Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Mrs May's Day

Cast your mind back to June and July in the lead up to and then febrile atmosphere of the referendum.  Back then all was unpredictable, even chaotic. At times journalists were being pulled from pillar to post as they tried to keep up with events as all of the parties, and in particular the Labour and Conservative parties, descended into acrimony and backbiting, resignations on resignations, briefing and counter briefing, backstabbing and front stabbing. Back then we couldn't keep up.

Contrast that with now.

Now our fourth estate, having taken a few weeks to get their breath back, are complaining once again that the bloody Tory Party conference is sodding dull.

Now to be fair they are not wrong about this. It is dull. But then it always is. This just goes to prove that some order is being restored after a brief period of turmoil. If the Conservatives are being dull again and the prime minister is refusing to give straight answers to straight if ever so slightly mischievous questioning then all is right with the world.

Theresa May is enjoying her prolonged honeymoon precisely because she is not about to start giving reporters what they want and giving straight answers. It could be that she simply doesn't know the answers yet. Or it could be that she is not going to be the sort of PM who does all of that constant feeding of the media monster. Or it could be that she is just keeping her cards close to her chest. Possibly all three plus a number of other possibilities I haven't thought of.

Today Mrs May gives her big speech to the conference. Not conference as Labour would call it, but the conference. The Tories don't set so much store by their conference as Labour do, which is why the bloody thing is so tedious. This is as it should be.

And don't expect many fireworks today either. There will be some very general and indeed generic ideas and promises. There will be a few highlights to delight the party and indeed the country. Having got the subject of Europe out of the way on Sunday, the PM will turn to other matters. Hers is being called the post Dave government. In reality it is likely to be a kind of discontinuous continuity. Theresa May was always irritated by the way that Dave and in particular George did government, if not necessarily what they were trying to do in terms of policy.

It remains to be seen what we are going to get today. We may get some hints about airport expansion in the south east. It is to be hoped that Mrs May resists the nonsensical calls for Heathrow expansion. This blog has always argued that Boris's idea of a Thames estuary airport was not as outlandish as portrayed. What a statement of intent that would be. But I accept that it is unlikely to happen. The best we can hope for is that the PM will announce that Heathrow is a ridiculous proposition and that Gatwick will be allowed to expand instead. She might even look a few miles to the east of where she is giving her speech and suggest that Birmingham airport might be fit for some investment and expansion. There are a lot of marginal constituencies around Birmingham, it's an area that is ripe for investment and it is only 100 miles from London.

As far as the economy is concerned we will probably have to wait until the autumn statement for any real news there. There is a case for investment in infrastructure while borrowing is so cheap. But there is also a case for a statement of intent on taxes too, a Conservative statement of intent. Britain is going to prosper in our future outside the EU by being an offshore centre of excellence. A commitment to low and falling taxes would be a welcome signal to send. Our future outside the EU can offer business what it has always offered business, a country that respects the rule of law and offers a stable environment. A country that is home to some of the world's greatest universities and a growing preponderance of high technology firms. And now a country that will be free to legislate for itself and can remove the burden of needless EU interference. Add to that lower taxes for businesses and individuals and we would have a great message for the world.

If I have one final word of advice to the prime minister it would be this. You are going to have to give a lot more interviews now that you are PM. It goes with the territory. So please, for the love of God, stop saying 'I am very clear' in response to all questions. It is fantastically irritating and is like holding a neon sign over your head saying 'unclear answer approaching.'

That said, good luck today. I wish you well. I think we all, the whole country, wish you well. The Cameron era is over and good riddance to it quite frankly. We trust you to deliver the Brexit that the country voted for and indeed to follow through on your Conservative vision of a fairer and more equitable world for all. That can and should mean things like modern grammar schools as part of a mix of modern schooling solutions. That can mean a welfare system that helps people without trapping them. That can mean a tax system that does not feel entitled to help itself to nearly half of someone's earned income on the bogus grounds of fairness. Conservatives care about justice and fairness just as much as anyone else. It's just that we know it can only be delivered if the economy is performing and when those who do work hard and better themselves do not feel resentful about how much they are being taxed to the point that they up and leave. That is and always has been the Conservative message. Now sell it prime minister.

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