Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Why Conservative?

My English class got bored of doing questions about 'The Kite Runner' on Monday. One half of the room was talking about normal teenage things - like their Easter holiday shenanigans, but my shining influence resulted in political discussion for the hapless students unfortunate enough to be seated around me. This must be the effect I have upon people - bring them down to my own level of monotony. The chap seated behind me asked me a simple question: "Why should I vote Conservative?". The first thing to note is that he can't vote, and neither can I (rage!) except in a mock election, but nonetheless, I told him I'd give an extensive answer later, and that later is now. Since I'm such a sharing, caring kind of fellow, I've decided to write it here. Hardly an extensive answer, but this'll have to do.

Another thing before I start. I must apologise if it seems that I'm turning this site into a Conservative propaganda blog, but the articles here reflect my opinions, and they're often similar to the policies of the Conservatives. That doesn't mean I'm a minion of the party - Mark Prisk felt my wrath during the Digital Economy Bill debacle... until it turned out he was at his Mum's funeral during the final vote. Facepalm. I've increasingly been feeling an affinity for UKIP, and have long had anti-EU sentiments, but I think we all recognise that there isn't going to be UKIP government, so at least a Conservative one would be far more appealing party to govern than Labour or the Lib Dems. If you're determined to vote for one of the main parties, here's some reasons for why I think you should consider the Conservatives.

1. Freedom for educators

I bring this one up time and time again. Whilst I don't agree with everything in the party's education policies, I am in strong agreement with the main plan to let groups of parents, teachers, and any other not-for-profit groups set up their own free schools. I was explaining this policy to a committed Labourite yesterday (I will make her realise the error of her ways eventually) and her first reaction was "But people will have to pay!" That's not the case - these schools will be like state schools - free, but with less interference from the government. They'll still receive funding from the government in line with how many pupils they take on, and the group will also receive funding for converting an existing building into a school - such as an office block or disused hospital. Having reminded her that she's an entrenched middle-class champagne socialist with a posh voice. Her reaction: "I'm not a champagne socialist! And it's not my fault I have a posh voice!". I then set about explaining the reasons for this policy. The first is to increase the number of schools - class sizes have just kept growing and growing, and the best way to reduce this is to make sure there are more schools. The second is to give people more choice - we often hear on the news about parents and their children who've got the last choice on their ranking of school, or even on that wasn't listed. A greater number of schools to choose from, and less demand for each one, makes it less likely that people will miss out on their school of choice. Thirdly, it's also intended to drive up standards by encouraging schools to compete against each other - if one school isn't doing a good job, a parent can send their child to a new one set up by a non-profit group, or if they can get enough support, they could even set about starting their own.

A less prominent and sweeping change is the proposal to set up a free online database containing past exam papers and mark schemes. If you've any experience with trying to hunt down papers on the various exam boards websites, only to discover the bastards want to charge you, you'll know this is a positive move.

If you agree that we need more schools, better schools, and more choice, then the Conservatives' plans to let any capable group set up a school may look good to you.

2. Scepticism of the EU

To butcher a famous song, if you don't know I'm a Eurosceptic by now, you will never never never know me. In its current state, I really don't like the European Union; what started as an economic union to promote free trade and cooperation between the countries of Europe, has grown into a bureaucracy-choked, unaccountable, interfering ever-growing super-state. I'm happy for there to be an economic union, but I'm opposed to most political interference from the EU. If not possible to fundamentally reform the Union, I'd advocate withdrawal, but the official Conservative policy doesn't go as far. Overall, the party is Eurosceptic - there are some Euro-lovers in there, such as Ken Clarke, and some Euro-haters, such as  Daniel Hannan. (The latter is a bit of an evil nutcase who spoke openly about his thoughts that the NHS should be got rid of.) The general feeling within the party lies somewhere in the middle - healthy scepticism of European integration, but recognition of the economic benefits. The party plans to ensure no more transfer of power to the EU without a referendum, and to seek to repatriate powers back to the UK. I'd like to see a referendum on whether to remain part of it, but that's not on the cards from anyone but UKIP, and more surprisingly, the Lib Dems - both with diametrically opposing views on the European Union. However, if you agree that the EU has become too political, but our interests are better off served within it, the Conservative party has a healthy dose of euroscepticism that ought to appeal to you.

3. Addressing the West Lothian Question

"What the bloody hell is the West Lothian Question?!" This is one of those little-known and rarely addressed issues, but it burns a constant hole of rage within me. The creation of the Scottish Parliament has allowed the Scots to create their own primary legislation with some limitations. However, the Members of the Scottish Parliament are still able to vote on laws being debated in Westminster that only apply to England or England and Wales. Therefore, Scottish MPs could be responsible for blocking or passing a law that doesn't even affect them, whilst English MPs don't have that same right over Scottish affairs since the Scots have their own (hideously ugly) Scottish Parliament. The Conservatives plan to address this by preventing Scottish MPs from being able to block or pass legislation that doesn't affect them, and they also want to prevent people being MPs and MSPs at the same time. I seems that they don't plan to prevent them from voting on English laws altogether, which I'd like to see, but at least they won't be able to hold the decisive yes or no vote.

