Mr Hague will have to do more if he wants us to believe in his manifesto

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Whatever else may be said about "Believing in Britain", the Conservatives' outline manifesto, it is not lacking in ambition. By any standard, the Tories' claim that they have the policies to make Britain "the best place in the world to live" is a bold one. Nothing wrong with ambition, of course, but it may, we suspect, be rather too bold for a public grown understandably weary, through long experience, of politicians' boasts running far ahead of their ability to deliver. The Tories will find it difficult to persuade the voters that their battery of 100 policy proposals has much chance of living up to the highfalutin rhetoric.

Whatever else may be said about "Believing in Britain", the Conservatives' outline manifesto, it is not lacking in ambition. By any standard, the Tories' claim that they have the policies to make Britain "the best place in the world to live" is a bold one. Nothing wrong with ambition, of course, but it may, we suspect, be rather too bold for a public grown understandably weary, through long experience, of politicians' boasts running far ahead of their ability to deliver. The Tories will find it difficult to persuade the voters that their battery of 100 policy proposals has much chance of living up to the highfalutin rhetoric.

Mr Hague has not said as much, but it seems that "Europe, Europe, Europe" will be his top three priorities at the next election. The Tories' pledge to "reserve powers" against a mythical encroaching European superstate and the promise to "save the pound" will, we are told, be at the heart of their strategy. That is a deeply disturbing, if unsurprising, development.

Few things could be more damaging to our prosperity than the destructive disengagement from Europe that the Tories' proposals represent. As Lord Howe pointed out yesterday, Europe's single market - one of the big achievements of the Thatcher government - could not survive if every member state claimed the right to interpret or limit its EU obligations to suit its own ends.

The Tories say that the Government's plan for entry into the euro would be an unjustifiable risk. Quite apart from the fact that such a "plan" has been conspicuous by its absence, the much greater risk to our prosperity is that companies that are otherwise impressed by Britain as a place to do business might choose not to subject themselves to the problems that setting up outside the euro-zone would impose on them. Mr Hague's policy might well "save the pound", but it would certainly not save our economy from an uncomfortable decline. The Tories' hostility to Europe guarantees that, as a nation and as individuals, we would be poorer than we would under a policy of constructive engagement that sought to reform Europe rather than sulk outside it.

This unremitting Europhobia is a pity, because the manifesto does mark an attempt by the Conservatives to tackle the social agenda with some imaginative ideas. The eye-catching proposal to create university endowments is promising: the recent controversy about admissions policies suggests that we may be able to learn something from the American example. Similarly, there are useful ideas about devolving more administrative power to individual schools and hospitals, and proposals on tax and pension reform that deserve to be taken seriously.

But the main problem remains painfully unanswered: the Tory programme is a menu without prices, with no indication of how Mr Portillo will be able to reconcile the Tories' desire to cut taxes with properly funded public services, even after the shadow Chancellor's wise move to ditch the unworkable "tax guarantee".

The Conservative Party invited us to "believe in Britain" yesterday. It is a clever slogan, one which implies that those who disagree with the party are somehow unpatriotic - an old Tory trick. On the evidence of this latest manifesto, though, Mr Hague and his party still have much work to do before they will persuade Britain to believe in the Conservatives.

Comments