Labour plot to expose the myth of ‘compassionate conservatism’
The Labour party have got a plan. As plans go, it might lack the cunningness of one devised by Blackadder, but yet it may find success in its sheer simplicity. As revealed by the Observer last Sunday, the Labour party wants to hammer home the message that David Cameron’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ is very much a con and he is in fact every bit the traditional Tory Prime Minister.
The success in conveying such a message may in no small part rely on the willingness of the Lib Dems to reassert themselves within the coalition. Back in May, as the Labour party looked on aghast as the Conservative share of the vote held steady despite the promise of ‘cuts that Margaret Thatcher could only have dreamt of’, the Tory party rubbed their hands in glee. Even if not everyone was sold on the idea of compassionate conservatism, what with the trebling of tuition fees, a war on so-called benefit cheats that could lead to many thousands being left homeless and plans for the NHS that will lead us further down the road towards eventual privatisation, it mattered not to the Tories, as it was the Lib Dems who were getting all the flak for throwing away their morals in return for a seat at the top table.
Now though, having had time to mull things over during the summer holidays, the Lib Dems appear ready to strike up a radically different relationship with their coalition partners to the one that marked their first year in government. They appear to have finally woken up to the reality that in seeking to present all government policy as a product of agreement between themselves and the Tories, the Lib Dems were heading for electoral wipe-out. As such, it would seem that they have decided they’re going to make it much clearer where the divisions lie within the coalition.
On a whole host of issues, the Lib Dems are making it very clear where they stand before parliament resumes next week. On taxation, whilst the chancellor continues to search for the optimal moment to announce a withdrawal of the 50p tax rate, Danny Alexander used the summer holidays to declare that those who believed in such a move were living ‘in cloud cuckoo land’. Furthermore, in the past week the Lib Dems have reiterated their belief that new ways of taxing unearned wealth need to be considered and have also suggested that council tax should be altered to allow money to be redistributed from some of the richest councils to the poorest ones.
Nick Clegg also spoke out in defence of the Human Rights Act that gets so many Tory noses bent out of shape, Vince Cable has signed us up to the EU directive on agency workers resulting in even more on the right referring to him as the anti-business secretary and a whole host of Lib Dems have lined up to criticise the Conservatives for their disproportional response to the riots. Whether such outspoken remarks will continue to be the norm once there are regular cabinet meetings to attend is perhaps questionable but for now it does appear that the Lib Dems have rediscovered some of their more progressive principles.
Whilst the Libs Dems are busy trying to save their reputation their actions may well contribute to Labour’s plan of attack. The Labour leadership can shout from the rooftops all they like about the advances of the Tory right but whilst Nick Clegg was there, nodding along at David Cameron’s side, their voices were always likely to get drowned out. If two of the three main political parties in Britain agree on a policy and present it as progressive politics then they’ve got a decent chance of persuading the public that it is, no matter how regressive it may turn out to be in reality.
But if the Lib Dems have genuinely readjusted their gameplan then it could yet be the Conservative voices that fade into the distance. The Lib Dems showed that they were willing to pick a fight over the future of the NHS and with the health and social care bill one of the first items on the agenda when parliament returns we may soon have a clear indication as to where their priorities lie. As the Labour plan notes, the vast majority of the public still expect the state to play the pivotal role in the provision of key public services yet the Conservatives continue to push for further market exposure for such services. If the Lib Dems make it clear that they will reject any bill that subjects provision of care to European Competition law (which many claim this Bill still does) then Cameron and the Conservatives will be increasingly isolated in arguing for reforms that could undermine the founding principles of the NHS.
Ultimately though, the reason Labour may succeed in dissembling the idea of compassionate conservatism is because the Tory party seems intent on doing it for them. It’s hard to disassociate the Conservatives with the ‘nasty party’ tag when they’ve got MPs lining up to call for the return of the death penalty. It’s tough to believe that they’re truly committed to civil liberties when their natural reaction to the riots was to suspend all social networking sites. Compassion appears in short supply unless your name happens to be Coulson.