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