This Thursday will see the Cambridge Union holding its first debate of the 2012 Lent Term, with the motion: "This House believes the Conservatives have been unfairly demonised". David Cowan, member of the CUCA Committee, and Richard Johnson, Chair of CULC, discuss whether the Tories have been vilified unjustly.
David argues in favour of the motion:
Throughout Cambridge University there are many Conservatives. But many of them dare not openly admit this. Young Liberal Democrats, Labourites, Socialists and Marxists are lauded as idealists who care about the injustices of the world, whereas young Conservatives are seen to be unpleasant, reactionary and self-interested individuals with no capacity for compassion.
This perception has very little to do with the facts and has everything to do with the left's need to discredit a party which has done so much for this country, especially for the most vulnerable in our communities. Peel's Factory Act 1844, Disraeli's Artisan's and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act 1875 and Public Health Act 1875, Butler's Education Act 1944, Macmillan's housing programme, and Thatcher's Right to Buy initiative are just some of the Conservatives achievements which have improved the nation as a whole.
Since its foundation in 1832 through to this day the Conservatives have contributed towards the safe management of the British state, and the insults keep coming. Yet time and again the Labour Party has borrowed up to the hilt, wasted taxpayers' money, and driven people into grinding deprivation by allowing inflation to destroy their savings, increasing taxes which take away their hard earned wages, and feeding a bloated public sector which crushes private enterprise, and every time it is the Conservatives who have to clear up the mess but they are the ones who are demonised.
The current debate over the coalition government's spending plans have been the latest cause for demonisation of the Conservatives, but the truth is that tackling the budget deficit is essential for helping the British people. Eliminating the budget deficit is saving £1,000 for every family in the country by decreasing borrowing costs; taking £5,000 off every family's mortgage interest bill by keeping long-term interest rates low; helping people to pay off their credit card bills; and getting lending to small businesses going again.
Britain's national debt is a real problem which is having a harmful impact on everyone, especially the poor. There is nothing progressive about spending £47.6 billion on debt interest repayments instead of building new schools and new hospitals.
Despite the current economic hardship, the Conservatives have still managed to protect the schools budget and increase NHS spending every year in real terms. They have also embarked on an ambitious and robust programme of reform to modernise our public services and to tackle poverty at home and abroad.
Welfare benefits are being simplified so that being in work will always pay more than being out of work and on benefits. A rehabilitation revolution is starting to get criminals out of the vicious cycle of reoffending. A new Troubled Families Team will provide 'action plans' for dysfunctional families to help turn their lives around.
The Conservatives are also dealing with global poverty by increasing international aid to 0.7% of GNP by 2013 so we can train 190,000 teachers, immunise more than 55 million children against preventive diseases, and give 15 million people access to clean drinking water.
It is time that people saw the Conservatives for what they really are; people motivated by a strong sense of duty and responsibility. They believe that there should be an unshakable link between effort and reward, that everyone should have the opportunity to be successful, everyone should have the freedom to make their own decisions and choices in life, and we should always help the most vulnerable in our communities.
Richard contends that the Conservatives have been rightly criticised:
The Conservatives have not won a majority in the House of Commons in 20 years. A decade ago, after gaining only one seat in the 2001 elections, the Conservatives worried that they were being perceived as the 'nasty party'. Over time, Conservative politicians have shifted the language from being perceived as the nasty party to being portrayed as the nasty party. In their own narrative, the Tories claim that they have been demonised by bitter, tribal politicos and unscrupulous, left-wing journalists. The result has been two decades of a party in crisis.
It is somewhat surprising that Conservatives should feel this way. Demonisation implies wrongful vilification, and it is necessarily unreasonable. 'Unfair demonisation' is, therefore, a tautology. The Conservatives have not been demonised, but like any political party, they have been subjected to their fair share of criticism. British public outrage against the Conservatives has often been harsh and unforgiving. Of course, a legacy of two recessions, three million unemployed, half a million home repossessions, riots, the closure of major industries without any meaningful alternatives, and fifteen-percent interest rates did not exactly leave a warm feeling in the hearts of the British public.
In the past decade, the Tory spin machine has revved at full speed, but few have been convinced. In spite of David Cameron's earnest efforts to present a cuddlier, warmer Conservative Party, the Conservatives' popularity in 2010 was lower than it was under John Major. Ultimately, the issue is not style but the substance of their economic priorities. Cameron can hug all the barking huskies he wants, but his economic policies' bite has shredded the social fabric that Labour spent thirteen years trying to repair. With the support of nearly every nationally circulated newspaper and financial resources unmatched by any other party, the Tories' claims of victimhood are not only dubious but also hypocritical.
Since returning to power in 2010, the Conservatives appear to have given up trying to persuade the public that they are not the 'nasty' party. The latent prejudices and snobberies of Conservative frontbenchers have been in full view. The Conservatives have found their favourite demons and have unleashed an unrelenting attack. During recent industrial action, the coalition's policy minister Oliver Letwin threatened to instil 'fear' to control 'irresponsible' public sector workers.
Obviously, the threat of losing their jobs and their pensions was not enough. Not content with attacking people who did have jobs and wanted to keep them, George Osborne proceeded to attack unemployed people for not 'wanting' to work. As for those who cannot work due to disability, Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith has spuriously cast suspicion on the seriousness of their incapacities, implying that many of them receive benefits far too easily. Forcing cancer victims to undergo welfare tests during chemotherapy was one of their many thoughtless ideas.
The hardest hit bear the brunt of the coalition's regressive policies, with the Tories' demonising rhetoric to match. The Conservatives, on the other hand, continue to face harsh, but fair, criticism. Considering the legacy that they will no doubt leave behind once more, the Tories are hardly in a position to play the victim.
If you are a member of the Cambridge Union, and are interested in contributing to this blog, e-mail Sophie Odenthal on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.