Cameron's speech will do little to undo the Conservative Party's long-term declineby Robin McGhee / October 2, 2013 / Leave a comment
Do you remember last year’s speech? It was about making Britain an “aspiration nation.” This one was about making Britain a “land of opportunity.” It’s hard to see much difference between these slogans—which is the polite way of saying they are the same and that the Prime Minister doesn’t have any new ideas. This is perfectly reasonable—the basic state of the country hasn’t changed much since last year’s speech—but it gives the usual cheesy monologue a painful sense of the risen dead.
“Hardworking families” was a dead cert in the pre-speech banality bingo and it duly returned, harassing those of us too old, young or disabled to work or have families and irritating everyone else with its sweeping assumptions about what constitutes social success. It is a fitting end to a conference heavily dependent on excessive rhetoric to bring about the worst in opponents.
To his credit, Cameron did a great deal to make his speech a positive endpoint to this otherwise oppositionist mood. “Finishing the job is about more than clearing up the mess we were left”, he said. “It means building something better in its place.” This includes education and welfare reform. But crucially, Cameron’s “land of opportunity” theme can be contrasted with the predominant Conservative economic message of the last five years—cutting to reduce the deficit. Other than a tiny minority of obsessives who view excessive government spending as evil, this is not a positive message. It is not something to stand for, when voters want things they can see (schools, hospitals) rather than not want things they can’t (national budget deficits).
Whether this conference speech will herald a new positive message after its emphasis on aspiration is a matter of speculation, but given that it was the message of the last conference speech as well I am not very optimistic it will change anything. The 2012 message evaporated as the Tories returned unanimously to a single economic message of cutting the deficit, meanwhile allowing Vince Cable, the most left-wing member of the Cabinet, to set the national agenda for business.
But even if Cameron succeeds in creating a new feeling in Conservative economic rhetoric, he will merely be continuing the party’s long-term decline. The similarity of this speech to last year’s, its emphasis on economic…