David Blackburn

The Tories need to evoke Micawber

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I’ve been flicking through the British Social Attitudes survey this afternoon, and what a conflicted bunch of socially liberal and economically conservative people we are. The British decry the state’s interference in each facet of life and at the same time we are displeased that more has not been done to limit cannabis’ availability. There is no point in extrapolating out of the morass of contradictions: the British people cannot be defined in monolithic terms. However, there is one figure that will worry Mr Cameron: 50 percent want spending and taxation levels to remain as they are; only 8 percent want them cut.

The Conservatives remain ahead on the economy, but as they face economic thinkers inspired by Captain Bob that is hardly surprising and it doesn’t ensure popularity when in government. The BSA statistic presages Cameron’s dismal approval ratings as Prime Minister, when he takes the axe to the undergrowth bequethed by Brown’s atrocious stewardship.

The BSA statistic indicates that Cameron and Osborne need to do a little to convince the public that redressing the deficit is the first step to ensuring future prosperity: Britain needs to live within its means permanently. Evoking Thatcher, Cameron has expressed his narrative with home-spun images. The strategy has not captured the imagination. Hamish McRae wrote recently that the Tories need to make a moral case for cuts and living within our means:

‘But the government will only be able to rebalance fiscal policy if voters grasp that unfunded public spending is both unjust and indeed immoral, and will impoverish our children and our children's children.’

McRae is right but morality and politics mix badly. Back to Basics, Whiter than White, the memory of those soundbites resound with failure and loathing. Moral arguments can be expressed in terms of practical common sense. What the Tories need to do is evoke Micawber’s famous principle about income, expenditure and their relationship to happiness, whilst expressing the consequences of being unfaithful to that paradigm.