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August 16, 2006

Built to Last…

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Today a quite interesting thing happened… The Conservatives released a policy document. Well, lets rephrase that, it wasn't quite policy. But its closer than anything we've seen from the party under Mr. Cameron, and thats a good thing for the conservatives, and a good thing for anyone who wants a serious election in 2009, not the bad jokes that we've had on the last three occasions.

You see, I would really like to vote Conservative – I really do agree with a lot of their agenda. Seriously – privatise, de–regulate, personal responsibility over collectivism, lower taxes, free trade – I'm for all of it. But theres been huge problems for me over the last few years with the Conservatives. And I mean huge problems, things that would want to make me actively campaign against them if I wasn't confident that my local seat hadn't been safely out of their reach at each of the last two elections.

If you recall the good Mr. Hague in 2001 ran an appauling campaign based primarily around save the pound, and secondarily around a 'send the buggers back' style immigration policy. At the runnup to the last election we had a tabloid style mud slinging match where Mr. Howard slated asylum seekers, gypsies… It got to the point where I was actively awaiting for him to go on TV, beat up an asylum seeking midget and tell me this is what his parents told him make Britain the best country in the world. I was generally pretty sickened. Bottom line is that singing the national anthem at the top of your voice whilst beating up on people whose lives are so bad in their own country that they choose to leave it does not appeal to me one little bit.

So here we are, we now have a Mr. Cameron in charge, who is very likeable, and talks a good talk. The real question that he has to answer to me is whether his 'quiet revolution' is actually an attempt or merely a corporate branding activity. Well we have some evidence today in terms of the 'Built to Last' agenda, and it requires analysis. The majority of the document is spent reciting bland, smile inducing, rhetoric about Conservative values, but there are some points of interest.

Firstly the opening page acknowledges that political views change over time, this is a massive contrast to Mr. Howard's repeatedly asserted dislike of Moral Relativism. They also accept that the previous administration has had some positive impact. This is a far easier pill to swallow, firstly the majority of the electorate believe it to be the case, secondly because being so nice sounds good in a 'mini–manifesto' situation like this. There's nothing to loose politically or in terms of one's convictions.

Mr. Cameron's new calling card of the environment also pops up throughout the document, as one would expect. I am glad he is really pushing the idea that environmental and economic sustainability are not mutually exclusive goals. Perhaps this is something that American and Australian conservatives could also learn. Unfortunately it is here that he really lets me down. He has been talking non–stop about the environment since he was elected leader and I really want some ideas, not proper policy, just ideas that show he is on the right track about it.

You see with things like the environment there are intelligent solutions to be found. Hybrid cars are obvious example from the states, but there are lots of other areas of interest. For example on the recent energy debate a lot of discussion has concentrated on generation, nuclear vs renewable vs fossil fuel. There are a wide range of options to be considered on the front of distribution, however, that haven't even got a mention in the debate. What is notable is that only about 30% of the energy used in generation ever gets to the consumer. Most of the remaining 70% gets let loose as heat. In Scandinavia there are currently trials underway testing underground heat pipes that can delivery the generated heat to the consumer. This not only increases efficiency of generation, since the previously excess heat is now utilised, but also decreases demand, since less electricity is used in heating homes, since they can use the heat from generation.

It is this kind of efficient thinking around problems that needs to be pushed rather than the brute force, 'lets build shitloads of nuclear plants, Gordy' thinking that prevails within the mind of the current government. Ultimately the test of the modernising conservatives should be the extent to which they can come up with, or back, intelligent and potentially workable ideas like the heat pipes or hybrid cars. If nothing original arises out of the new Conservative think tanks then I shall be taking it for granted that this is merely a branding exercise rather than a deep period of self reflection. I expect that in this instance Mr. Cameron will rely on the traditional tool of tabloid racism that proved such a poor fallback for bald erstwhile modernisers past.

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