Yesterday I Tweeted “As a Conservative, I am unable to support the Coalition on Europe, climate, tax, defence, university admissions, Bombardier”. There wasn’t room in the Tweet, but I could have included foreign aid as well.
So what’s a Conservative MEP doing criticising such a broad swathe of policies from a Conservative-led government?
I have written about Europe and climate at great length elsewhere, so I won’t go over that again here, except to comment on Chris Huhne’s energy policy announcement earlier this week. He proposes a massive increase in offshore wind, additional to plans already announced, plus a curious subsidy structure consisting of a “market price adjustment”.
On off-shore wind, the Coalition’s 2020 target was already unachievable, and the new plan takes it to the far side of Fantasy Island. It won’t be achieved, and it seems he’s not planning adequate conventional back-up for days when the wind fails to blow. For both these reasons, there is now a real threat of power cuts towards the end of this decade — not a big attraction for UK inward investment.
His subsidy mechanism smacks of a top-of-the-head idea from a sixth form economics class. He’s falling into the “static model” fallacy, about which I have often written. George Osborne seems to believe that you can increase tax rates without altering tax-payer behaviour. Huhne appears to believe that you can pump in massive price subsidies linked to the “market price” without affecting the market price. But the subsidies will depress the market price, and so will cost Huhne and Osborne far more than they plan. We could end up with virtually nationalised energy.
And tax? I support Osborne’s robust approach to deficit reduction, but his retention of Labour’s 50% income tax rate (even temporarily) is economic folly and political cowardice. It will hamper enterprise, discourage inward investment, and reduce revenues. He should do the right thing, scrap it, and face down Ed Balls at the Dispatch Box.
On defence, we are doing exactly what Labour did — asking our over-stretched armed forces to do more with less. The Israelites in Egypt were required to make bricks without straw. We’re asking the same of our armed forces. We’re withdrawing from Afghanistan with our tails between our legs, because we no longer have the funds or the political will to see it through. Yet Cameron was keen to rush into his Libyan adventure. This smacks of a dangerous and naïve idealism. As the Bible puts it : “What king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?”. Yet that is what we seem to have done — we’ve entered conflicts without first assessing costs and outcomes.
The same dangerous, naïve idealism shows up in foreign aid. Here we are making heroic and unaffordable commitments with borrowed money, far in excess of other Western countries, when funds are desperately needed in the UK. We hope to bask self-righteousness and moral approbation, while at home our pensioners freeze in the winter.
On University admissions, we are contradicting our policy of localism. We are going for intrusive, top-down intervention which will lower standards, waste money, damage the economy long-term, and raise unrealistic expectations among less-able students. We already see massive drop-out rates in our second-rank universities. These can only get worse. I wore out my shoe-leather at the General Election precisely to get rid of Labour’s shocking social-engineering. Now we see it brought back by a Conservative-led government. Even Lord Patten, no rabid right-winger, has criticised the plans.
On Bombardier and the Thames Link rolling stock order (and forgive me for raising an issue local to Derby in my East Midlands Region), we have ministers wringing their hands and telling us that they had no option, given the previous government’s contract criteria and EU procurement rules. But if France and Germany can give such orders to their own national companies, why can’t we? We need the government to tell us how we can, not why we can’t.
So where does that leave me as a Conservative? Well I take it that I’m entitled to hang on to my conservative principles, even if this Conservative-led Coalition does not.
This post first appeared on ConservativeHome