The Tory conference

One of the depressing aspects of British politics at the moment is the fact that the opposition parties seem to be rather hopeless, thus ensuring that Labour can do what it likes, and reducing the opportunities for sold criticism and scrutiny of legislation. So I’ve taken some interest in the Tory party conference to see if there are any signs that they might be turning the corner and beginning to recover from the defeats of 1997 and 2001.

It seems to me that on the policy front, they do have some bold ideas and are well placed to take the govt on if they sort out their other problems. Not that everything they’ve announced has made sense. But 3 initiatives in particular are intriguing.

The idea of making police forces accountable to local communities via an elected sheriff is a bold decentralist move which reduces the power of the central state and helps to ensure the police will be the servant of the people as they should be.

School passports, whereby parents can choose which school to send their kids to, and the school chosen receives the money, seems to me a good way of putting power into parents’ hands and using market forces to improve school standards. Combined with less of the stalinist use of targets and directives to control schools from the centre, this should lead to steady improvement in school standards over the long run.

Finally the patient passports look set to ensure a similar power for users of the NHS.

Of course there are details to work out with the above policies, but a clear theme is emerging of decentralising power to communities and individuals in the public service, which IMHO is all for the good.

However the Tories still seem to be bedevilled by infighting, conflicting signals (promising to cut taxes, whilst promising pension increases and 40000 police officers) and their leader’s inability so far to articulate a coherent message for the electorate and otherwise hold the govt to account.

Also I would like to see a commitment to restore the civil liberties trashed by the current govt, e.g. a commitment to restore jury trial should the govt’s criminal justice bill get through parliament, a commitment to ensure effective oversite of the powers of surveillance exercised by various govt agencies alongside the means to ensure accountability on the part of those agencies’ use of those powers.

The Tories often talk about promoting individual freedom, if they’re serious they should promise a restoration of civil liberties alongside the reduction of centralised state power.

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