David Cameron: right not to have policy… yet

Steve Bowbrick is most upset and frustrated at David Cameron’s refusal to set out firm policy – a critique most often articulated as a lack of substance – and asks: ‘are you still a political party?’

Yet I take the opposite view. The Liberal Democrats have for many years followed a strategy of detailing and costing policy, particularly tax policy, in an attempt at credibility. But it’s still no easier to know what they stand for. Too much detail and you can’t see the wood for the trees. Steve fears a ‘post-ideological political marketplace’ with parties reduced to brands, yet it is the idea that parties should have detailed policy that is post-ideological. The post-ideological world is a technocracy in which politicians argue over who can manage public services most efficiently, when all along they all read the same management gurus and award contracts to the same consultants.

We all have just one vote and have to endorse a party’s programme in total or not at all. It’s a rather clumsy mechanism in which all that detail is lost. Choice should be informed by an overarching vision, values and robust ideology… the kind of thing, ironically, that marketers try to associate with brands.

Now that Cameron has abandoned some key Tory totems, he needs to describe the society he wishes to create and the values it will hold true. Tory policy should be the route map to that new (or, if the blue rinses have their way, old) society and the detail should flow from the objectives set. Understand the vision and you’ll be able to infer the policy.

The problem for Cameron is that up until Thatcher, the Conservatives were the party of pragmatism and the upholding of tradition and the status quo. It’s to that role that they most likely revert as he does not have what it takes to develop and engrain ideas for a New Tory future.

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