‘Conservatives such David Cameron are not philosophers. The question to ask of Mr Cameron is not: what does he believe? It is: what problems does he inherit? Mr Cameron really does just want to fix the roof. The reason he wants to fix the roof is because it’s broken. The value he brings to this task is the insight that it is better to be dry than wet. He’s simple like that.’
There is a Tory philosophy, and it is more substantial than the empty New Generation: betterment through empowerment. As Fraser writes in today’s Times (£), the Conservatives seek radical public service reform that will embolden public service users and professionals against bureaucracy, building on Tony Blair’s tentative offer of choice. They want to free teachers from the rapacity and megalomania of local authorities; they want to make work worthwhile for those on benefits; they want to transform the economy in the country’s depressed and deprived areas. And, as James observes in this week’s magazine, the Tories hope that the squeezed lower middle classes will eventually be able to keep their change rather than pay it to a wasteful government. The Tories are not making unreasonable demands of people’s limited time, or leaving them to their own devices; they simply hope to make life easier.
But that message has been lost after a year of presentational incoherence: the government has been chillingly clear on the need for cuts but has viewed everything else as otiose, as if they were self-evident truths. They are not, even to a thinker of Collins’ sensitivity. David Cameron’s conference speech is important: he must express why there is more to being a Conservative than book-balancing.