Dancing to Miliband’s tune? Cameron fights the fight on living standards.
Though the party conference season may be coming to a close, the race to define what the 2015 election is about has only just begun. At this weekâ€™s Conservative Party Conference the debate centred on the need to secure the economic recovery, and David Cameron was desperate to show that his partyâ€™s focus on hard work, thrift and fiscal restraint was the only way forward.
Ed Milibandâ€™s push to improve standards of living has shaped this Conservative conference. His speech last week upped the stakes in British politics as he unleashed a wave of policies, ideas and proposals aimed at using the economic recovery to improve the lives of ordinary Britons. By doing this he seems to be setting his partyâ€™s stool to the left of Tony Blairâ€™s New Labour. When asked when Labour was going to start bringing back socialism, Miliband calmly replied, â€œThatâ€™s what we are doing, sir.â€
But David Cameron and the Conservative party leadership have reiterated that sticking to their chosen plan of governments cuts and relying on basic market economics is the only way to bring about an economic recovery, and is therefore the only way to raise living standards.
In an attempt to show that compassionate conservatism isnâ€™t dead, the Tories unveiled policies to help voters out with the cost of living. First, George Osborne announced a freeze in fuel duty which will last until 2015. Then David Cameron followed up with a tax break for married couples, before later announcing a â€˜Help to buyâ€™ scheme that guarantees mortgages of up to 95% of a houseâ€™s value. These were headline grabbing policies designed to steal the momentum away from Labour after their announced a freeze on energy bills, showing voters that the Tories also want to help ordinary people.
But the main crux of the conference was to reiterate the importance of securing the economic recovery and building a “land of opportunity” from the rubble of Labourâ€™s debt crisis.
Cameron stated that â€œprofit, wealth creation, tax cuts, enterprise… are not dirty, elitist words â€“ they are not the problem… they really are the solution.â€ If Ed Miliband wants to sell a socialist vision of Britain to voters, the Tories look set to stay true to their belief in free-markets, reducing welfare burdens and cutting taxes. On welfare specifically, there were two policy announcements intended to show that the Conservatives want to reduce the share of the tax burden going towards paying for benefits. The Conservative leadership know welfare is an area they can play to their advantage, and are keen to show they are the only party that is ready to get tough on it and reduce the number of benefit claimants.
Cameron may have appeared to dismiss â€œRed Ed and his Blue Peter economyâ€, but he knows he must try to keep his party rooted in the centre ground of British politics and avoid shifting heavily to the right to appease Farageâ€™s Middle England groupies. And so his simple message was to let the Conservatives finish the job, and that in order to raise living standards in the long run, “you need to cut the deficit to keep mortgage rates low, you need to grow your economy to get people jobs, and yes, [you need to] cut peopleâ€™s taxes.”
So according to the Conservatives, the next election will be defined as choosing between one of two options. On the one hand we have a Conservative party that believes in not spending what we donâ€™t have, cutting taxes to improve peopleâ€™s earnings and using the private sector to secure a recovery for all. On the other is a socialist Labour party pushing the country to economic disaster. Ed Miliband, meanwhile, will argue that the electorate must choose between a Labour party committed to improving living standards for everyone and an out of touch Tory party which will only direct the fruits of the recovery to the privileged few.
The leader who can define this election will ultimately win this election. But what we have seen from the party conference season is that the old boundaries of left and right are being redrawn. Come 2015, Britain will have a clear choice.