Sunday, February 28, 2010

Thoughts from the Train*: as you near your destination, the more you're slip sliding away...

There will doubtless have been some sensation of discomfort amongst Conservatives as they gathered in Brighton this weekend. As what looked like an unassailable lead has ebbed away, there has been little sign of Messrs Cameron and Osborne finding that special something that will stop the rot.

The supposed 'magic app' that was the offer of discounted bank shares to the public came and went without much more than criticism from sensible financial commentators, the talk of business tax cuts misses the point that it only affects companies, and not the majority of the public who are employed, and the cry of patriotism is forever dangerous - frankly, UKIP and the BNP will play that card far more overtly.

But let's not get carried away as we 'enjoy' witnessing the schadenfreude of leading Conservative bloggers and commentators. They are still in front, the polls in key marginals are apparently favourable, and they have lots of money. Labour's ability to shoot itself in the foot cannot be underestimated, and the breakthrough of consistent poll numbers above 20% still eludes the Liberal Democrats.

All of this said, I continue to be surprised by the sense that Conservative policy on the economy is so woolly. Everyone accepts that there will be tough decisions ahead on taxation and spending, and yet George Osborne and David Cameron waver between serious cuts in public spending and delaying their introduction, between promises of tax cuts and protestations that they can't guarantee to reverse NIC rises.

I understand the temptation to keep their powder dry, and whilst I was critical of the sheer vacuousness of their public utterances a year ago, I almost despair at their current inadequacy. With the serious media studying the choices with increasing vigour, there is that sense that whilst a good snake oil salesman might win an election, George Osborne isn't even that.

There is an irony here. Whilst David Cameron suggests that it is my patriotic duty to vote out Gordon Brown, I would suggest to him that it is my patriotic duty to elect and support a government that will fix the structural problems in our economy, create equality of opportunity and generally make me proud to be British. It is therefore his duty to persuade me that, if his lot win instead of mine, that they will at least make a decent fist of these things. At the moment, I am not convinced that I care enough to feel kindly towards either the blues or the reds. Given that I've suffered thirteen years of this increasingly incompetent government, that speaks volumes.

I do know what I might get if Labour discover competence. I have a nasty idea what I'll get if the Conservatives discover it too. If they discover compassion too, they might just salvage this...

* Peterborough to Stowmarket via Ely, for a change...

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