I spent some of yesterday with a group of Conservative members and activists. Their views on the government’s progress to date were interesting.
They are all pleased to see the end of Gordon Brown’s regime. They wanted an end to reckless spending and borrowing, and to the rash of political correctness and non jobs that characterised the dying months of the Labour government. They wish this new government well.
They refer to it as “them” not “us”. They have a number of messages for the leadership. The most common word they used to describe their reactions to events so far was “disappointed”.
I asked them why. Were they not pleased that the government has promised to tackle the deficit and to curb public spending? Yes, they welcomed that but they were critical that spending is going up on overseas aid and the European budget. They think more could be done more quickly to rein in excess and waste.
Were they not pleased that the government has said it will reform welfare? Yes, they were strongly in favour of that. They especially welcomed the decision to provide some high cap or limit on the amount of Housing benefit that can be claimed. Their concern was why it was taking so long to bring it in. Some expressed worries that the government might amend the proposals or back down.
Some were unhappy about the defence cuts. They would rather we pulled out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, to save the money on that venture, in order to preserve more of the procurement programmes. Many wanted the Harriers to be kept on for the carriers, and at least one wanted new early warning aircraft.
Many were unhappy about the recent decisions on EU matters. They wanted a referendum on the extra duties and spending of the EU, disliking the expanded diplomatic service. The one Lib Dem policy they liked, a referendum on the whole matter of the EU, is the one Lib Dem policy they notice that has not made it to the Coalition table.
All want to know from the leadership what distinctive Conservative programme will be developed for by elections and the next General Election. Fresh from their experiences earlier this year of making the case against Lib Dem candidates in local elections and the General Election, they need reassurance that there will be a distinctive set of policies to sell that show some difference from what a Coalition government can do.