Why I'm Voting Conservative: low tax, honesty

02 November 2006

WHILE POLITICIANS have the values that shape parties, most people have areas of specific interest that shape their reactions to the differing political parties.

As a Christian, I start with morality and honesty. The Iraq war went deep with me, as it did with many others. Reluctantly, I accepted the argument for war, and I based this judgement on the assurances of the Prime Minister that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which could, and probably would, be used by an evil tyrant in a volatile region. So did Michael Howard.

The fact that we now know that such weapons did not exist calls into question either the judgement or the veracity of the Prime Minister, to an extent that has not been seen for decades. Men's lives were put at risk on a false prospectus. I find it difficult to support either the Prime Minister, or the Labour Party that retains him as leader, in the knowledge of the truth that we now have about Iraq.

MY EXPERIENCE of visiting Africa regularly over several years compels me to give high priority to global poverty. It is not simply that if it continues then stability in the world will be in doubt; it is simply wrong.

I therefore welcome the new-found interest of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor in this issue. However, the problem is far greater than being one that is resolvable by increasing aid to poor countries, some of which have rich élites.

Such an attitude fails to address the core issues of governance, honesty, and administrative capacity. Simplistically throwing money at problems appears to be the first reaction of the present Government, but, without changing attitudes, this will be useless. There is a lack of both understanding and morality here.

Poverty at home, though on a far smaller scale than in Africa, clearly has to be addressed. Here I bridle when this Government seeks to arrogate to itself compassion and care, as if it enjoyed a monopoly on such topics. This is so far from the truth as to be despicable, and degrades those who claim it. A little honesty would not go amiss.

All parties seek to improve standards of living for all our citizens. One of the decisions taken by the Labour Government that has done more to raise justifiable anger is the callous destruction of our pension provision. Gordon Brown inherited arguably the best-funded pension structure in the Western world. In his first budget, he destroyed it by changing the tax structure for pension funds.

Today, long-standing funds are either failing or being closed to new entrants. Nothing has been done to ensure that those in retirement have the prospect of living on an income that would ensure their self-esteem.

In 20 to 30 years' time, the full horror of what has been done will become apparent. Mr Brown's actions have probably done more to increase poverty in this country over future decades than any Government's for generations. I cannot bring myself to support a Government that has launched such a gratuitous attack on the living standards of the elderly.

This leads to the question of competence. Over eight years, the present Government has enjoyed a majority that should have enabled it to achieve much. Yet it has achieved so little. Money has been poured into education and the health service, but there has been little to show for it. The thinking underlying almost all the actions of this Government is that money will cure everything. I find this attitude to be as incompetent as it is immoral.

SO FAR, I have walked along what some might call the via negativa in attacking the Government. However, when a Government calls an early election, less than four years into a five-year parliament with an overwhelming majority, it is presumably seeking the electorate's approval for its actions. That I cannot give. Honesty, morality, the threat to future living standards of our elderly, and sheer incompetence masked under a cloud of distortion and spin, laced with increasing authoritarianism - all demand that I look elsewhere.

The Liberal Democrats remain principally a party of protest rather than a serious aspirant to government. I question whether they have thought through their policies. This was only too well exemplified by their confusion over the effects of their local income tax.

Where is my via positiva? I just do not believe that the current Conservative leadership would have led on Iraq with the flimsy evidence that we all now know existed. It has a determination to clear out the Augean stables of spin, and to restore Parliament as the basis of our democracy. It has a more practical approach to the real issues of education and health. It has both an understanding of the pensions problem, and the will to raise pensioners out of poverty in the decades to come.

It is possible to increase spending in some areas and to reduce it in others, while lowering the proportion of GDP spent by the Government. It is mendacious to suggest otherwise. Successful economies are low-tax economies, and there is nothing immoral in creating the means to do good. Here the case for the Conservatives is overwhelming, compared with a high-tax, high-spend, and low-performance Labour Government.

Given the instinct, shared by so many, that merely throwing money at a problem will rarely provide a cure; a dislike of the patronising attitude that bureaucrats know better how to spend money than individuals; and the imperative to restore honesty in government - I believe it is time for a moral change. Today, that can only be a Conservative Government.

Christopher Buckmaster is a Conservative councillor for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and a churchwarden of St George's, Campden Hill.

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