If the election is a bidding war for votes, Labour will win
David Cameron is now pledging to freeze rail fares until 2020. But trying to emulate Labour's social populism simply plays into their hands. Conservatives need to look tougher and harder if they want the respect of the British people. It worked for Maggie, and it might work for Dave
With so much at stake, isn't it extraordinary how boring it all is? General Election 2015 is well underway, but you'd hardly think that Britain's membership of the European Union, the future of the United Kingdom itself, let alone our place as the economic powerhouse of Europe are all on the line.
The big picture issues that inspire people have given way to a bidding war for votes on pretty much any issue that the politicians can get on the agenda.
The pathetic debate on the NHS -- one of the worst providers of health care among developed nations -- is the obviously quotable example. But we've also had promises galore on energy prices, pensions, housing, you name it. Today, David Cameron has jumped in with a pledge to freeze rail fares until 2020.
Who, one wonders, will be first to offer the elixir of life?
The Conservative Party has a problem here, and it may explain why the polls are not looking good for them.
Social populism -- vote-buying with taxpayers' money -- is a quintessentially Leftist pastime. And with much of the baggage of Marxist militancy stuffed up in the attic, social populism is all the Left has to offer, and they're good at it.
Just look at the successes of the SNP. They'll promise anything to anyone, and with English taxpayers there to foot the bill, they get away with it.
Labour's at it too. No-one really thinks that Eds Miliband and Balls will ever be able to pay for all of their promises, but unless they are constantly exposed they won't suffer an electoral price.
Conversely, the kind of people who are swayed by vote-buying don't tend to go for the Conservatives anyway. By trying to beat the Left at their own game, Cameron and company are simply playing into Labour's hands.
Conservative strategists may think that they're playing the economy hard enough already, but they're mistaken. They should redouble their efforts.
They need to stop trying to outbid their opponents in the "caring" stakes, and make a virtue out of not being the party that tells people what they want to hear, and gives them everything they're asking for.
It may be too late in the day for Cameron to come out with a striking new vision for Britain's future. But by treating the British people as adults, exposing Labour's populism at every turn, and above all not trying to emulate it, they may earn the kind of respect that could shift the polls in their favour.
Margaret Thatcher knew the difference between being liked and being respected, and being respected earned her a hat trick of victories.
Let's see a tougher and harder David Cameron. He should stop being bothered about the "nasty party" slurs, and sock it to the social populists. You never know, it just might work.
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