Not for ‘right-wing’ reasons, I respected Tim Montgomerie’s very honest and (I guess) accurate piece in The Times this morning on the British credit downgrade and the state finances, except in that it glosses over the fact that the private sector is living beyond its means as well as the public. But in the spirit of friendly advice I would urge Mr Montgomerie, his readers, and think tank associates to look again at the silly ideological labelling which can actually get in the way of cross-party support for certain measures which he has helpfully identified. Of the four measures he says Mr Osborne is not being allowed to carry out, only one; namely, no strike agreements in the public sector, might reasonably be classed as ‘right-wing’. Shifting the balance of tax from income to property is, if anything, ‘left-wing’ and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats supported Osborne on that one. A similar point applies to some other policies proposed from similar quarters such as more housebuilding in rural areas or cuts to welfare benefits to more affluent pensioners (pensions account for 50 per cent of the welfare budget, I understand). Whatever the merits or demerits of those proposals, they are not particularly ‘right-wing’ in so far that term means anything. For at least some policies to deal with the public finances, cross-party support would be easier if nonsensical labelling, a typical result of the human need for identities at all costs, were eliminated.
One other warning for Montgomerie, and other Conservatives like Heseltine who used to be incensed by left-wing moral arrogance. The latest ruckus ahead of the Eastleigh by-election again places Mr Clegg as an ass – a role he has played before. But the way certain Tories, or more often their uncontrollable allies, have played politics back to 1924 or even earlier lends a certain credibility to left pride whatever the Tories’ actual policies or actions in government. Further, the old left would certainly have expected Osborne to be ditched as an embarrassment once the cuts became too unpopular ahead of the general election and sterling began taking a hit, whatever the merits of his plans. Maybe not for the first time, the Tories are threatened with the financial markets agreeing with the old left.