Forward to the past

In the Spectator this week (use bugmenot), Peter Oborne writes:

The Conservative party has won all the great intellectual and political battles of the last quarter-century. It has defined – and continues to define – the public argument over the role of the state, the acceptable level of taxation, the nature of the economy, the power of trade unions, the scope of public services and the limits of the European Union.

That’s something that may have been true up till about 2001. With two stinging election defeats in the bag – and it must be considered a failure not to have hurt Blair more this time around – it’s hard to see how the Tories are still leading the debate on public affairs. After all:

  • The Government has backed the Live 8 event, and is focusing its G8 and EU presidencies on Africa and climate change
  • Taxes have gone up, but people still voted Labour in large numbers (or Liberal – where even higher taxes were likely)
  • The debate on the EU, for all its folly, has moved on a long way from empty seats in Brussels; and
  • The role of public services, particularly through SureStart, the New Deal and other initiatives, has changed and become much more personal than under the last lot.

Part of this is just the march of time, but a lot of it is Labour rewriting the DNA of social politics, just as much as the Tories rewrote the DNA of economic politics in 1979-97.