Wednesday, 7 October 2009

"Honest George" sets out stall

The Tories are a pretty gloomy lot. You wonder why, when they're so far ahead in the polls. But I've been watching their conference, and I'm hearing a lot about "broken Britain", "broken families", "broken society" and "broken communities".

I'm not one of life's pessimists and I don't find this negative interpretation of some of the social problems affecting our communities to be very compelling. True - there are shocking inequalities that need remedying. There are particular areas in our country where the challenges in removing inequalities and tackling social problems are particularly tough. But responsible politicians should look beyond all the gloom and put forward practical solutions.

The Tories seem more concerned with blaming Labour for creating a "broken society" than they are about fixing society. They're happy to tell us that the Blair/Brown legacy is teenage crime, drug abuse and a cynical, uncaring society. They have no problem in manipulating people's insecurities and fears - after all, it's easier to do that than actually take responsibility.

The Tories have entrenched views in regards dealing with poverty and social problems. From what I've seen of the conference so far, they also have very entrenched views on education (the "traditional" approach apparently fits all) and on the economy. It started with Boris Johnson praising bankers and speaking out against regulation, showing just how in touch he is with the views of British voters. In a throwback to the ideology of Thatcher, he supported low taxation and light regulation for the financial sector while backing cuts and pay freezes for other workers.

Then George Osborne took up the mantle. Mr Osborne was at pains to paint himself as the "honest man" of British politics. "We're all in this together" he said, referring to the economic situation. He called for a public sector pay freeze, which has drawn criticism from the Unions. He pledged to save £3billion by cutting departmental budgets, to ensure that child trust finds and tax credits will only go to the poorest families and to cut the cost of government.

There's also the targeted reduction of those in receipt of incapacity benefit. While I recognise that many people are trapped by the benefits system and that reform is necessary, the right approach is to regularly re-assess every case on its own merits - not to make arbitrary targets in this way.

It will be interesting to see what the public make of this. Mr Osborne's main argument was that there can be no easy decisions. However, the fact that the Tories still find public sector workers easy targets and have ruled out tax cuts for the wealthy only in the short term suggests that, despite this "honesty" from Mr Osborne, they're still the same old Tories.

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