On Wednesday I did something I have not done for a very long time, if ever: I went to a meeting organized by the local Conservative Association to hear my Conservative PPC, Shaun Bailey.
Shepherds Bush, where I live, has now been pushed back into the Hammersmith constituency and our Labour candidate will be Andrew (or as he invariably calls himself Andy) Slaughter, the sitting MP for Shepherds Bush, Ealing and Acton. Hammersmith looks like a seat the Conservatives can win with a reasonable effort and, one must admit, their candidate is highly personable as well as articulate and politically quite savvy. Also, unlike Mr Slaughter, he can point to a career outside politics, though mostly in charity/quango world.
Mr Slaughter has shown signs of panic. He it was who had a grand public row
with Derek Scott of Iwantareferendum, accusing him of bad faith and threatening to go to court about some perceived illegality in the process of asking the people of Hammersmith whether they would like to have a referendum on the
Lisbon Treaty and which way would they vote in case of one.
Someone, presumably, dissuaded him from any such foolish action (discussed on EUReferendum here
) but I know from a telephone conversation I had with an unfortunate underling (initiated by him) that “Andy” thinks that the new treaty is so different from the old one that he does not think it would be appropriate to ask the people on it.
I did not ask Mr Bailey what his ideas on that subject were since I assume that he follows the Conservative line, which is “we are not going to leave it there”. To be fair to Mr Bailey, he did say that he was ready to disagree with David Cameron on the subject of Europe, where he thinks we are no longer benefiting and he is not afraid to say that if we cannot reform things we should come out. Whether he will still be unafraid when and if he is in Parliament remains to be seen.
Since then Mr Slaughter has let it be known that he opposed the third runway (very unpopular in the area), that he did not like the highly successful Westfield shopping centre (didn’t get anywhere on that), that Shepherds Bush market will be bulldozed (no evidence but it is failing) and that his Conservative opponent was a racist. That, according to Mr Bailey, delivered absolutely deadpan, confused some residents of the Edward Woods estate.
Well, Mr Bailey also opposes the third runway and is clearly planning to make that the cornerstone of his campaign. He does have some alternatives and can argue his case so one wishes him luck.
Other matters become a little more complicated. For instance, when asked about possible tax reform he explained that he was in favour of a reform that would leave more money with the lower paid workers. He did not go so far as to say that they should be taken out of the income tax completely but his thoughts are moving in the right direction. For some reason, he considered this idea to be a new and radical one. Actually, it has been around for a while.
When asked whether he intended to do anything to regenerate the Shepherds Bush market he replied that he was very anxious to help small businesses but apart from what he can do the market must regenerate itself. At the moment, as we all know, its main problem is that it does not attract enough customers, there not being a great deal one wants to buy there.
So our Conservative PPC does have inklings of what a market is about.
Mr Bailey is very strong on education. Well, he is very strong on the need for good education, discipline and responsibility. He spoke very eloquently of the problems he has seen and had to deal with, of the fact that children and teenagers in this country are out of control in the way they are not in other countries, of the lack of achievement and the resulting hopelessness.
Parents, he insisted, must be made responsible for their children – that is more important than what happens in schools. Of course, better schools must be created as well and the best examples, which just happen to be independent schools, have to be followed. But he did not envisage any school being really independent. They must all be controlled one way or another by state authorities.
In other words, what Shaun Bailey believes is that parents must be made responsible for their children’s wrongdoings (and who can argue with that) but cannot be entrusted with the responsibility of choosing their children’s education. Choice is not the issue, he said, parroting his leader; we must build more schools and decide where to send children.
What is it about Conservatives? Why do they find it so difficult to think outside the box?
I may add that however strong some of Mr Bailey’s own opinions were, he became quite mushy in his replies when asked about specific Conservative policies. I wonder why.