May 17, 2007

Boiling frogs

I might have been a bit hasty about Two Brains plan for education, because I read the headlines and not the words. Wat Tyler read the words and like Oliver Letwin's earlier speech the ideas that it contains are very good. One badly written speech full of good ideas is just a mistake, and everybody makes them, but two in a couple of weeks? Is there something more to this? I've actually noticed this pattern before; a leading Conservative gives a speech, the headlines look like they are doing some kind of major change to conservative thinking, the traditional conservative voters read the headlines and explode. But if you read the words not the headlines the words tell a different story, often a tale of how goals normally associated with government interference can actually be achieved by less government and a greater role for individual choices.

Could this be part of the Cameron strategy? A long game to rehabilitate the concept of individual freedom after decades of attack from authoritarians on both sides of the left/right split. First he uses these deliberately obscure speeches to provoke outrage from the conservatives traditional supporters, making people see him as different from what went before and therefore somebody that should actually be listened to. Over time the speeches will become less obscure, slowly acclimatizing the media (particularly the leftists at the BBC) to the idea of personal freedom. Had he come strait out as saying that he wanted to shrink the role of the state, because big government is simply not very good at doing anything, you can bet any money you like the BBC would already be in full demonisation mode shouting about how he wanted to force tiny babies to work in sweatshops. By increasing the rhetoric slowly while always maintaining the same ideas, he delays this moment when they realise what he is up to and allows time for these ideas to percolate outwards and get people thinking that there might be an alternative to the state as the cure for everything. Much like method for boiling frogs, if you just dropped them in water at full temperature they would just jump out, but raise the temperature slowly and they don't.

If I am right then stage one of project Cameron is already working. He is getting noisy decent from his traditional supporters making him look like a break from the past, and he is getting personal popularity so that people might actually listen to these supposedly new ideas. Stage two will be slowly making his rhetoric clearer and simpler over the next couple of years, but still not putting enough pressure on Gordon Brown so as to stop him from swinging left to try and show that he, Gordon, is a break from his predecessor in Number 10. Cameron will want this because of the inevitable result of left wing policies, economic collapse. The fact that he has kept the economy ticking over for such a long time is Gordon Brown's single greatest electoral advantage. When he loses that there won't be much left that he can call on and people will be willing to go for a radical change to get them out of the fix they are in. If the collapse can be associated with increases in state spending and interference, compared to Gordon's successful early years when he followed prudent Conservative policy, then all the better since it will get people thinking about alternatives that involve less state interference. Alternatives that Cameron will have been quietly laying the ground work for for several years.

I am convinced that Cameron knows that he has three years before he can start his election campaign and intends to use them to the full to try and set the groundwork for calling for a smaller state, rather than coming out all guns blazing now when he has nothing to win from it. He can leave it to UKIP to argue for a smaller state directly knowing that come election time many attracted by the UKIP arguments will still end up voting for him as there is nobody else with a hope of enacting even his minor curtailments of the state. His position will also look more centrist (and therefore electable) in comparison to UKIP by limiting his anti-statist rhetoric to be less than them, where before it without them it would have looked extreme compared to all the other parties with their varying degrees of statism.


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