One thing he said though triggered some musing, he used the phrase "toxic brand"¹ to describe the Conservative party's image. That led to some thoughts, on the Tory image, both my perceptions of it and how my friends see it.
¹ I realise that he's hardly the first to use that phrase.
By the mid 1990s the Tories really did have a toxic brand. There was a combination of the sleaze and ineptitude of the Major government with the legacy of the Thatcher government which had reached a state of demonic legend for just about anybody who wasn't an active supporter thanks to (amongst many other events) the miners' strike, Section 28, the poll tax and Spandau Ballet.
So, where are they now? I suspect a lot of friends still hold that view of a party beyond the pale, and supporters borderline pariahs; with a view that any Tory must be self-interested, uninformed or at best eccentric. I think that, for me, that view has changed over recent years.
One place to start is to draw comparisons with the last time we saw the Tories in government. Obviously it's not that they've disappeared for the past 13 years, so there isn't a direct comparison, it's influenced by their time in opposition. It also may be too early to judge them in detail, as they've yet to be significantly challenged.
Disclaimers dealt with, I think that there has been some obvious change since 1997; they're a more liberal party, all be it with a strong tinge of US libertarianism. In particular, they seem far more progressive on crime than I ever expected. They look genuinely inclined toward rolling back some of Labour's civil rights abuses. They've accepted some of the social reforms of the past 13 years, showing no signs of the idiocy that created Section 28. That said, I worry about the influence of the Christian right-wing on the party, with Iain Duncan Smith in cabinet (being advised by the deeply unpleasant Phillipa Stroud).
However, there's the down side of libertarianism, in particular they're looking distinctly harsh on benefits cuts and ideologically opposed to a lot of what I think the state should be doing. To me, the ideal of the state is as the body that effectively implements the collective will of society, so the concept of "big society" appears to be an acceptance of failure rather than something to aspire to. We'll see where the "big society" idea goes; at best it's an unwinding of unnecessary bureaucracy, at worst it's an abrogation of the responsibilities of the state.
Labour's record on improving social and economic equality was incredibly poor for a party that's meant to have that as their core belief. There's an argument that they reduced the rate of increase of inequality, but I'm not sure I really believe that. It wouldn't be hard for the tories to be no worse at it than Labour were, especially if the coalition holds and the worst of the Laffer worshiping wing of the Conservatives can be contained.
The Tories' internal debate on Europe appears to have been won by the more moderate eurosceptics, and it remains to be seen what they do about human rights legislation and any constructive interaction with the EU. I suspect there that we'll see a balance of a pragmatic attitude and some concessions to the populist anti-EU feeling. Hopefully they're too late to do any real damage to Britain's place in the EU project. (Realistically there's a few years of consolidation of expansion and the Lisbon treaty before the ever closer union can really restart.)
The NHS is going to be one to watch, particularly with the US healthcare debate being quite so active, and the influences of their politics on the UK right. I fear that a lot of the good that Labour did on healthcare will be unwound in the interests of "efficiency" and the ease of cutting back-office or management functions with little public perception of how it affects front line services.
Overall, and particularly after 13 years of government from a centralising, controlling, civil liberty destroying Labour party, I don't see today's Tory party as much worse than that, just differently bad (and to be fair, with different good points to each side). It's probably on balance a good thing for them to come along and remove some of the harm Labour did, though they'll doubtless remove some of the good too.
I've mixed feelings about the coalition, I didn't want it to begin with, but now accept that the Lib Dems probably made the best of a bad hand. After the election results, I think they were damned whatever they did. They're suffering for it now, and will probably take years to recover, but at least appear to be having some good effect on government policy.
Anyway, enough from me. Feel free to leave comments, at the risk of splitting any debate, I'll put a friends locked placeholder post up for any non-public comments. To make life easier, have a poll:
Have the Conservative Party significantly changed since 1997?
Is supporting the Conservative Party socially acceptable (you choose whether that means to you, among your friends or generally)?
If a friend said they supported the Conservatives, you would