Friday, 7 December 2007

Mere details

So, apparently Labour are down the polls. (He wrote, his ambitions for bleeding-edge topicality dying a quiet, unmourned death.) . As usual with every "worst week ever", the political morticians are out in force, measuring up for the coffin and digging an early grave. Brown is finished, senior figures in the party are plotting, statues of Ramsay McDonald have been observed weeping blood... the signs are there for those who know the reading of them.

So with this in mind, it might be time to break the habit of the last 15 years and take the Conservative party seriously. After all, they could form our next government. Ever wondered what that might be like? Come with me now, on a journey to a world beyond the ken of mortal man: the land of Conservative Party Policy.

Take a moment to appreciate the new slogan: "It's time for change." An unusual claim from an Opposition party, you might be thinking, and one somewhat at odds with this one's name, so let's dig a little deeper and see exactly what sort of change (other than the seating plan of the House of Commons) our future government has in mind. There are three (count them) types of change to be unleashed upon an unsuspecting public; in each one, the Old Politics is contrasted pithily with the Change Required. We start with those policies which will "Give people more opportunity and power over their lives".

Barriers like what - the price? They're going to engineer a housing crash? Make it easier to borrow large amounts of cash? That sounds like a winner right now. It may be that they mean to change the rate or threshold of stamp duty, but it doesn't say. And this is, let's not forget, the "Our Policies" section of the Conservative Party's own website. I can think of no better place for them to put the details of their policies; it's why I came to the site. But throughout, detail is a little hard to come by. Either it's too much work to put it on the site, they think I'm too stupid to understand it, or (whisper it) they don't have detailed policies, just codewords and platitudes.

As we've moved on to education, let's try a reading comprehension test:

1) Is it Conservative Party policy to save District General Hospitals?
2) Is it Conservative Party policy to halt or undo any cuts to maternity and A&E services?
3) How does making doctors accountable to patients give them professional freedom? What if patients have an accountably poor grasp of medical science, basic medical ethical issues, cost/benefit analysis or even the fact that they're not the only sick people in the district?
4) When the Conservative Party makes it policy to enforce good behaviour, how do they hope to achieve this?
5) What will happen to badly behaved pupils: expulsion, exclusion, or the birch?
6) How much money do the Conservative Party intend to spend building (and staffing?) new schools? How many new schools do they believe are needed? Do they just mean new buildings for existing schools?
7) What is the precise relationship between parental choice and Britain's standing in world league tables?
8) What in the nether hells will actually happen to schools and hospitals under the Tories?

And finally in this section, because I could go on all day:

This is brilliant: "We'll stop making sure you don't break the law, as long as you promise, and we mean really promise, that you won't just go ahead and do it as soon as our backs' are turned. OK? Now remember, you've got to really, truly promise." Personally, I can't see how that would fail.

If I can face it, I'll look at the other two policy areas at a later date. But the basic point is this: the polls always ask: "if there were an election tomorrow..." If there were an election tomorrow it would be the end of a four-week campaign: after laying out their plans for change, what would the Tories have done for the remaining 24 days?

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