As readers will know, I have no great love for the Tories, but I do think they are the least bad option among the major parties, and the only ones who are at all likely to roll back the state.
In a recent article for Critical Reaction, Graham Stewart laments the sorry situation that the Conservative party, and the general public, now face:
The issue is scarcely that the Conservatives will win more votes – and probably more seats – than Labour. That is hardly an ambitious aspiration after thirteen years in opposition and facing a Labour leader who competes with Ted Heath as the most charmless man ever to occupy 10 Downing Street. Rather, the extraordinary likelihood is that the Tories will struggle to form an administration despite Brown presiding over the longest recession since records began.
We should not forget that there was nothing inevitable about the tightness of the polls. In the early stages of what was then known as the ‘credit crunch,’ the onset of bleak times appeared to seal the deal between the Conservatives and the voters. By the summer of 2008, the party had topped 45 per cent in the polls with a landslide winning 20 per cent lead over Labour. A year later, the Tories were down towards 40 per cent but still 15 per cent ahead.
If the Big State is the solution then heaven only knows what is the question. Public spending had already increased to 43 per cent of GDP when the banking crisis began – a significantly larger share than when Clement Attlee was Prime Minister. Given that in 1950 the country was recovering from a hugely expensive world war and much of heavy industry had been nationalised, the prudence of the Attlee government seems remarkable compared to Brown’s grip on finances.
That the state’s size across large areas of the UK now outstrips its share in Eastern European countries during Communism ought to be the scandal of the age. Instead, the argument appears to be gaining popular currency that our recovery is threatened if this supremacy of the state is reduced. If this is so, then truly the political culture of these isles has shifted remarkably in recent times and in a direction that is extremely worrying for the chances of a Conservative government winning a mandate for fundamental change. For, if the public are no more in the mood for retrenchment in the bad times than they were in the good then they were never Thatcher’s children after all.
Talking to friends and colleagues, I am amazed at how few are concerned by the size of our public sector. The future looks bleak. I wish I had offloaded more Sterling.