PARTY LEADER David Cameron's conference speech attempted to overturn the (correct) perception of them as a party of business and the rich: Labour "has made the poorest poorer, so it falls to the Tories to help them," he said. But the truth of a Tory government was revealed in the 'slash and burn' speech of shadow chancellor George Osborne. Osborne predicted he would be the most unpopular chancellor ever, and he is right!
The proposals in Osborne's speech are just a fraction of the attacks they would like to carry out, but they are bad enough. £23 billion cuts over five years. All public sector workers earning above £18,000 would have their pay frozen - nurses, teachers, civil servants, binmen, cooks, and so on.
"Big government" would be cut by a third over five years. Civil servants are presented as faceless mandarins, "a huge army of regulators, inspectors and central planners." What the Tories mean is slashing essential services and farming out what is left to the private sector. 700,000 public sector workers could lose their jobs.
Within the first week 100 schools would be removed from democratic accountability and handed over to businesses in a rapid expansion of academies.
Like New Labour, the Tories plan to raise the state pension age and undermine the final salary pensions of all public sector workers. They mirror Labour's attack on incapacity benefit claimants, demonising and impoverishing claimants and coercing them into work.
Controversially amongst their membership, Cameron and Osborne refuse to say they will reverse Labour's new 50% top income tax rate. In reality both main parties are likely to increase taxes, mainly affecting working- and middle-class people.
The bankers, whose reckless greed contributed to the historic scale of this economic crisis, got a mild rap on the knuckles. Osborne threatened taxes on bonuses if they failed to be responsible: "For I believe in the free market, not a free ride." This approach is necessary if they are to win public support, but does not sit easily with the Tory faithful. Boris Johnson directly attacked the "banker bashers".
The Tories are gambling that "being honest" will make them look more serious on the economy. In fact, the cuts proposed would not make much of a dent in the government's predicted £175 billion budget deficit, so deeper cuts are likely. But even going this far is a big risk. Laying out before the electorate the attacks that are to come could be an own goal.
New Labour has been the chosen party of big business for the last decade but they are now so unpopular that a more reliable party is needed. Big business has, in the main, jumped ship to the Tories.
Most commentators agree their policies are mostly repeats of ideas from Labour, just to be implemented earlier or more strongly. However, the unpopularity of New Labour means that the Tories appear to have a better chance of implementing a pro-big business programme of attacking the public sector. However, there are fears among some business leaders of the Tories ending the stimulus too soon, and thus plunging the economy back into recession.
The Tories' electoral support is fragile. Before both main party conferences, polls had Labour on 23 percentage points and Tories on 38. After the conferences' support for both parties increased but the Tory lead remained at 14 points.
But this is primarily a mood against New Labour, not positive pro-Tory. A poll for The Times showed that 68% do think the party has not changed and is only doing better due to Labour's unpopularity. If the Tories traditional right wing cannot be kept in check, that support could falter.
Labour will portray the Tories as destroyers of the public sector. This is true, but so it will be under Labour. For example, Alistair Darling met the Tories plans for pay restraint with his own, proposing a pay freeze for senior public servants, and a less than 1% rise for everyone else.
But Labour also proposed free NHS car parking, and free care for elderly people. These are small measures but they could be enough for people to hang on to in the desperate hope that Labour is worth voting for - a "lesser evil". While for many young people there is no class allegiance to New Labour, there is still a memory amongst older working class voters of what a Tory government is like.
What is certain is that a Tory government would be a government of crisis, with ferocious attacks on the working class. This should be met with equally ferocious resistance, and the forging of a party that will fight in the interests of working-class people.
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