IN YESTERDAY’S paper, we said David Cameron had to come up with a very special conference speech if he was to counter the impression that the Conservative Party is drifting inexorably to electoral defeat at the next general election.
Cameron’s speech in Birmingham was coherent, combative and well-delivered, but it was not the milestone in British politics it needed to be. In fact, it raised new questions about the strategy of the party he leads.
When he won the leadership, Mr Cameron worked hard to present his party as “modern, compassionate Conservatives”. This new kind of Tory leader went to the Arctic to investigate global warming, exhorted the public to “hug a hoodie” and rejected the old social conservatism on issues such as sexuality.
Forced to turn to the Liberal Democrats for help in forming a government after his first general election as leader, Mr Cameron was able to use this as cover to keep some of the more rabid right-wing Tory ideas off the agenda of his administration. Cuddly Conservatism was the order of the day.
Just two years on, it was a very different David Cameron that stood in front of his party yesterday. There was a dutiful nod to the rhetoric of compassionate Conservatism, but it rang hollow in the context of a multiplicity of other messages redolent of old-school Conservatism. This was a Tory leader who was recognisably blue in tooth and claw.
There is a growing gulf between Mr Cameron’s rhetoric and the actions of his government. He promises to be a moderniser, yet he blocks Lords reform. He promises that those with the broadest shoulders will carry the most weight as Britain fights the deficit, and yet he hands a £40,000 tax break to those with million-pound incomes. He promises to tackle poverty, yet introduces measures that hit the incomes of the most vulnerable in society, while at the same time cutting the social services on which they rely.
If we should heed the old advice that you judge someone by their deeds and not their words, then we should judge the Prime Minister harshly.
It is increasingly clear that those who suffer most under this Conservative Prime Minister are those who have always suffered most when a Tory is in Number 10; and those who benefit most are those who have always benefited from the party’s munificence.
On Scotland too, there seems to be a gap between Mr Cameron’s rhetoric – that saving the Union is an over-riding issue for him – and the scant mention it deserved in yesterday’s speech, following a period of months during which he has said very little on the subject.
There was evidence of anger and frustration in the Prime Minister’s platform performance yesterday. Is this because his original intentions and aims for his leadership are being thwarted and he cannot get them in to action? If so, then we have a premier who is in office, but not in power.
Vending machines must be stubbed out
A lot of people who experimented with cigarettes as schoolchildren probably obtained them from the same source – a vending machine that could be used surreptitiously when no-one was about, and which worked regardless of whether the coins were inserted by a 50-year-old or a 12-year-old.
What was true then is still true today – vending machines are a way in which young teenagers can illegally purchase cigarettes. It is good news, therefore, that the Scottish Government yesterday won the latest round of its court battle to ban such vending machines north of the Border.
It seems, however, that the firm that operates these machines intends to take this matter to a higher court, with the case being heard before Supreme Court judges later this year. Given that the tobacco industry declares that it has no desire to sell cigarettes to children, and given the clear opportunities that cigarette vending machines offer to the under-aged, and thta this is central to the battle, it is outrageous that there are still attempts to block the government on this issue.
Make no mistake, this is a battle being fought by the tobacco lobby itself, for reasons of commercial self-interest. The firm that operates the machines and which is fighting the court battle, Sinclair Collis, is owned by Imperial Tobacco.
Those who wish to smoke in spite of all the health warnings can do so lawfully and they can buy their tobacco over the counter at thousands of outlets. As for the operator’s commercial interests, these are far outweighed by the public health benefits that will accrue from taking this form of distribution out of the equation. The ban must stand.