Can Cameron roll back the state?
In his four years as leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron has often seemed to embrace socialist ideas. “Sharing the proceeds of growth” was only one of his efforts to be on a par with Labour. “Social responsibility” was often on his lips – food, for example, was “not a state responsibility but a social responsibility”; he called giving the Bank of England “independence” (it was nothing of the sort) “an act of genius”; Aneurin Bevan was one of his heroes, and so on.
In 2006 he said “For years we Conservatives talked about rolling back the state; but that is not an end in itself”. On tax, he said “I’d like to think not about how we give people a tax cut, but how we give them a time increase.”
Several commentators seem to think that he has changed his spots, citing his party’s recent conference, where he said “Labour say that to solve the country’s problems, we need more government. Don’t they see? It is more government that got us into this mess… We are going to solve our problems with a stronger society, stronger families, stronger communities, a stronger country…”.
Er, and smaller government, David? There is no mention of lower taxes. Indeed, George Osborne, perhaps concerned with the politics of envy, is likely to retain the top income tax rate and target tax havens.
In a nutshell, there seems to be no ideological preference for low taxes (and thus economic growth) either now or in the future. Indeed, there is a real danger that the same overall tax levels as Brown’s will be shunted around in different ways to satisfy different interest groups.
Of course, it’s hard to envisage a government worse than those of Blair and Brown, and if the Conservatives are elected their slightly milder version of socialism will be an improvement of sorts. Nevertheless, those who think Cameron has the courage or desire to roll back the state are likely to be disappointed.