October 7, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Before I comment on David Cameron’s speech (to read it click here) – I was struck by these three responses:
Jane Merrick (Political Editor of Independent on Sunday) commented: “Labour’s gigantic problem: why did I, from a Liverpool comp, who voted for Blair & never voted Tory, agree nearly every word of PM’s speech?”
A former Labour politician to a BBC journalist – “David Cameron is speaking to our voters because Labour is no longer doing so.”
James Hallwood (left-wing blogger): “I’m tribally Labour, I’ve fought for the Party since childhood and I’m nodding along to so much of this speech. Big problem”
On a personal note, I never thought I would hear a Conservative leader speak like David Cameron until many years ahead. It was a true “One Nation” speech, which was “One Nation” enough not to need to go on about being “One Nation”. It accepted that the Conservatives as the governing party really had to launch an all-out assault on poverty, and was politically interesting for an important reason, summed up by the three quotes above.
With the Labour Party deciding to vacate the centre ground of politics, Cameron had a few choices. He could either worry about the lack of discipline of right-wing Eurosceptic Conservative MPs who might agitate far more now they were less in need of worrying about keeping their seats – feeding them meat of harder line right-wing policies. OR he could move onto that centre ground, firmly planting the Conservative Party’s flag in the minds of voters there, reminding them that they now had no-one to vote for unless they so far left-wing that they would never vote Conservative anyway.
Labour party activists would have been praying for the first option. But that was really done by Theresa May yesterday, who delivered an almost kamikaze speech on immigration that was either attacking her own record of lack of control on immigration or pointing out the lack of control she has on immigration because of our place in Europe meaning we cannot do anything about the freedom of movement of workers. This means May’s speech was either an anti-EU screed, positioning herself as a right-wing candidate, or jumping off a cliff for her leader so he didn’t have to.
Instead, we got option two. Cameron pointed out that the UK has the lowest social mobility in the developed world (the rate of people moving to a higher income bracket than their parents) – “Here, the salary you earn is more linked to what your father got paid than in any other major country,” he said.
Cameron also devoted a significant section of his speech to tackling “discrimination” against gay people and ethnic minorities – pointing out how CVs with white-sounding names got a better response – saying “you cannot have true opportunity without equality”. (Click here and here to read about this phenomenon).
He didn’t talk much about the policies which would address these two issues, yet the fact that a Conservative PM was talking openly about them is noteworthy.
The PM also vowed to tackle the housing crisis – “When a generation of hard-working men and women in their 20s and 30s are waking up each morning in their childhood bedrooms – that should be a wake-up call for us,” Mr Cameron told the audience. There was a policy idea for this one – with property developers, instead of being made to offer affordable homes to rent, would have to provide affordable homes to buy for first time buyers under 40, with capped prices, a rule that the houses can’t be sold on for five years, and the point made that first time buyers wouldn’t be able to access mortgages on those homes that would facilitate property speculation (so wouldn’t be able to buy-to-let).
Significant among this is a theme I have mentioned before. This speech again proves that it is possible to have influence on politics and the policies of the government even if you are the losing party. Much of this speech could have been delivered by Ed Miliband, and it is possible that the way that Miliband focused so hard on inequality during his time as Labour leader really has ‘changed the conversation’ in a way that might not have happened with a more centrist leader.
There were other interesting portions of the speech, interspersed with some rather infantile carping at Labour, including the false and essentially libelous and completely out of context claim that Jeremy Corbyn called Osama Bin Laden’s assassination a “tragedy” – when the context was that Corbyn believed that Bin Laden should have been put on trial, as killing in return for the killing Bin Laden inflicted was not something Western Democracies should be doing if they want to model democratic behaviour.
But all in all – this speech was best described as one that Tony Blair would have been proud to have made. Yes, THAT Tony Blair. The one who won three elections. That’s why Labour supporters are worried.