Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Davis Takes Opposites Test

A number of otherwise supportive bloggers/commenters think that DD hasn't yet really told us 'anything beyond the leadership contest catchphrases of "reaching out" and "helping the disadvantaged". And they're all saying that!' (eg see here).

That's not how I feel, but it's got me wondering if maybe I've read too much into his pronouncements. So I've taken another shuftie through them, applying the Opposites Test.

The OT is the Tyler standardised test for detecting vacuous waffle. You simply take any political statement, work out its opposite, and then ask if anyone would ever actually say that. If not, then the original statement is motherhood waffle.

So for example, 'Your family better off' (first item on Labour's 2005 Election Pledge Card) becomes 'Your family worse off', and comprehensively fails the OT because no politician of any hue would ever say that. It's pure unadulterated waffle, 100 per cent proof.

OK? Let's look at what Our Man has said.

'I'm a low-tax Tory.'

Well, nobody's going to say 'I'm a high tax Tory,' are they?

You'd think not. But listen to Party Chairman Francis Maude. He says:

'...lower taxes. The arguments are wearily familiar. Yes, you tend to get a stronger economy when taxes are lower. Yes, we do believe that people are likely to be more self-reliant, and look after themselves and their families when they pay less tax... But at the best these arguments sound cold; at the worst they can sound like a self-interested appeal to the voter's own self-interest...blah, blah...It will require activist government but also some serious commitment of taxpayers' money. So limited government: yes. But not minimalist government.'

True, it's not the simple opposite of Tyler's OT test, but it is very much the kind of mealy mouthed centrist vocabulary many of our leading Tories use when they contemplate cutting taxes. And not just Tories who happen to have two girls' names.

Davis is having none of it. 'I'm a low-tax Tory.' Period.

Or take education and health reform. DD says:

'...a Tory programme of empowerment has to go much, much further. So let's transfer to parents the state's power and resources to choose their own school, whether it's local authority or independently run. If socialist Sweden can fund parents to exercise school choice, why can't we? Let's fund and empower patients to choose where they are treated, irrespective of their means, whether it's in a hospital run by the NHS or the independent sector.'

OT? Compare it to the managerialist approach to education set out by David Cameron last week:

'My focus is going to be simple and straightforward - on the basics. Discipline. Standards. Promoting teaching methods that work. Scrapping those that don't. Building on tests, league tables and exam standards that genuinely measure success, failure and progress. It is only once we have established what constitutes a good education that we should go on to ask: what stands in its way? How can we clear the obstacles in its path?'

Davis passes the OT test with flying colours- he's laying down something of real substance here. He goes for competition and choice over managerialism.

And what of the poor and disadvantaged? DD says:

'The test of the success of Conservative policies is what they do for the disadvantaged, for those on the outside and those who want to make the most of their lives. We should stand by the weakest in society. We should stand for brave reform to extend to all the opportunities currently enjoyed by some.'

Given his own background we shouldn't be at all surprised that he makes this his fundamental policy test, but OT? Well, compare the fundamental test proposed by Doc Fox:

'The first test that we must apply to any proposal, in opposition or when we come to government, is this - does it increase or decrease the size of government?'

Now that may or may not appeal to you, but it is certainly different to Davis. And actually it's easy to imagine other Tories coming up with any number of alternatives.

Again, the point is that DD's statement has substance because alternative views have their own plausibility. And you could do the same exercise for his views on law and order, localism, and personal freedom (eg ID cards).

So my conclusion is that Davis has told us quite a lot already. OK, there's much detail to fill in, but my strong sense is that this man is a conviction politician. We can trust him to follow through, and not to panic into U-turns when the going gets rough.

Just like someone else we all remember. Whose initial speeches were also a little light on detail (see eg first Conference speech as leader), but who certainly delivered on the conviction.
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