Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The UK 2015 General Election campaign started today

The speech of a Prime Minister to their party conference is little more than a media event in the modern age. The purpose is about the image, the impression and the brand. David Cameron's speech fitted that mold perfectly and demonstrated exactly where he is focusing energy: 2015. As with much of the conference the focus appears to be on the next election, fighting off the threat from Ed Miliband's Labour and gaining sufficient seats to govern alone. Certainly there was a mixture of pleas, as the BBC's Nick Robinson points out, Cameron asked to be allowed to finish the job fifteen times. Robinson also notes how Ed Miliband or Labour were awarded twenty-five references.

But this detracts from the core message, Cameron invokes a wide range of heuristic devices when talking of the land of opportunity for all. Possibly an early launch of a campaign slogan, but not without substance. A land that is debt free, where business flourishes, and where citizens are enabled to flourish also. Or at least that was the grand statement. 

But how is the land of hope that is Tory to be delivered. Detail was slender, talking of investment and training, or rewarding hard working people is fine; they are good priorities. But for a government there should be detail, what is the seven year plan to achieve this land of opportunity? It was thus an odd speech. Great for a opposition leader who wishes to re-organize priorities once elected. But for a prime minister there was perhaps too much vision, too many expectations, but insufficient amounts of detail. Where is the Policy + Outcome = Prosperity equation in it all? 

Which all makes one wonder what to expect for the next two years (give or take a few months), or if the Conservatives win in 2015 the next seven. The vision is one no sensible person could disagree with largely. So the real question after all is said and done is whether Cameron is the man to lead his team to deliver on that vision. In essence maybe that was the real purpose of the speech, the lay out a vision, to appear to possess the qualities to deliver on the vision, and the attack the opposition after every opportunity to ensure not too many waver. 


Alison Smith said...

The focus of this party conference has been the next election, of that there is no doubt. Riding on the rising economy, the aim is a majority Conservative government in 2015 (unlikely in my opinion). The message was 'we're credible on the economy (George Osborne's new hair cut really helps here and Ed Balls is looking very silly which pleases the grassroots), we're tough on the things you care about (people sitting at home on welfare, foreign prisoners [especially Abu Qatada], immigration, crime), we have a tangible vision for Britain: winning the Global Race through tried and tested Victorian-style self-help (appealing to the older demographic, and simultaneously to Generation Y who appear to be a tad more economically liberal), and David Cameron is the man to do it (Boris kept in line, and actually Cameron is an asset, he is popular and Prime Ministerial)…and last of all: for God's Sake Don't Vote For UKIP And Let Labour Back In.

But on the point of Cameron's speech being slender on detail, in my opinion, it *should* only be about vision. It was a rally speech with clear messages. After all, those policy announcements popped up all week, left to individual SoS's to trot out in their keynote speeches to conference (each day was nicely themed: Sunday, "Britain in the Global Race", Monday, "Doing the Right Thing", Tuesday, "Helping People to Get On", Wednesday, "For Hardworking People"). Furthermore, a policy announcement is not a Bill, and a Bill is not an Act, and the difference between an Act and the delivery of its intended outcomes to real people on a daily basis is so big that it cannot be measured. And neither is it a linear process, change in practice often begins as legislation is still being formed.

Detail should be thin on the ground on these occasions. Promise too much and you risk losing credibility.

This might be illustrated best with an example. The Draft Care Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech in 2012 and had it's first reading in the House of Lords on 9th May 2013. It has come a long way and on the 9th October the report stage begins. It hasn't even got near the House of Commons yet. At Conference this week there must have been at least 15 fringe events dealing with specific areas of the gritty detail of this Care Bill. Convening to debate the emerging landscape of this legislation were experts in the field of social care, including academics, practitioners, think tank, charities, lobbyists and journalists. That this is a good Bill that promotes wellbeing and independence is obvious. I heard it described as 'radical' more times than I can count and what's more that is the feeling across the political spectrum. Practitioners are already implementing the central tenets of the bill and exchanging best practice. Think tanks are researching the outcomes of this early work and presenting their findings as evidence to select committees to inform the development of the legislation. They're working with commissioners in local government to change the culture of task and time commissioning of adult social care that has resulted in such poor care outcomes for so many vulnerable people.

That's a rather rambling way to make the basic point that there is a really big gap between policy and practice and turning the former into the latter can be glacially slow.

Changes in practice in social care mean a weller and more independent older population, and changes in practice in the economy mean a more prosperous country.

So I think it is fine to vision for the ends by Conservative means, because the detail necessarily has to come out in the wash.

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