Wednesday 5 February 2014

Trying to lose?

I almost feel sorry for Andrew RT Davies over the problems he’s having with his own party’s Secretary of State over the devolution of income tax.  Trying to pretend that your party’s policy is somehow different from what your party is doing in government isn’t at all easy.  I tried it a few years ago on the question of student tuition fees, but eventually concluded that it’s an untenable position.  The public will simply not believe any political party which says that what its elected members are doing in government is not the party’s policy.  Voters will – quite rightly – believe what politicians do, not what they say.
So, the de facto conservative policy on income tax is that it will only be devolved with the so-called lockstep.  And unless and until the Conservative-led government does something different, voters will assume – entirely correctly – that that is what Conservative policy is, and that is what they will get if they vote Tory (although, whatever Davies says, it’s probably a policy which appeals more to most members of his own party than that which he is promoting...).  In that sense, the Secretary of State is surely right to say that any alternative view expressed – even if by his party’s entire Assembly group – is just a personal view.
It may be of course that Davies is trying to change his party’s policy, and doing so in a very public way.  The problem he has is that there is no democratic way of changing policy in the Conservative party.  “Conferences” are just that; talking shops.  They cannot and do not set policy.  Party policy is, ultimately, determined by the party leader, not by the membership.
One of the problems with current day politics, however, is that that isn’t only true of the Tories.  Whilst the other three parties currently represented in the Assembly all claim, to a greater or lesser extent, that their policies are decided by their members, it is also true that when in government all of them allow policy to be set or changed at the whim of the leader.  Only when in opposition does the pretence of democracy have any kind of credibility.
It follows that it's only when the Conservatives are out of government in London that Davies stands any chance of gaining credibility for his views.  Perhaps his very public disagreement with his own party’s leaders is part of an attempt to bring that about.

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