David Blackburn

Parris versus Nelson

Parris versus Nelson
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Here’s a question: to be a good angel or a bad angel? We know what Fraser thinks; Matthew Parris differs. Writing in the Times today, he asserts that he would give David Cameron the same advice he offered Margaret Thatcher in 1979: agree a gloriously unspecific manifesto. The details of hard-edged manifestos are ambushed well before polling day; discretion is the better part of valour.

In the immediate circumstances of the Tory wobble both arguments are commendable. The Tories have unwound when trying to supply detail to flesh out their broadly radical ideas. Recognising marriage in the tax system has been their foremost blunder. The impassioned denunciation of Labour’s record on poverty and the family at the Tory party conference was a broad and popular announcement, an indication of what the Tories were about. Detailed fiscal promises that run contrary to the prevailing economic narrative are more than hostages to fortune: they can only end in disaster.

On the other hand, Michael Gove’s avowed radicalism is the Tories’ major selling point. From the right’s perspective that is, not everyone is enamoured. Prepare for Fiona Miller to marshal dissent and expect her to flirt with the courts, arguing that Tory reforms would infringe pupils’ rights. Devils lurk amid those details.

On the minutia of radical public service reform, I’d be one of Fraser’s bad angels – the benefits of patience outweigh those of impetuosity.  When it comes to the deficit, however, I come good. Here the Tories should be as brutally novel as Duchamp’s urinal. Mandelson is informing ministers that the Tories are vulnerable because they no longer have a policy on this vital issue. Not for the first time, he’s right: the Tories express themselves in Labour’s terms and have bound themselves to the apparatus of mismanagement, the CPI index for instance. In one week, Osborne and Cameron have eradicated the unanswerable pretext for voting Tory: escape the cycle of Labour’s recklessness. It is time to be bold and brave.