4. Lowering immigration

Another rage-inducing issue. Immigration has shot up under a Labour government, and until they realised they're losing votes over it, the party didn't care - they just branded critics as racists or xenophobes. I agree with the Conservatives that immigration has a benefit to the country - we do need foreign workers, but I also recognise that they've put added strain upon public services and transport systems, which are getting ever-more clogged, and we've also got a housing shortage on our hands. To address this, the Tories plan a yearly cap on immigration "In the tens of thousands" for those coming from outside the EU. This may still sound quite high, but it would be a fairly dramatic reduction over the hundreds of thousands we've  seen so far. They also aim to ease the impact of new EU members by setting transitional controls which will limit the incoming migrants of countries which have recently joined the EU. Due to EU rules (thanks, EU), we're not allowed to use the same cap as the Conservatives propose for outside EU migrants, so that's a let-down for me and anyone else who wants to see a marked decrease in immigration, which neither of the other two parties offer - though Labour like to pretend they do.

5. Amending libel laws

Perhaps a "WTF does that mean" moment? We've got a problem with libel laws in the UK - the problem is that freedom of speech and the freedom of journalists can be trampled upon by big companies with big wallets. If they launch a court case against you for libel, and you've not got the money or time to defend yourself in court, you're left with little choice but to delete the content or retract your statement, even if you know it to be true. I'll admit the Conservative policy on this area is a bit wishy-washy: they pledge to "review and reform libel laws to protect freedom of speech, reduce costs and discourage libel tourism", but it makes me happy to see the party pledging to do something about this risk to free speech. It might not sound all that important, but the Guardian had a gagging order taken against it by Trafigura - a big raw materials and oil company - which tried to prevent the newspaper from reporting upon a question raised in Parliament which asked about illegal dumping of toxic waste. Probably fearing a backlash, the company withdrew its gag, but the threat to freedom of the press remains, and must be tackled.

6. People Planning

I live fairly nearby Harlow, where the government has plans to build 25,000 houses, and in total. I'm aware that we need more houses in the UK, but trying to impose this from a top-down level isn't the way to go about it. Therefore, the Conservatives' plan to remove the housing Quangos and give their duties to electable councils, as well as giving residents the chance to say what sort of development they will allow. This new approach will also require developers to pay a levy, with some of the funding being used in the community for projects.

7. More open democracy

I think we're all concerned about having unaccountable politicians and a lack of say in the policies which affect our lives. The Conservatives go some way to addressing this in two main ways. The first is a right to recall MPs if serious wrongdoing is proven. However, I'd like to see "Serious wrongdoing" defined so we known exactly where we stand. The second of these proposals is more exciting - if you can get a petition signed by 100,000 people, it will have to be debated in Parliament, and the petitioner with the most signatures will get the chance to come to Parliament and propose a bill. I don't know how seriously this will all be taken, but it's definitely a big step in the right direction of letting the public make their opinions known, and take their plight directly to the decision makers.

8. Police being police

I don't know about you, but when Labour started all this Policing Pledge business and promised to cut red tape and put more bobbies on the beat, I scoffed. They had 13 years to reduce paperwork, but they seem to have just added bundles more, and like with voting reform, have had a deathbed conversion. Aside from the usual business of reducing the form-filling duties of coppers, the Tories plan to create an elected and accountable chap or chapess for each constabulary who will set the priorities for policing in that area. I must question how much power they will have, though. It's all well and good them telling the top brass in the police what the people want, but if it doesn't have to be acted upon, it's not helpful.

9. Help for small businesses

Another contrast with Labour, who have previously put up National Insurance for small businesses, and now plan to raise it even more. Before I'm invaded by red-rosette wearing Labour minions, I know you're doing it to keep investment in front-line services, but you're just delaying inevitable cuts and creating unemployment. The Conservatives plan to stop businesses paying National Insurance in their first year of trading provided they employ fewer than 10 people. This ought to encourage businesses to employ more people, which should reduce unemployment,and encourage businesses to grow, which'll be good for this economy of ours.

10. Dealing with waste and preventing the NI rise

One of the most absurd things I've ever heard Gordon Brown say is that we can't start cutting back waste yet because it will damage the economy. So, they're saying they've found a load of wasteful spending (that they've been happy to leave be during the rest of their term in government) but they're not going to reduce it, because for some reason, to do so would result in damaging the economy. That doesn't make any sense to me, but if someone wants to explain it to my puny mind, please feel free. By contrast, the Conservative say they'll deal with this wasteful spending sooner rather than later. On Labour's National Insurance rise, when even Alistair Darling says the job losses caused by the increase would be "Manageable", we know that there could be some serious damage. The Tories aim to prevent this tax hike, and by doing so, we ought to see jobs protected.

o More open democracy

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