Sunday, 16 May 2010

Prove to grassroots Liberals that Tories can be progressives too

I received a bit of a shock this Sunday morning over my breakfast of (uber-Liberal) muesli, chopped banana and natural yoghurt (plus a glass of cranberry juice, watered down to protect my teeth, of course).

Tucked into the middle of the Sunday Times' 6-page coalition special was a short article debating the fairness of the Alternative Vote (AV).  My shock was prompted by the estimated outcome of the General Election if it had been conducted under AV.  The caveat is that this is based only on sketchy polling data because there is no way of knowing, from the poll returns, any order-of-preference.  Yet it suggested that the Conservatives and Labour would have won 280 seats apiece and the Liberal Democrats a slightly improved 65 seats.

Yet, of course, this shouldn't be a shock at all.  We are informed ad infinitum by much of the press that the Liberal Democrats have more in common with the Labour Party than the Conservative Party.  This is the nub of the magnificent "progressive alliance" so vaingloriously cooked up by Labour's unelected cabal of Alistair Campbell, and Lords Mandelson and Adonis, on Monday (with no uncertain prompting from Sir Menzies Campbell, Lord Ashdown and Vince Cable).  Polls often confirm that Liberal Democrats are more left-wing than right-wing.  So much, so obvious.

Yet in this post-ideological, post-bureaucratic age, why shouldn't a progressive alliance be formed between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats?  After all, the two parties have consistently joined forces in opposing the steady erosion of civil liberties during the past thirteen years of Labour Governments.  ID cards are already on the scrap heap.  It was Gordon Brown's Labour that abolished the 10p tax rate; now it is the Liberal-Conservative coalition that intends to raise the lower threshold to £10,000.

Importantly, it is at the local level that Conservatives and Liberals are in the vanguard of offering choice and flexibility in public services, in direct contrast to Labour's command and control methods.

We are all full of good intentions.  Yet I doubt the Labour Party's instincts.  Their ways are being left behind by youthful, energetic Conservatives and Liberals at all levels of government in Britain, endorsing progressive methods to fulfil those good intentions.

Let me return to my original point about AV and second preferences.  If the Conservative Party is to be true to its progressive instincts and thrive in the 'new politics', then we need to earn the right to be the second preference of voters.  We live in still too partisan a country to be everyone's first preference (just see how the most unpopular government in living memory still managed to win nearly one-third of votes at the general election).

Let us prove to people at the grassroots level, and in particular our new Liberal Democrat partners, that we are a modern, progressive Conservative Party and that Labour lost its way by becoming too statist, dogmatic and untrustworthy of personal initiative and responsibility.  If we cannot do that, and AV comes into practice, then we risk oblivion.

Those in the Conservative Party who oppose the 'new politics' and progressive ideals, please remember this point the next time that you slip a comment to a pot-stirring journalist.

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