The Conservative Manifesto speaks to the shade of Edmund Burke

The Conservative Manifesto, Forward, together, is quite an unusual document.  Yes, there’s a  lot about strong and stable leadership – the word ‘strong’ or ‘stronger’ comes in there 86 times, I counted them in and I counted them back again  – but there’s a lot more, including some ringing declarations of principle.  We are told that

“We believe in the good that government can do.”

“Conservatism is not and never has been the philosophy described by caricaturists. We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but dangerous.”

“Our National Health Service … is founded on the principle that those who have should  help those who do not. It is a system of solidarity to which we all contribute, not just to help us and our families when we are in need but to protect others in our community when they need help too. This not just expediency: we do it because the support we give each other ties us together.”

“We know that our responsibility to one another is greater than the rights we hold as individuals. We know that we all have obligations to one another, because that is what community and nation demands. We understand that nobody, however powerful, has succeeded alone and that we all therefore have a debt to others. We respect the fact that society is a contract between the generations: a partnership between those who are living, those who have lived before us, and those who are yet to be born.”

(The last bit of that sentence, unattributed, is nearly a quotation from Burke – Burke wrote ‘the dead’ rather than ‘those have lived before us’, but presumably they didn’t want to imply that the National Health Service was a partnership with the dead.  The first part of the sentence is nearly a quotation from Jacques Delors, but that’s another story.)

In relation to policy, there’s a long list but a  little less meat.  There are ‘no plans’ for further changes in benefits; things will go on as they have.  More money will be spent on the NHS.  There will be a million more homes 2015-20 (that’s 200,000 an year) and half a million more by 2022 (250,000 a year).  All pledges are carefully tied to the life of forthcoming parliament.   But there are also tantalising hints that there might be more coming.  There will be a reform of medical education.There will be a review of taxation, aimed at simplification.  There will be a review of university funding.  They will review access for disabled people.  They will review the operation of the NHS internal market.  I don’t know what any of those actually means, but they could come with a cartful of surprises.  Perhaps the policy makers might take another lesson from Burke:  “the deliberations of calamity are rarely wise.”



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