt for a high-speed TGV line between St Pancras and Leeds was a master stroke - pissing off all the right people while further underlining their "green" credentials. It's hardly likely to win over the real greens, but those worried about about the contribution of flying to CO2 emissions will likely be impressed.

Take as a further example George Osborne, who ought to be on an absolute hiding to nothing. He's young, resembles a caricature of the smarmy, upper-class snob that spent his tender years smashing up restaurants when he wasn't shovelling white powder up his nostrils, with a face so punchable it's a marvel that he hasn't got a broken nose and a good number of teeth missing, knows next to nothing about economics, and has all the charm (to this writer at least) of a self-portrait of Kate Moss drawn in lipstick and Pete Doherty's blood. Instead his speech was pretty much as good as it could have been: for a party that has been absolutely anonymous on the economic fall-out of the past two weeks, he came across as ready to take over the reins should become available. The message about the cupboard being bare with there being no possibility of sharing the proceeds of growth, as they promised and as Vince Cable mocked them for, with a recession about to bite may have been stating the obvious but was still jarring. He declared that the party was over, and while you somehow doubt that is by any means the thinking within the Tory party, he undoubtedly meant it. While acknowledging the party's own role in deregulating the City while encouraging the housing bubble, he attacked the bankers "partly responsible" harder if anything than New Labour has ever dared to or would dare to.

There was of course chutzpah along with the clarity, Osborne hilariously claiming that they were "not bedazzled and don't fawn over big money", just as a Dispatches documentary showed that a donation of £50,000 to the party brought membership to the Leader's Club, where they could argue the toss over Champagne with Cameron, but the right tone had been struck. It will though be the promise of a two-year council tax freeze that gets the headlines, despite the cupboard from where it was presumably pulled being bare. This has all the makings of being just as much a con as the inheritance pledge was, with many being under the illusion that they will benefit when they most likely won't, as councils will have to decide to take part, before you even bother to actually look at the figures. None of this though will matter, just as the IHT pledge didn't last year, as the Conservatives are getting away with their promises barely being examined, as Labour's invariably weren't prior to 97.

This was further apparent when Andrew Lansley stepped up to the lectern, holding forth on the NHS just as Osborne had stated that the party was over. His big promise was a single room for any patient who wanted one, despite the unlikeliness of there being any extra cash to deliver such a bold pledge. When you consider that the NHS cannot even currently deliver single-sex wards, this was the sort of unachievable ideal that the Tories would have once criticised, and which Labour would have been crucified for as yet more wasted spending. He had previously promised to end the constant reforms under New Labour by introducing even more reforms, but this time ones which will democratise, empower and free the staff, as if Labour hadn't sold their constant rejiggings on exactly the same buzzwords. The contradictory, contrary thinking would have been mocked normally, but these are not normal times, and with the economy taking precedence over everything, Lansley and the party will probably be glad that few will take much notice.

There's likely to be more such flummery tomorrow, when the favourite Conservative subject, the "broken society", will be the main topic. Dominic Grieve, fresh from attacking multiculturalism as he enters one of the most multicultural cities in the country, will apparently offer changes in the law to help "have-a-go heroes" who are supposedly being prosecuted for daring to interfere when they see crimes occurring, often highlighted by the tabloids who hardly ever report the full real story, such as when they were outraged by the man and son who were arrested after they performed a citizen's arrest on a boy who had err, allegedly committed a crime the day before. He will also look to change health and safety laws supposedly stopping the police from doing their jobs, highlighting the case of Jordan Lyon, which err, involved community support officers, and as this blog has previously noted, was not the scandal which it was made out to be, as the boy had already disappeared from sight when they arrived and the police themselves were there within a few minutes of that.

The underlings though have been thoroughly overshadow by Osborne, just as they will be also by Cameron. While Osborne ineffectively threw back the "novice" tag at Gordon Brown, something not shown in many bulletins, his "stop go" soundbite will have a struck a chord with those tired of a government which has just one strength remaining, the experience of Brown in a crisis. This, lamentably, may be the end of even that.

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Good analysis, can't help but agree.

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