As we see the scrabble from all political parties for the high ground in developing a new economic social position and an end to what Prime Minister David Cameron calls “crony capitalism” as opposed of course to “crony politics” it raises an interesting question,
“Has the Conservative Party really moved on from being the nasty party”?
I ask the question because we need to look at the history of events over the 10 years since Theresa May MP, when the then Chairwoman of the Conservative Party denounced the party’s inability to be:-
“Unrepentant and just plain unattractive”
Mrs May went on to say
“Yes, we’ve made progress, but let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a way to go before we can return to government. There’s a lot we need to do in this party of ours. Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies,
You know what some people call us: the nasty party,”
Of course this also has to be put into the context of the leader at the time, Iain Duncan Smith who many from all sides of politics recognise as a decent man who really does have a social conscience and has proposed far-reaching and radical ways to support millions of lower paid people and help get long-term unemployed back into work.
The Duncan Smith plans were supported by the current Prime Minister when in opposition only for it now to have been reneged on when in power as part of the demonization and exclusion of millions on the altar of political economic dogma, or what is comically referred to by the Conservative leadership up and down the country as the,
“We’re all in this together policy”
At the same conference in 2002 Oliver Letwin MP announced that it was weird that the Conservative Party continued to rely on white male MPs and politicians at all levels of Conservative politics. Looking at the political landscape in Northampton and Northamptonshire there doesn’t appear to have been much progress or change in position made in the last decade.
In 2002 the current Health Minster, Andrew Lansley MP was keen to rebadged the Conservative Party and change its name to ‘Reform Conservatives’ and in fact was so opposed to the ‘one nation – inclusive policies’ of Iain Duncan Smith that he refused to serve in his team preferring the more right-wing policies he is now advocating and implementing across the National Health Service led by a privatisation agenda.
There will undoubtedly be claims that some of the lucrative contracts end up with companies associated and linked to sitting Members of Parliament, though it will be stressed this will not be “crony capitalism” or even “cronyism between friends”
As history shows Iain Duncan Smith was replaced by party leaders all seeking to find a way to defeat the Labour Government and all failing for the simple reason that people were not sure whether they had truly moved away from the internal politics and division that made them unelectable and which kept them out of Government for over 13 years.
It meant that policies were developed focussing on how to be seen as a credible future administration and move away from the publics perception that Conservative politics were centred around the ‘demonising of minorities’ and lack of care and consideration for large sectors of the people, the elderly, the low wage earners and the vulnerable.
So what of the new-radical – reformed – Conservatives?
I was at the conference when David Cameron was elected as the Leader of the Party on the back of a speech in which he ‘reached out’ to the working and middle classes in what was in effect an old-fashioned “One Nation Tory” speech.
The problem is that it didn’t work as well as expected leading to the current coalition between the Conservative and Liberal Democrats where Members of Parliament and especially those who were not given a role in Government are showing their true colours and have taken to indulging in petty feuding, points scoring and sniping at each other.
It is more about indulging in smear campaigns against anyone who has the temerity to challenge them instead of getting behind their leader who at least delivered partial electoral success.
What we have also seen in the ten years since Mrs May made her speech is a rise in the number of Conservative “professional politicians” not only in Westminster but at a local level, people whose every waking moment and decisions are politically motivated, including I suspect even what they have for breakfast.
As a consequence of the professionalization of politics there has seen a rise in a raft of policies without any consideration of the impact on the public approach at all levels of Government, including those involved at Council level where the role is now seen by many as a stepping stone on the political path to Westminster.
It is the politics of always looking for someone else to put the blame for the consequences of their actions rather than taking a sensible, practical and balanced policy approach that puts the needs of the people at the centre of the decision making process.
Time will tell if the Conservatives are again seen as the ‘nasty party’ and it will be the public who decide as millions of people now face up to the consequences of the ten years of economic austerity that the Governments policies will bring.
It will also be interesting how of those who worked so hard to move away from the ‘nasty party’ form of politics actually stay involved with the party, many of who are incredibly decent, hard-working and very well-meaning people without whose support will see this as a one term Conservative administration.