When I started out in Politics in 1998, I was in my mid-fifties, yet I often found myself at Conservative functions where I was more-or-less the youngest person. But last night, arriving at the Brussels Conservatives Abroad event, I was alarmed to see that everyone else seemed to be less than half my age. I was relieved when my old mate Wilfred Aspinall arrived, because he’s (let me be careful here!) getting on for my age, and I felt a bit less like Methuselah.
The venue was Il Cavalino in Rue Franklin, just round the corner from the the European Commission’s monster Berlaymont building, and pizza was on the menu.
I’d been invited to speak on “The Coalition: Status and Prospects”.
I’d tried to make a check-list of policy areas where we’re doing well, and those where we’re doing less well. On the plus side, I listed George Osborne’s achievement in giving a degree of credibility to the UK’s finances in the view of international markets, and thus managing to keep borrowing rates tolerable. And I admired his skill in delivering cuts (well, not really cuts, but reductions in expectations) with the least possible damage — as illustrated by the recent local election results.
I commended the IDS approach to welfare, recalling Simon Heffer’s aperçu that “We have an underclass because we’ve decided to pay for one”. Well done IDS for deciding not to pay for it any longer, and to restore the link between income and work.
I commended Michael Gove’s work on education, which I believe will transform our schools — though I criticised the government’s outrageous Lib-Dem-sponsored interference in university admissions policy in the name of social engineering.
And I gave two cheers to Andrew Lansley on health, although regretting that we seem to be back-pedalling fast. Later, other speakers expressed concern about the extent to which the proposed NHS reforms passed power and funding to the producer interest — the doctors — rather than to the patients/clients.
Then came the downside. We haven’t repealed the Hunting Act. We haven’t repealed Labour’s pointless and damaging 50% tax rate, or the Non-Dom tax. We’re continuing Labour’s policy of asking the Armed Forces to do too much with too few resources (I’m with Liam Fox on this — if we have £3 billion to spare, it should go to defence, not foreign aid).
Our proposals for a 50% CO2 emissions reduction are preposterous, undeliverable and ruinous. Our climate policies in general will pauperise our children — we already have chemical companies like Ineos threatening to close businesses in the UK and move off-shore. We are deliberately exporting investment and business and jobs. And our policies on Europe are supine. Is the Conservative Party a British centre-right party? Or merely a European social democratic party? The jury is still out.
Meantime, let’s just be grateful at least that the Party still regards Brussels as “Abroad”.