It is not enough for Labour to lose this election

David Cameron says that the election is not won yet and that the public must be given a core reason to vote not just against Labour but for the Conservative party

18 March 2009

‘Sit back, keep quiet, let the government unravel and you will be in Number 10.’ If I had a pound for every time these words of advice have been uttered to me over the last year or so, I’d be able to make a sizeable contribution towards easing the pain of Labour’s debt crisis.

But the advice — however well meaning — is plain wrong.

The election is far from won and I still hold to the belief that governments don’t just lose elections; oppositions must deserve to win them with a positive mandate for change. And there is one central idea which shows clearly that we are not sitting back waiting for Labour to lose, nor backing off the changes that have been instrumental in the Conservative revival of recent years.

It’s an idea so radical and ambitious that it could, if we are not clear and passionate in our advocacy of it, be distorted by a cynical Labour party desperate to cling to the power they have so comprehensively squandered and abused.

What is this idea so big, so bold and so wide in its scope? Well, I can describe it in the terms we’ve been using for several years and explain that we want to usher in a new post-bureaucratic age, where we bring together the opportunities of the information revolution and the deepest values of Conservatism to create a massive transfer of power from central government and its agencies to individuals and local communities. Or I can sum it up in terms that our new party chairman Eric Pickles might prefer: we want to give folks power over their lives.

Either way, the point is this: our masterplan for fixing both our broken economy and our broken society is quite simple — the people of this country. Collectively, they have the ideas and the energy and the commitment to get our economy moving, to improve our schools, to make our neighbourhoods safer, to keep families together, to create the new jobs we need, to help people get the skills they need to find those jobs, to invent new ways to protect the environment and to make this country a better place to live for everyone.


But today, the ideas, the energy and the commitment of people in Britain to do all these things and more, and to help forge a better future for themselves, their families and their communities is shamefully smothered by a stultifying blanket of bureaucracy, bossiness and the arrogant belief that the political elite — ministers, their officials and their place-people in Labour’s obscenely bloated quango state — really do know best. As a result, enterprise, initiative and above all a sense of personal and social responsibility has been steadily drained from our national life.

So part of our agenda is inspired by our revulsion at what Labour has done to our country and our determination to put things right, informed by our instinctive Conservative optimism about people. While those on the political Left are essentially pessimists, believing that people will do the wrong thing unless told what to do by government, we on the centre-Right are optimists: we have faith that most people are good and will do the right thing if only you trust them. But there is more to our agenda for changing Britain than a simple rekindling of this traditional Conservative view of human nature.

We are fortunate to be in politics at a time when technological innovation has — with astonishing speed — developed the opportunity to decentralise power in a way we’ve never seen before. For the first time, every citizen in their home can have access to exactly the same information as the most powerful bureaucrat in a ministry. The argument that has applied for well over a century — that in every area of life we need people at the centre to make sense of the world for us and to make wise decisions on our behalf — simply falls away, cut down by the invigorating, liberating power of the information revolution.

That’s what we mean by the post-bureaucratic age: the satisfying clunk-click of political philosophy matching contemporary reality to produce a genuinely historic shift in how we organise our affairs. That’s why the idea of the post-bureaucratic agenda is so central to all the changes we want to make, and why, on reflection, it makes those big myths about the current political situation seem so ridiculous.

It is the post-bureaucratic age that allows us to deliver progressive goals through conservative means, and thereby stick to the changes we’ve made and stick to the political centre ground. In the past, there was an assumption that the only way you could make society fairer, make opportunity more equal and help the poorest live a decent life was through central government redistributing money and running programmes aimed at tackling disadvantage.

Today, that assumption no longer holds. After 12 years of intense and committed bureaucratic intervention the poorest have got poorer, there are more of them, and social mobility has stalled. So while there will always be a role for redistribution, we can confidently argue that what is called for today is a post-bureaucratic response to poverty: advancing social justice by really understanding the causes of poverty, family by family, and giving people and organisations in local communities the power and the responsibility to help themselves and each other.

Similarly, there was an assumption in the past that you could only achieve improvements to environmental protection through central government regulation and rules laid down by experts in the bureaucratic machine, both nationally and locally (and under New Labour, regionally). But we’ve seen the results of that: over the past decade of Labour government, despite its endless green pronouncements and initiatives and plans, and its new armies of highly paid environmental analysts and inspectors and officials — our carbon emissions actually went up.

