George Freeman: We Need A New Chairman And Team At CCHQ To Lead A Radical Programme Of Conservative Renewal



  There has been much imaginative thinking under George Osborne in some policy areas.  The switch from taxation of families to pollution is sensible if not universally popular.  Tax simplification, the abolition of inheritance tax cut for everyone except millionaires and a commitment to new technologies across Whitehall are all very welcome.  The overall Tory economic programme is very cautious, however.  Although Britain has seen the state grow more quickly than during any other peacetime period George Osborne is pledged to continue Labour's spending splurge - at least until 2010/11.  There has also been a retreat from making the supply-side case for lower taxation.  Overall rating: Tortoise.

Home affairs and Justice.

Police reform (including elected police chiefs), a deregulation of stop and search, a major prisons building programme, the end of the Human Rights Act as we know it and a variety of other reforms to the criminal justice system put the two departments headed by David Davis and Nick Herbert at the heart of Tory radicalism.  Within these portfolios we also have promises to control immigration from outside the EU and a significant shift away from an authoritarian approach to civil liberties.  The parts sometimes seem bigger than the whole but the overall message from the Tories on these issues is convincing - particularly because it is wedded to David Cameron's commitment to tackle the social factors that make young people vulnerable to crime.  Overall rating: Hare (but narrative needed).

Foreign affairs.

William Hague is deservedly one of the shadow cabinet's most popular figures.  He is this generation's most accomplished public speaker and a great asset to the frontbench.  But few portfolio-holders exhibit more caution.  Eurosceptics do not believe that the party will radically alter its relationship with the EU should the Tories win the next General Election.  William Hague is known to regard the European issue as something like a bomb sitting at the heart of the party.  The bomb is currently stable and is best left where it is so as not to risk an explosion.  William Hague is happy to discuss the referendum issue but lacks a vision for the EU.  Some good things have been said about human rights but there's little beef (yet) behind the words.  The Cameron Conservatives and McCain Republicans have so much in common but on foreign policy - UN reform, the Iraq troops surge and support for Israel - there is a large gulf.  Overall rating: Tortoise.


  Michael Gove's commitment to the Swedish model of supply-side schools reform is genuinely radical although hard to communicate on the doorstep.  If enacted it could revolutionise the British education system by introducing serious competition for the first time.  Other measures - grammar streams in every school, new freedoms for headteachers to tackle ill-discipline and traditional teaching methods - are less radical but clearer vote-winners.  Overall rating: Hare.


Few departments have more closely followed the "reassurance, reassurance, reassurance" model.  One of David Cameron's commitments during his leadership bid was to drop the patient's passport and he has repeatedly professed his support for the NHS ever since - mounting a vigorous campaign opposing Labour's "cuts".  Oppositionally the Conservatives have also done well on MRSA, junior doctors and the NHS computer.  There will be changes under a Conservative government - particularly on preventative healthcare; a passion of Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley - but continuity will be marked.  Overall rating: Tortoise.

Work & Pensions:

The year began with bold welfare reforms from Chris Grayling.  The reforms included action on incapacity benefit and Jobseekers' Allowance in particular.  Much of Mr Grayling's action plan was based on advice from Iain Duncan Smith's social justice policy group.  IDS favours a much bigger role for private and voluntary groups and the family in caring for the vulnerable.  The extent to which Chris Grayling moulds a reform agenda based on civil renewal will ultimately decide the hare/ tortoise status of this policy area.  Overall rating: Hare vulnerable to afternoon snoozing.


Lots of bold thinking from Liam Fox - particularly on energy security - and some very welcome commitments to improve the care of servicemen and their families.  Dr Fox has not yet been given the freedoms he would need, however, to shape a very different approach to defence issues.  Overall rating: Hare sat on by tortoise.


David Cameron has definitely captured the middle class mood on the environment - propelling the issue to the top of the news agenda.  Most of the difficult decisions - on taxation of air travel, for example - have so far been avoided, however.  Expansion of the nuclear industry was initially labelled as a 'last resort' to please green lobby groups but the Tory position on the issue is now indistinguishable from the Government's.  The Gummer-Goldsmith report on green issues is gathering dust on one of Oliver Letwin's shelves.  Will it ever get dusted off?  Overall rating: Hare-like thinking, tortoise-like action.

Other hare-like policy ideas:

English votes for English laws (Nick Herbert).  Sharing the BBC licence fee (Jeremy Hunt).  A new settlement on homeland security and with British Muslims (Goodman, Neville-Jones, Warsi).  Incentivisation of communities to accept housing developments (Shapps).  General commitment to decentralisation (across portfolios) including the proposal to give local voters a power of veto on large council tax rises.

Slowest tortoise of all:

Transport policy (Villiers).

In conclusion:

Although we believe that there is an overall need for more boldness we don't advocate radicalism in every portfolio.  Conservatives can't fight on too many fronts and no shadow cabinet minister should rush into ill-considered boldness.  It's also true that time is on the Conservatives' side.  The next General Election is at least one year away. It'll most likely be held in 2010.  This post is only an interim statement. Tortoise-like departments still have time to get bold.

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Source : http://conservativehome.blogs.com/torydiary/2008/02/a-portfolio-by.html

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