The Sketch: Party wets flourish in the hostile weather

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The Independent Online

The Sunshine party launched on Sunday by David Cameron has attracted swift meteorological revenge. The rain has been even more hostile than the wind. Tory wets are everywhere.

Not tinder dry John Redwood, obviously. The cogent argument of his tax pamphlet begins with the proposition that taxation is theft. Or, at best "compulsory charity". Redwood is a clever fellow, but this isn't. Tax pays for public goods that even Tories like (roads, police forces, prisons and the army). All the academic facts are there in his pamphlet to make a political case for liberty and prosperity - but Tories just can't do it. It's a failure of spirit, of emotional energy, of values.

As Redwood said: "I propose raising inheritance tax thresholds and I'm called a dinosaur; Alan Milburn suggests it and he's called a moderniser." This is true. I ask him why it's like that. He doesn't know. What can be done about it? No answer there either.

The polls are disastrous, their discourse is rudimentary, their argumentation weak. These facts are not unconnected.

The conference kicked off with Oliver Letwin retracting his assertion that there is no natural limit to private sector involvement in the NHS. But both Milburn and Patricia Hewitt said the same in the past month.

This is the scale of the Tories' defeat. Labour denounces them for the things they are themselves doing (health cuts, privatisation, reductions in public spending). The Tories are pitifully unable to defend themselves.

Poor Oliver is the source of this failure. Some years ago he gave a speech to his fringe entitled The Moral Case for Lower Taxation. He failed utterly to make the case. So, his party has no proper foundation. Thus they have to make up this boring, bully-pulpit stuff about social responsibility. Modernising turns out to be taking the party back to the 1950s.

It certainly fails to fire up members. Oliver and John Bercow spoke for a quarter of an hour to our fringe meeting and were unable to stir any audible enthusiasm from their audience at all. The creaking timbers of the tent had more drama and poetry.

Olly said: "I don't believe we should adopt an agenda to satisfy anyone." He will say this is taken out of context, but many a truth is spoken out of context.

Bercow likened tax cutters to 1980s Bennite headbangers. Tax cuts would be "economically inadvisable and politically calamitous", he said ornately. Of course, Gordon has a big fat pre-election tax cut lined up.

They are still being pushed around by Blair. They haven't got the emotional or philosophical firepower to say proper Tory things (Liberty! Property! Country!) so they revert to this other stuff to make us like them. It's all so OTT (Our Turn at the Trough). The public, in its vast, uncomprehending way, sees this for exactly what it is.