Contrast that failed approach with a simple fact from the post-bureaucratic age. In pilot studies around the world where people have been provided with accurate information about their energy use in the home — information which technology now allows anyone to have — their energy consumption fell by at least 10 per cent and in some areas much more, without any other change in their circumstances. If we achieved that kind of change in Britain, we would save the amount of electricity produced by two large nuclear power stations.

Just giving people more information, more power and more control over their lives makes them more responsible. That’s the way to change people’s behaviour for the better, not the top-down nanny state bossiness of Labour which simply makes people resentful — not least about the vast, unproductive expansion of government that it has required. It’s because we know that individual happiness and social progress will only come from personal and social responsibility that all our key reforms — in schools, in welfare, in family policy, in prison rehabilitation and in fighting crime — are designed to transfer power from the political elite at the centre to people and communities across the country — and it’s the post-bureaucratic age that makes it possible.

So it is the post-bureaucratic age that offers this country a route map out of recession, towards recovery, renewal and a bright economic future. It is the post-bureaucratic age — as we will be setting out in a London conference next week — that shows how we can properly regulate capitalism without crushing its wealth-creating benefits. And it is the post- bureaucratic age that offers our best hope of winning the next election as people see the real change on offer. The task for us now is to explain this vision clearly and confidently.

Our crusade to give power to the people is terrifying
to a statist Labour establishment that can’t imagine how things will work without them being in control. That’s exactly why, for us, it’s so exciting.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Observer 99


    Are you big enough to deal with all this? I hope so, because the challenge is enormous. This country has been absolutely and comprehensively wrecked, and you will be the British leader in just over a year. I hope you can rise to the challenge.

    Regards, Obs. 99

  • A sceptic

    “After 12 years of intense and committed bureaucratic intervention the poorest have got poorer”…Sure Start, Neighbourhood Management, if you spent more than a 2 hour photocall in deprived communities, you will see that these things have made a difference…mistakes have been made but multiple issues of deprivation are not easy problems to resolve

    Come on Dave, let’s be honest. The Tory policy has always been (at least since Thatcher) to pull up the ladder and let those at the bottom stew in their own juices..

    Are you really proposing anything different? Or are you hoping that in times of hardship the electorate that counts (the middle classes) will choose to protect their own skin.

  • A G Briggs

    Yes Cameron is the man to take the seat at No.10.Sooner than later the UK has sunk low enough under the Manse Man of the Left. Currently the UK is as the old East Bloc world.Targets unworkable and central control this is not the UK we want.
    Many of us agreed Cameron was the man when we voted him leader.Something Brown has never been – voted in for party or Government.
    Obama said yesterday he is the leader and the actions good or bad are his responsibilty even though he was not the leader when all the money problems began.
    Brown has been there since 97 and still he says he was not responsibile? Plus the bad 18 years he always recalls he was there planning for his day.Some planner he turned out to be.Why does the UK have to continue with this Failed and Phoney man.
    France and other countries protest against their Government,we just sit back and the UK Sinks lower daily.
    Brown has to go and his team NOW for the sake of the UK.

  • Aukeki Nuberinga

    In a Ken Livingstone interview on Iain Dale’s blog, Ken says you won’t bring more localism to Britain. Is he right?

  • Chris

    No sign of the E word then. David Cameron is desperately hoping that no-one will notice the army of europhobe nutters who infest the grass roots of his party. If tory anti-Europeanism is allowed into the open again, he’s going the way of Hague.

  • John Le Sueur

    Cameron will only win the election on a backlash vote. We are on for more of the same in spite of what he says here. He cant unravel what Labour has done in 5 years. He does not have much of a clue either. Sadly he will betray us all.

  • Jack

    It beggars belief that after all this time as leader, neither Cameron nor the Conservative Party as a whole has come up with even ONE policy. STILL! Radical idea? Please! If the radical idea is repeating the words “radical idea” over and over again until people believe you, then perhaps, but Gordon Brown already did that with “prudence”, and people will be more wise to that kind of Malicious PR-style of politics from now on. The choice British voters are facing at the next election is woeful…

  • Dorothy Wilson

    “No sign of the E word then. David Cameron is desperately hoping that no-one will notice the army of europhobe nutters who infest the grass roots of his party. If tory anti-Europeanism is allowed into the open again, he’s going the way of Hague.”

