Belated musings on the Queen's Speech
Well, there has been much said about the Queen's Speech made earlier in the week. I think I have to agree with all the pundits and critics who say that it is the opening salvo in the General Election campaign, and from that point of view it's terribly interesting.
For me it raises the fundamental question of what New Labour is and how the Tories can fight them and win. That, after all, is the only real reason for the dire position the Conservative Party is now in. Having lost all the arguments in the 80s and 90s, Labour's response was largely simple, from a strategic point of view, to begin with. It needed to adapt to the new political environment by 'out-Torying' the Tories. It needed to take symbolic steps to further a public perception of the Labour party as one which could manage a broadly capitalistic economy. That it did, and successfully, albeit aided by such unfortunate occurences as Black Wednesday, evoked, I believe, even this week in a Labour Party television broadcast.
They have subsequently defined themselves largely negatively. They are everything the Tories would be, but not the Tories. They don't really want to raise taxes, but they like schools'nhospitals. The Queen's Speech just represents the next stage of this process. A masterly attempt to be tough on crime and appear to be ensuring an orderly society, again camping out deep in Conservative territory. The challenge for the Conservatives is to work out how to beat them, and that is a very complex question. At the moment they are shut out of the game, by a strategically super-skillful Labour.
One answer could be, that aside from a puerile lust for party politics there is no need to replace them. They are doing the job the Tories would do otherwise. Is this true though? I hope it's not, and don't believe it is. On all the big issues they seem to be easily tagged as 'Tory' but on many other smaller, less obvious issues, there is the same stamp of the left which Tories are so opposed to. The social engineering proposed in universities, little bans here and there, burdening business with micro-management 'in the interests of the country, deconstruction of our national framework and incremental stealth taxes are all distinctly disturbing issues and represent a greater swathe of management about which it is right to be dissatisfied. Each on their own is hardly fashionable and isn't going to win an election.
So it could be that a brand new strategy is needed. Or it could be that even more 'Conservative' policies will attract people by the choice. I have little truck with this, as people aren't attracted by shocks and because Labour has put up its tent where it has for good reason. Or it could be that nothing can be done, until the negatives of Labour's mistakes begin to hit home with people, apart from organising and trying to appear constructive and electable (easier said than done with the party political-based pressure to find the 'solution'). I suspect it is a mixture of these. I also suspect that, unwittingly, the Queen's Speech and the forthcoming election battle could provide an option for such a new solution though.
There is an inherent conflict at the heart of Conservatism, between the desire for freedom and liberty and the desire to create an ordered society. This is summed up, and indeed threatened, by the 'war on terror' and Blair's proposals. For me, it represents the ideal opportunity to set up shop on Blair's land; to allow the public to see the Tories counter-intuitively and to provide a genuine choice for Labour. It would require clever politics to say to Britain that you can provide security and increased safety from terrorist attacks without removing serious liberties, but it could be just the sort of clever politics which is needed, shutting out the LibDems too. That, indeed, removing these liberties probably won't make people any safer, and probably isn't necessary. That the Tories had no need for ID cards when they were fighting home-grown terror from the IRA. That, far from friends with Bush, which Howard clearly isn't, you don't need to be a US poodle to deal with the US and to fight terror. That there is a clear choice here. That the practical, thoughtful approach which many in the UK judged so approvingly in Kerry, who also supported the war, can be applied in Britain too. In so doing the Conservative Party could do to Blair, what Blair did to the Tories. Whether it's a poll winner, I am sceptical. It would certainly give the Tories some narrative and some clear blue water come election time.
After all, fairly uninformed about domestic US issues, it seems clear that it was Kerry's approach to foreign affairs and the war on terror which won the minds of many in the UK. The only alternative is to continue criticising Blair for being Blair, but that's not going to get supporters back to loving the Tories. Pragmatically liberal gives them an identity without betraying their roots a la Blair.