October 01, 2006

The trouble with policies.

The mantra from the media repeated in this week's Economist is that David Cameron needs policy announcements and thinking, needs a philosophy of government but does he? What does David Cameron want to do? The answer to that question is that he wants to govern and come to power, the Economist and numerous other commentators, some like Alaistair Campbell offering helpful advice from the left, argue that what he needs is a position on where he sees Britain in twenty years time- methinks they are mistaken.

Politicians- and fundamentally this is what Daily Kos in the US realised, don't need policies or credibility. It matters not one whit that George Osborne has never spoken to the city trade associations- he still looks like a young new face. It matters not one whit that conservative policy on the US is incoherent to the point of incompetence- they aren't listened to anywhere and why should anyone listen to them on it- the government is in enough trouble on those issues as it is. William Hague in today's observer grasps the key point that policy is something governments do, what oppositions do is mood music. They create a sense, a 'vision thing' to quote the elder Bush, of what they hope the country to look like when they come to power. Cameron's strength is that he has ignored policy but offered plenty of the vision thing to the electorate.

If he wishes to look for an example to follow then he need merely look at Blair because many of the same siren voices that urged Blair to look at policies then are urging Cameron too now. What Cameron needs are the kinds of promises in Blair's manifesto, promises like those to establish a food standerd's agency or reduce class sizes that establish your nature as a caring person but don't confine you to a tax rate or a position upon issues that change.

Policies at this stage will become targets not good points- the calculator at the Treasury would love a couple of proposals to bite into- whereas vague commitments will establish the character of the new conservatives.