The Tories are almost always second, of course, but Massie can’t figure out why. It’s this: People actually prefer to vote for parties that stand for “certain ideas or policy positions” instead of parties that exist only to give politicians day jobs. ~Denis Boyles
Alex Massie can defend his own arguments, but I found this response from Boyles to be quite bizarre. In response to Boyles’ call for yet another Tory defeat (or at least his claim that a Tory victory under Cameron might be the worst outcome possible), Massie had written:
There are two kinds of political party: those with a narrow sectional interest that hope to advance certain ideas or policy positions and those, larger, parties who exist to win elections. The Tories are in the second group.
The distinction Massie is making here is straightforward enough: he is distinguishing between parties that focus on a handful of issues and are organized mostly for issue advocacy and parties that organize a broad-based coalition of interests to win elections. In Boyles’ view, to be one of these latter parties is to have no set ideas or policies of any kind, and he seems to think that these parties will also tend to lose elections (i.e., they will be most unsuccessful at the thing they are designed to do). This doesn’t follow at all, and it doesn’t make any sense. Boyles’ confidence that the electorate will reward interesting and clever thinking is quite touching. Here he is repeating the strange claim that he made earlier that Cameron’s Tories have a lack of vision and imagination. One can argue that what Cameron has proposed is incoherent, or one can say that it is a compromise of some hallowed principle, but one cannot say that there are no specific policies or “certain ideas” on offer. As these things go, the Tories have actually proposed a fairly distinctive and memorable manifesto.
As Ross wrote in his column a few weeks ago:
The Tories’ election manifesto, released early last week, promises “a sweeping redistribution of power” — from London to local institutions, and “from the state to citizens.” In one of the most centralized countries in the Western world, Cameron is championing a dramatic transfer of responsibility — for schools, hospitals, police forces — to local governments and communities. In a nation with a vast and creaking welfare state, he’s urging people to put more faith in voluntarism, charity and the beleaguered two-parent family….His emphasis, again and again, has been on a smaller, leaner, less intrusive government — and in its place, a “big society” that can bear the burden currently shouldered by social workers and bureaucracies.
Nobody would mistake the Cameron Tories for Tea Partiers. By the statist standards of British politics, though, their manifesto’s emphasis on localism and limited government is quite daring. The Tories may sit to the left of American conservatives on a host of issues, but Cameron is offering a more detailed and specific vision of what conservative reform might mean than almost any English-speaking politician since the Reagan-Thatcher era.
Perhaps Boyles objects to decentralization on principle, or perhaps he distrusts the political class to follow through on actually decentralizing power and assumes that the “Big Society” idea is a distraction or some sort of trick, or maybe he thinks it simply won’t work properly. If it is one of the last two, he might have a point, but it is very odd to declare that the relatively most ideas-oriented, innovative Tory election campaign message in a generation is nothing but a hollow plea for government sinecures.
While I’m on the subject, I should say a word or two about Cameron’s “Big Society.” As Massie has noted before, the name is unfortunate, but the idea of local civic institutions and families taking responsibility for more of their own affairs is basically a sound one. One reason why I was not able to take Cameron that seriously for a very long time was my assumption that his re-branding efforts would involve nothing more than co-opting New Labour themes, and over the last few years I have found plenty of things to criticize about Cameron, but what is so surprising about the “Big Society” manifesto is how unlike the centralizing “reform” or “compassionate” conservatism it is. Where Bush was constantly inserting the federal government into the work of charitable institutions, schools and local communities where it had not been before, Cameron is proposing that social institutions take over for an intrusive state. Maybe it will never happen, and maybe the society Cameron wants to entrust with these responsibilities has atrophied so much on account of dependence on state institutions that it will not be up to the task, but as far as the concentration of power is concerned it is nothing like the modernized Toryism I was expecting. It is also nothing like the completely empty pursuit of office for its own sake that Boyles sees.