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The Tories need to talk
Liam Fox has certainly given the Tories something to talk about as they gather for the party conference this weekend. Everything that he wrote in his leaked letter to David Cameron is true: the Conservatives in opposition promised to be tough on defence; in government, however, they propose to degrade Britain’s military to the extent that it would be unable to repeat successful operations such as the one carried out in Sierra Leone. This government is determined at all costs to protect the NHS budget and spend more (borrowed) money on overseas aid — while the military’s budget is to be cut to pieces.
The Defence Secretary is understandably furious at the leak, which makes him look manipulative and underhand. Yet his letter does offer an intriguing glimpse of the tensions within the Conservative party. A poll of party members last year showed that they regarded defence as crucial. Nonetheless, they did not grumble when it became clear, in the run-up to the election, that it was not to be a priority — they kept quiet and unified.
But it is hard to argue that forsaking defence spending for the NHS led to stunning electoral success. Despite his personal appeal, Mr Cameron, let’s not forget, remains the most electorally unsuccessful Tory Prime Minister in history.
So why did the party win such a low share of the vote, in perfect electoral conditions? It is hard to find a Conservative party member without a theory. We must hope that Birmingham next week will provide the opportunity for a proper post-mortem.
The other parties are, after all, dissecting their own failures with great effect. Last week, the Labour party asked searching questions about its defeat and concluded (correctly) that it needed to address immigration, which, aside from the economy, is the issue that troubles voters most. The Liberal Democrats held a commendably frank discussion about their commitment to so-called free schools — with Sarah Teather (now Michael Gove’s deputy) running the gauntlet of 14 fringe meetings, seeking to persuade sceptical party activists of her case.
Now it’s the Conservatives’ turn, and they must resist the temptation to sweep uncomfortable issues under the carpet of the coalition.
First, Europe. Now that cost of our EU
membership has soared from £3.1 billion last year to £8.3 billion in 2012–13, the Conservatives must address the issue. In these austere times (when even our defence capabilities are being slashed), it is important to ask whether this represents value for money.
Next, prisons. Ken Clarke has said that he has little faith in prison, and advocates reducing the number of prisoners. Might he care to explain his case to party members who campaigned on the opposite message?
Then we have the problem of Scotland, where the Conservatives are in danger of being made a protected species. There was no Tory revival north of the border last May. Is it time to return to the pre-1967 arrangement where a separate Unionist party was allied to, but not controlled by, the Conservatives?
The tensions within this government are not between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but between Tories of different temperaments. Failing to discuss these issues won’t resolve them — instead, the tensions will only grow.With four years until the election, the Conservatives can afford a little frank debate.
Was Emma Thompson right to berate a group of schoolgirls this week for saying ‘like’ and ‘innit’? Many Spectator readers would, we imagine, have cheered her on. It is annoying the way today’s teenagers pepper their speech with ‘like’ and put ‘innit?’ at the end of each sentence.
But if Miss Thompson is determined to improve articulacy, she is attacking the wrong target. After all, English is mistreated in many other more perni
What’s not to like cious ways — and by adults, not children. Look at what ‘management speak’ is doing to the mother tongue. It is common today to hear grown-ups using impact as a verb — ‘The recession is impacting our profit margins’ — and adding going forward at every opportunity in order make themselves sound progressive. Modern businessmen (and women) also now say ‘touch base with’ when they mean ‘speak to’, and even talk about ‘pre-preparing’ things. The list of horrors can be extended indefinitely.
Perhaps the most depressing thing is that management speak is no longer restricted to managers. Ed Miliband, the new Labour party leader, may ‘speak human’, but — as Dot Wordsworth notes on page 16 — he doesn’t always speak English. He says ‘commit’ when he shouldn’t, and insists on introducing each point with ‘Let’s be honest’. Before we start picking on adolescents, we should examine the language of our leaders. Innit?
the spectator | 2 October 2010 | www.spectator.co.uk