James Forsyth

Playing the war game

Playing the war game
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Over at ConservativeHome, Tim Montgomerie has written about a ‘war game’ that Portland PR held yesterday. The idea was to explore the various challenges that would face the next government. Portland had gathered together an impressive group including key Tory advisors, a senior figure from the Blair government, a former US government official, a senior military bod and a fair few hacks including yours truly.

The thing that struck me once the exercise was done was just how buffeted by events the Cameron government is going to be. It will inherit a global situation that is as bad as the economic situation, if not worse, and a slew of other underappreciated problems such as the risk of an energy crunch. The Tories really must know what they want to do in office or they are going to spend their time fire-fighting to the exclusion of anything else. One point that would have cheered the Cameroons, though, was made by a polling expert who pointed out that the relatively low expectations of the electorate meant that the Tories would be given time to implement their agenda.

Another thing that the exercise suggested is that party management is going to be a considerable problem for the Cameroons. In their first Budget, the government is going to have to raise taxes. When Cameron fills out his ministerial ranks—which are bound to include a considerable number of members of the 2010 intake, a fair few goats and maybe even the odd member of the other parties, he is bound to disappoint a lot of current Tory MPs. So, some measures to keep up party morale are going to be essential. I suspect that selling off Radio One is going to be one of them.

On the meatier question of how the Tories can get the public finances back into a respectable shape, I must admit that I’m of the view that they are going to have to raise taxes, Vat to 20 percent, as well as cut spending. Placing the whole burden on spending restraint would mean that the debt would not be returned to a reasonable percentage of GDP for far too long.

The foreign policy questions are less predictable. But one does worry that the Tories have spent their time in opposition papering over their own divisions on foreign policy rather than thinking about how they would actually approach things in office.