Peter Mandelson comes over as a little rattled today in the Guardian with his personal attack on George Osborne. Yesterday George made it more difficult for him, by refusing the BBC’s request to spell out the numbers “behind the cuts” so Labour could go back to playing their childish and boorish spin game of “Labour investment versus Tory cuts”. Not even the BBC’s spin dominated interviewers could get the necessary ammunition out of Mr Osborne, who understood exactly what they wanted and knew he was in enemy territory when in the BBC studio.
Despite the usual Labour noises off steering the interviews, George did get across three crucial messages. We face a spending crisis, not a crisis of taxing too little. The way out of it is doing more for less. The way out has to encompass fundamental public service reform, as well as driving for much greater efficiency. Gordon Brown has always been the roadblock to reform, including the welfare reform that Labour failed to achieve in their first term , and their health and education reforms which Blair, Milburn and others wanted but failed to put through in the following two terms.
So let us look at what becoming the progressive party, the party of public sector improvement and reform, means. It means showing that Conservatives wish to govern in the interests of all the people. We do not wish to divide the country into a privileged public sector and the rest. We do not wish to heighten class divides, pick on groups like motorists or financial service personnel for special taxes and condemnation, or create a client state at the expense of everyone who supports themselves and their families. We do not regard it as a crime if you work for yourself, make profits in your business, save for a pension, drive to work, want to send your child to a better school, want to run a cake stall at a local fete, put out your rubbish for collection weekly or improve your home.
In the 1980s we took over responsibility for a near bankrupt quite poor country which had been gravely damaged by Labour economic mismanagement. I proposed popular capitalism. The idea was to offer people a stake in their country. We needed to harness the energy, goodwill and savings of many British people to bring about economic recovery, and to rebuild the social fabric. We launched portable pensions, more employer based private pensions, shareholdings in privatised companies, employee share schemes, worker buyouts of public enterprises and Council house sales. We created new armies of owners, people with a stake in the country, people who wanted to take a pride in their home or their business, people who wanted some idependence from the state. Labour of course rubbished it and caricatured it, but it proved popular. The big privatisations transformed telcoms and energy production, cutting prices and improving service. National Freight went from strength to strength when the lorry drivers and their managers bought it from the government. BY the time Labour took over we had more shareholders and much more saved for retirement than the rest of Europe put together.
Today the vision we need to offer has to be even bigger. The state is closer to bankruptcy, the public finances are in a much worse condition, and society is broken in many places. We need to offer people a hand up, not a hand out. We need to tackle too much dependency on the state. We need to remind people that they can be better off and feel better about themselves if they are freer of state interference. We need welfare reform, as the best way of looking after the family’s financial needs is a job. We need educational reform, to end the apartheid of private and state schools, whilst ensuring free places for all who want them. We need health reform. We have to show we can do more for less, as private industry has to do every year to stay in business.We need transport reform, as our economy and our daily lives are badly impaired by the inadequacies of Labour’s politically correct transport mess.
I will be writing about each of these in turn in the days that follow.