Tories must guard against complacency and splits


Having been pleasantly surprised at their ability to form a majority government following the General Election in May, the Conservative Party must have thought all their Christmases’ had come at once when the Labour Party, post-election, inexplicably elected a new leader who has as much chance of walking into Downing Street as Prime Minister as I have of scoring a cup winning goal for Everton.

However, from basking in the glory of their main opposition’s collective suicide mission, the Tories must guard against complacency, and returning to the deep party splits that, in significant part, led to its downfall in 1997.

Europe, the Osborne austerity agenda and politicians egos will be the challenges that will face the government in what is now likely to be a ten years stretch in power.

This week’s Tory conference was the first in what will be a series of beauty contests for the leading role, as David Cameron somewhat prematurely announced he would be stepping down following his second stint in number ten.

The main contenders are Boris, Teresa May and George Osborne. With what many would describe as an impressive handling of the economy; his Northern Powerhouse initiative; and the general acceptance that he ran the successful election campaign back in the spring, the chancellor is clearly seen as the favourite.

However, the one thing history does tell us about the Tories is that they don’t often do the obvious when it comes to electing leaders – and favourites are usually left shell shocked as party members look for something a little bit different.

Margaret Thatcher came from nowhere to succeed Edward Heath in the mid-seventies. Heseltine and Portillo were much more favoured than Major and Hague. Who would have thought Iain Duncan Smith could win a raffle, never mind the top job as leader of Her Majesty’s official opposition, and David Cameron was the outsider when he succeeded Michael Howard.

If I was a betting man I would still put my money on George. But don’t write off the chances of lesser known candidates in the field, and keep a particular eye on business minister and West Midlands MP Sajid Javid.

Now Osborne Targets Labour’s Core Vote


Following a surprisingly low key Labour Party conference in Manchester last month most objective commentators quickly reached the conclusion that Ed Miliband and his team have decided that the ‘35% strategy’ is their best hope of winning the next General Election in May 2015.

This plan supposes that Labour can win a small, but workable, overall majority in the House with just a thirty odd per cent vote, such are the anomalies within our first-past-the-post electoral system, and the likelihood that the Tory vote will be split because of UKIP.

To this end we heard a lot from Labour about fairness, social justice, increasing the minimum wage, the NHS, and, lest we forget, sticking it to the ‘rich’ with a Mansion tax and the re-introduction of a 50p tax rate. We did not hear too much about the deficit, though Ed did mean to refer to it – he just forgot.

Targeting its core vote may not seem like the party is taking the principled high ground here, but as pragmatic strategies go, it seems a reasonable approach for the opposition to take.

It was more of a shock to hear Chancellor George Osborne target the same audience in his speech to the Tory faithful in Birmingham on Monday morning though – although he did so in a much less friendly manner.

Many of Labour’s natural supporters, 10 million families according to some reports, will suffer from a child benefit freeze, welfare cuts and a further period of austerity as the Conservatives try to tackle a budget deficit that has actually gone up on its watch during this parliament.

It was not the sort of pre-election give away that many have come to expect from the man who sits in number 11 Downing Street, but George is gambling that we believe the economy is still on the critical list, and must continue to be nursed back to health with another dose of hard-nosed austerity.

For the first time in many a year we appear to have some clear blue water between our two major parties, with not quite a return of ‘class war’ but certainly the threat of a skirmish.

It is oh so depressing, and gesture politics at its worse.

Labour know that a 50p tax rate will generate LESS not more revenue for HMRC. Independent research has consistently shown that at 50% people start to actively seek ways of legal tax avoidance, and I have to say, who can blame them?

The idea that the only people who earn six figure salaries are boy racer bankers and sweat shop bosses is an insult to this country’s entrepreneurs and indeed to the wider electorate.

Most of us in business, millionaires or not, work tirelessly and deserve the rewards we earn. It is absolutely right that we pay our fair share of tax, but taking half of someone’s income isn’t fair, and many of Labour’s core vote understand that. Chuka Umunna, Labour’s shadow business minister, is doing his best to balance his party’s anti-business narrative, but his task will get harder if the two Ed’s continue to cheer lead for the politics of envy.

Osborne too is being dishonest when he suggests that greater means testing and benefit freezes bring huge savings. He is as bad for helping to peddle the nonsense that everyone on benefits is a scrounger or a cheat as Labour is in trying to paint every millionaire as a wide boy. He is as likely to raise the money he claims he will accrue from his welfare budget proposals as Labour is from its planned 50p tax hike. Indeed, welfare reform, or more means testing, as introduced by the Coalition is costing us MORE not less.

The big saving in welfare spend is actually in pension provision. The problem for George and the Tories is that pensioners tend to vote – and most of them vote Conservative.

One of the criticisms I often hear of politicians and political parties is ‘they’re all the same’. Well, that can’t be said anymore. However, that other well-worn phrase ‘they’re all as bad as each other’ may be more accurate now than in many a year.