On your bike, David, and join the real world

Last updated at 10:15 26 May 2006

When a politician, any politician, says that life is about more than money, my advice is to get a firm grip on your wallet.

I dimly recall from my childhood one of the Attlee Government's Chancellors — Sir Stafford Cripps or Hugh Dalton — preaching that line in a radio broadcast. The occasion, as you might guess, was some call to tighten our belts, accept high taxes and realise that rationing was good for us.

Of course, as David Cameron proclaims, the quality of life and our personal relationships are more important than money. Everyone knows that.

But lofty declarations of this sort are certainly easier to deliver if you are comfortably off, if you do not have to worry about your power bill or buying food for the family — or indeed meeting your rocketing council tax. Cripps was certainly not short of a bob or two. Nor is Cameron.

There are two coded messages in this Cameron sermon. One is to play down expectations of anything as tangible as tax cuts, whatever he may tell Mail readers about the Tory Party liking lower taxes. The second, as briefed to journalists, is his desire to draw a line under Thatcherism. That, you see, was associated with selfishness and materialism.

It is an interesting view of a government that rescued Britain from relentless decline, provided a worldwide example in economic reform and gave ordinary people more control over their own lives.

As to selfishness or material-mindedness, impressive as Margaret Thatcher's powers proved, the notion that she somehow changed human nature and introduced selfishness where it did not exist before is sheer fantasy. Cameron has been reading The Guardian too much.

Besides, which was the pre-Thatcher era of non-selfishness that the Cameroons seem to think existed — the Callaghan period with the Winter of Discontent and top tax rates at 98 per cent? Your money belonged to the state, was that message.

Or perhaps the Ted Heath era when there were two disastrous miners' strikes? Do the Cameroons believe that these strikes exemplified a non-materialist and selfless spirit? Maybe he hankers after the 13 years of Tory rule — the "you've never had it so good" period. Perhaps he thinks those were times when selfishness and materialism had been vanquished.

The simple fact is that human nature does not change. In any case, what Cameron thinks of as "selfishness" is often no more than admirable individualism — the desire to be responsible for yourself and your own family without the man in Whitehall deciding what is best.

Mind you, he is against state regulation. But he does favour "exhortation". Proffer fruit not chocolate oranges at the check-out and eat up your greens. We look set for a policy of exhortation, exhortation, exhortation.

It was reported at the weekend, and without irony, that Cameron's "inner circle" believes that Norman Tebbit's exhortational skills — recalling how his father got on his bike to look for work — were as important as his employment laws.

This is grotesque. The curbing of trade union power plus the freeing up of the labour market was a major reason for Thatcherism's success.

John Major had a go at exhortation, you may recall: Back to basics and family values. It was promptly followed by a series of matrimonial scandals in the Tory ranks. And we later learn that Major had had an affair with Edwina Currie. (Well, each to his own.)

One of the few tangible aspects of Cameron's speech was his promise to make our bloated — not his word, alas — public sector a model in employment policies: "Childcare leave enabling parents to stop work during summer holidays, returning later with continuous service and maintained benefits" and "grandparents leave to look after children" and "job sharing".

This can help "productivity", he says. But public sector productivity, perhaps conveniently, is almost impossible to measure. That slurping noise you hear is trade union leaders licking their lips. Ah, the range of benefits which they will be able to demand as of right.

The Rev David Cameron should get out of his pulpit and join the real world.

The war protesters' guns are silenced

Why are Labour MPs so muted these days about Iraq? The former protests about Britain's role have become almost inaudible.

It is hard to believe that Labour backbencher are impressed with Tony Blair's claim that the new Baghdad government marks "a new beginning".

Yes, yet another "new beginning", like post-invasion Iraq acquiring its first president, the setting up of the first national assembly, the agreement to stage elections and the elections themselves.

Nothing changes, the death toll mounts and our troops suffer. The date for withdrawal remains conditional and obscure.

Even graver now is the Afghanistan venture. Yet we hear few protests from Labour dissidents — and only weasel words from the Official Opposition.

Believe me, this expedition will prove a costly and bloody disaster.

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