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Wednesday, October 02, 2013 

Land of misopportunity and Tory.

If there's just one thing to be taken from this year's Tory conference, it's that the supposed natural party of government is stuck in a quandary.  Far from the predictions this week would see one half of the coalition in a buoyant mood, the economy finally growing in what looks to be a sustainable manner, if anything the Lib Dems had a more enjoyable week up in Glasgow, which is really saying something.  Having installed Lynton Crosby as pedlar of lowest common denominator Conservatism and statements of the bleeding obvious, for which see the highly questionable "achievements" plastered all over the walls in Manchester, the more thoughtful are quite rightly wondering how resorting to a core vote strategy this early in the electoral cycle is going to win the party the increased share of the vote they need to form a majority government in 2015.  It didn't work in 2005, exactly the reason why Cameron tried to shift his party towards the centre in 2010.

Regardless of the show they put on for the cameras, the party is also clearly worried about Ed Miliband and Labour.  After the party's wretched summer, they didn't expect Miliband to pull the energy prize freeze policy out from seemingly nowhere.  Nor was the party helped when the big six then spat their dummies out, their pathetically petulant outbursts threatening blackouts persuading no one, while the fact the markets fell due to the potential for a cut in their profits made clear they regard a Labour victory in less than 2 years a very real possibility.  Whether or not the policy would work in practice doesn't matter for now, just as it didn't matter when Osborne pulled his inheritance tax stunt back in 2007 as Gordon Brown dithered over calling a snap election.  Thanks to the Mail's startlingly cackhanded attempts to do the Tories' dirty work for them, Miliband's battle with the paper has also overshadowed their big week, leading bulletins while their turgid mastications have been well down the running order.

Just how many of the continuous attacks on Labour emanating from the platform were written well in advance and how many were hastily pasted in after the opposition's successful week in Brighton is difficult to tell.  The vicious and entirely partisan nature of the relentless assaults have though taken even me by surprise: every single main speaker has either peppered their entire address with screeds of blame, or dedicated at least one section to doing so.  According to Jeremy Hunt, everything that went wrong with the NHS during Labour's last term was the fault of Andy Burnham, even as the coalition kept on the NHS chief executive who actually was in charge during the crisis in care at Mid Staffs hospital.  Eric Pickles found it hilarious to create a parallel universe in which Labour had gone into coalition with the Lib Dems, except instead of the "land of opportunity" we're now entering, in this opposite dimension the country was, naturally, in rack and ruin.  George Osborne meanwhile, when not setting out how he'd run a budget surplus despite failing to succeed in eliminating the deficit in the timescale Alistair Darling initially planned to, was blaming Labour entirely for the crash, not mentioning how he and his party pledged to match the government's spending plans they now maintain caused it in the first place.

The prime minister's speechwriters however saved the worst for last.  No one quite seems to want to say it, but regardless of how incongruous it sounds (and is, considering his £139 bread maker), Cameron's conference addresses mark him out as the poor man's Tony Blair.  Blair's great skill was in making in either a mediocre or dreary speech sound good; everyone had forgotten everything in it the next day, but it worked at the time.  Cameron can't even reach those levels, as his speeches are erased from the memory within minutes; I had to look up what he said last year to recall any of it.  Compare that with Miliband, who has improved his delivery and message year on year, while you can actually remember what he said (predatory capitalism; one nation; Britain can do better than this) and it rather shows the prime minister up.

Indeed, it's as if he wasn't even trying.  Two thirds of the speech can be summed up as "The Evil That Labour Did", which three and a half years in is really getting tiresome.  The other third was boilerplate Thatcherism, Britain is booming, land of hope and Tory, very well alone self-improvement aspirational heard it all before claptrap.  Cameron doesn't come across so much as a prime minister as Bob the Builder crossed with Tom Cruise's character from Magnolia.  Can we build a land of opportunity? Well, it'll be tough, but together we can tame the cunt!

A case in point is how for the second time Cameron felt he needed to respond to a Russian minister describing Britain "as a small island that no-one pays any attention to." Anyone truly comfortable with our position in the world would ignore such petty cat-calling from an authoritarian state; Cameron by contrast reeled off a point by point rebuttal, and as per spouted bullshit back, seeming to suggest we were the first to introduce women's suffrage (we weren't) and that we offered "blood, toil, tears and sweat" when "freedom was in peril".  The Russians may not have been fighting for their own freedom, but they sacrificed more than any other nation state to destroy the Nazi war machine.

His real failure though was that he had no answer to Miliband. The leader of the one time party of small business misrepresented his opponent's espousal of cutting their tax by putting up corporation tax on large corporations by a whole one percent, claiming it would make them look elsewhere, while he didn't so much as attempt to defend the "spare room subsidy" or that his global race is one straight to the bottom. There was nothing for those struggling to make ends meet in his glorious land of opportunity other than the same empty aspiration he's resorted to before.  That he then pretty much abandoned the under-25 vote by presenting further conditions and an end to housing benefit as "tough love, learn or earn" exemplifies how far removed his party has become from the young.

For all the talk of Miliband shifting Labour to the left, which is extremely questionable when he's signed up to the coalition's spending plans for the first two years after the election, the real story ought to be how far the Tories have attempted to take the country to the right, and certainly would given the opportunity.  Despite their denials, the only way to get a surplus would be either further cuts or tax rises. While the latter can hardly be ruled out when the IFS suggests the deficit can't be reduced without either lifting the ring fences or doing just that, the lie was given today with the announcement on housing benefit.  Combined with the pledge to repeal the human rights act, and presumably withdraw from the ECHR, the use of old racist sentiments on billboards, the commitment to never-ending workfare for the unemployed and the open pursuit of a housing bubble for short-term political gain, the spectre of a Conservative win in 2015 ought to chill the marrow.  Thankfully, and precisely because of the strategy the party is pursuing, that looks just as unlikely as before.

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