Sunday, September 28, 2008

Off to Birmingham

I'm currently on a coach to Birmingham for the Conservative party conference. (turns out last minute coach tickets are much cheaper than last minute train tickets, and there isn't much difference in journey time!)

If a week is a long time in politics, what a difference a year makes. This time last year, Labour were miles ahead in the polls, and many commentators suggested the best David Cameron could hope for was to put off an early election. I never really agreed with that assessment - I had seen through Gordon Brown and New Labour spin a long time ago, and could scarcely believe it when Labour MPs allowed him to become leader without a challenge. Any sort of scrutiny of his record as chancellor during an election would see not just a deeply flawed individual, but an economy that was built on totally reckless borrowing - by both government and individuals, used to fund the expansion of a nanny state that has steadily trapped ever more people into dependence on means tested benefits, and that seeks to control ever more of our lives. Cameron is no novice, but it feels like anything would be better than a proven incompetent who doesn't even realise how and why his policies have contributed to the mess the economy is in at the moment. But after much nail biting indecision, the election was bottled and the rest is history. The next election is far from won for the Conservatives, but it certainly now looks possible that the Labour nightmare will soon be over.

For mere local delegates like myself, party conferences are more about networking and meeting friends than listening to big speeches. With possible Conservative government no more than about 18 months away, I am keen to know the shadow cabinet thinking on the key issues that affect local authorities, and the residents of Coleridge, and press the case for policies that will help here in Cambridge. Current local Councils are run for the most part as branch offices for national government, considering the financial meddling and target setting that governs almost everything Councils do. Personally I would like to see wholescale reform, abolishing all nationally set targets and obligations, replacing them with genuine local control to respond to local problems. Top of my hit list is Labour's attempts to blackmail Cambridgeshire into introducing congestion charging, and their central housing targets that would see thousands of homes dumped on East Cambridge regardless of local objections and the lack of transport infrastructure. There is also the scandalous £1.3m 'Cambridge Tax' that is the concessionary bus fare scheme and the way much of the rent from Cambridge Council tenants is shipped out to other parts of the Country under Labour's finance formulas. If I can get some of these messages across to the decision makers, I will have had a good conference...

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