Yesterday, Cameron’s Conservatives launched their manifesto for the general election 2010. I was considering doing some sort of live blog but, frankly, I had a hangover so couldn’t be bothered. Instead I decided to wait until the initial fuss died down, and produce an objective report on the thing.
Who am I kidding? I didn’t decide that at all. I decided to have a bacon sandwich (crispy) and curl up underneath my desk until that banging noise stopped. I was introduced to a cocktail called the Sazerac a while ago, by Bacchanalian fellow blogger Hopi Sen. It’s a blend of bitters, rye whiskey (it has to be rye, my bartender reliably informed me last night), Cognac (not just any brandy, Cognac it must be) and Absinthe. It’s bloody lovely. It’s bloody lethal. It turned out the banging noise was my brain begging to get out. So, it wasn’t so much a conscious decision not to blog live. More imperative to my survival.
Anyway, my self-harm-through-alcohol had a benefit. It made me feel sorry enough for myself to feel justified in stuffing my face with comfort foods. It gave me the chance to look through the launch and manifesto in a bit more detail. I’ve had the opportunity to consider fully all the different views to produce that objective report I mentioned in the first paragraph. I’ve watched the launch, I’ve read (some of) the manifesto, I’ve seen the press. I know my stuff. Given that I have reviewed the details and done a bit of research, I just can’t bring myself to be objective. It’s nonsense. It’s full of holes. It doesn’t tell voters anything. It’s a list of soundbites which are all sound and no bite. A vision with no direction. There’s lots of what and very little how. This frustrates me. I don’t want the Tories to form the next government. I’ll work hard to try to make sure they don’t. But if they did, IF they did, I’d like to think they knew what they were doing. I’d like to think they had a plan. They clearly don’t.
Let’s start with the place. Team Cameron launched their manifesto in Battersea power station. If you don’t know it, it’s a Victorian building which has been empty for decades and is now an empty shell. I think the idea was that this broken building was meant to represent Broken Britain. It even managed to be topless, to show that Labour didn’t fix this particular roof while the sun shone. Dave Cameron himself said
“A great British landmark ripe for regeneration, just like our country.”
Fabulous imagery if Battersea had fallen into disrepair since 1997. Trouble is, it closed in 1983. Under a Tory government. Don’t worry though! The building’s redevelopment was launched right there in 1988 by the Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher. Like Dennis on the gin, it flopped massively. It also showed that CCHQ’s young guns aren’t big Pink Floyd fans. The cover of their album Animals famously featured a pig floating over Battersea. So now we have images of an industrial building shutdown on the Tory’s watch, a failed Thatcher regeneration, and pigs flying. Nicely done, Dave. Nicely Done.
Then there was the presentation. Tory Comms director Andy Coulson tried a wheeze to keep the news channels broadcasting the launch for longer. It’s an old trick but it works. Here’s the scam. Coulson knows the news channels want to cover David Cameron’s speech. Fine. So they send out William Hague with his usual wit and flair to introduce the beloved leader. The channels all cover the opening remarks because, well, they’re the opening remarks. So, to keep the cameras broadcasting, they introduce Dave but don’t send him on. Instead, they send on members of the shadow cabinet to talk about their portfolios. The networks can’t cut away because they don’t know if Dave will be the next one out. It’s a neat little ploy to get free airtime. And fantastic if you have a cabinet of Robin Cooks, Henry Kissingers, Bismarcks, or Churchills. You can see the problem here can’t you? Team Cameron have no Bismarcks. No Kissingers. And definitely no Cooks. Instead we got Hague, Michael Gove, George Osborne, Teresa May, Caroline Spelman, a PPC nobody knows, and Baroness Warsi. Seven lightweights before lightweight-in-chief Cameron finally appeared, much to the relief of TV news editors everywhere. Coulson planned to give us an extended look at a Conservative government-in-waiting and dispel the idea that Cameron is a one man band. Trouble was, that gave us an extended look at a Conservative government-in-waiting, and showed that Cameron probably should be a one man band.
After place and presentation, we come to product. Not the actual book. It’s a hardback in blue with silver embossing. Nice to keep on a shelf and never read. The memory stick manifesto from Labour is nice to read and can’t be kept on a shelf. Which would you prefer from your manifesto? No, I’m not bothered about the font or binding. It’s the content that interests me. Just what did they fill 118 pages with?
Dave stood there in front of the (oxy)moronic campaign slogan “Vote for Change. Vote Conservative” and launched into his speech. I was hoping for depth. I was hoping for detail. I was hoping for some sign of intellect at work. So far, the Tory campaign has lacked all of this. Here was their chance to show how they were going to carry out the Change they want us to vote for. That chance was missed.
Instead of in-depth explanations of how Change was going to come, Cameron painted a picture for us. A vision of a Cameronite Britain. Broken no longer. It would be fixed by the people themselves. Volunteerism and community is the way forward. Society does not equal State, as David Cameron Samantha Cameron Margaret Thatcher first said. What that means in practise is a reduction in State intervention. A cut in government services, with the gaps in provision filled by community-run services. Charities, local people forming bands of merry men, that sort of thing. Which would be lovely.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the vision of more society involvement. It’s practically socialist. Power to the people is a lovely idea. But this country is emerging from a recession. Recovery is fragile. We need economic ideas, plans and support. Big Society isn’t that. Big Society isn’t even a cheap alternative. With no costed plans for reducing the national debt, where will the money come from to pay for it all?
Costs are only one aspect. I’ve been a community activist. I’ve organised events where nobody showed up. I’ve tried to get people to do things. I’ve phoned around ‘active members’. It doesn’t always work. And there lies another problem. In some places, people will come together to sort out schools, hospitals, or the local constabulary. And they’ll provide a fantastic service. But in others, people won’t have time, know-how, interest, or passion. And in those areas, service provision will fall into a black, black hole. And do you think that’ll be upper-middle-class villages and towns of home counties England? Or the concrete estates of our inner cities? We all know the answer. Will that create a “postcode lottery” for health, education and policing? We all know the answer. Does that sound like a more or less Broken Britain? We all know the answer. Is that a future fair for few? We all know the answer.