    This kind of comment makes me very angry. I have a long track record of working for European cooperation and have served as European President of an international association.

    However, I am deeply sceptical about the EU. Unlike most of the pro-EU camp I can differeniate between Europe and the EU.

    DC could shut people like Chris up by committing himself to two things. First, he should promise to commission a proper, and objective, cost/benefit analysis of EU membership similar to the one undertaken by the Swiss government. Second, he should commit himself to a referendum on further integration – and indeed perhaps continuing membership – based on the results of the cost/benefit analysis.

  • Steve H

    Loved the title to this piece. I was hoping it would be followed up along the lines of ‘we’ll have a quick show try (for treason), shoot most of them, and the most egregious offenders will be hung, drawn and quartered, their heads stuck on pikes on Tower Bridge’. I was disappointed, but not surprised.

    David, much as the majority of the country (England) would welcome such a statement, I really don’t feel inspired by the utterings of the Tory party. And what’s this nonsense about the power of technology? Is a Conservative government going to stop using it against its own people? There’s a lot of anger outside the Westminster bubble. You should get out more…

  • yebra123

    Look, Mr Cameron, lets get one thing straight. Ill vote for your party because I want to give Brown and his abysmal crew a good kicking, and this is the only way I know how. But do I trust you to make a real effort to honour your promises? No, I dont. Do I think youre really outraged at the mess New Labour has created. No, I dont. I think that you, and nearly all MPs have either colluded in it or at best have cravenly allowed it to happen. Do I think youre sincere when you say `We are fortunate to be in politics at a time when technological innovation has — with astonishing speed — developed the opportunity to decentralise power in a way we’ve never seen before. No, I dont. I think the prospect terrifies you as much as it does Brown. We now have almost immediate access to information, and a new and powerful way to make our voices heard and to take politicians to task for their failings and misdeeds. Why pretend youre happy about that?

    I may be wrong about you. I hope so for the sake of the British people. But youre asking me to trust you – a politician. With very few exceptions, I dont trust or even like politicians any more.

    As I say, Ill vote for you, but if you want my trust and respect, youll have to earn them. The automatic deference that politicians could once command has evaporated. Now it must be earned; it cannot be assumed as an automatic right.

    I wish you luck in your ambition to be Prime Minister of Great Britain. Its one hell of a responsibility,and I sincerely hope youre up to it, for the sake of all of us.

  • Christopher Chantrill

    Well, I’ve been doing my bit for the glorious centre-right future. At http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk I’ve made 300 years of UK public spending available for everyone at the click of a button. Charts too.

  • Geoff Miller

    Your masterplan should be to treat people like adults and expect them to behave like adults.

    Firstly address their legitimate concerns about mass immigration & open borders, Challenge and defeat Islamic extremism in a broad swath of the Islamic community – not just the so-called “tiny minority”. Stop all the Health & Safety nonsense that circumscribes our lives and the damages culture that flows from it. End the denigration and subservience of our indiginous national cultures and stop the multicultural idiocy that has encoraged ghettos and divided communities. Rebalance the public sector and the BBC so that they represent the population as a whole – not just the self defining Socialist/Liberal “Elite”.

    Stop mass surveillance in the name of crime prevention and anti-terrorism laws. Go in for profiling – its cheaper and more successful – damn the people who object.

    Do that and I, and many like me, may just return to the UK.

    For the time being I will stay in France where I am safe, can enjoy a country that celebrates its own culture – not those of incomers, and where the “default setting” is that I am a free man, treated like an adult and do not have my pleasures stopped or taxed to address the bad behaviour of others or fulfill liberal objectives to alter my way of life and behaviour.

    I won’t be holding my breath though……

  • TomNightingale

    I have always voted Conservative. I’ve always had a positive reason. Probably I will vote Conservative in the next Gen. election but I think only because there is an urgent need to be rid of Labour. Is there time to replace Cameron and Osborne?

  • Ben Philips

    Is there any way the media could help by ‘de-centralising’ the reporting of news?

    There is obviously a need/temptation to tell a ‘national’ story, to instil a sense that we belong to something bigger than our immediate surroundings and to make sense of the bigger picture and that has been the great gift of television. Witness a national event, or a great sporting occasion.

    I’m just wondering how we reconcile telling this story, without tramping on individual responsibility, diversity and initiative.

    For want of a story the press have too often secured a ‘scoop’ on an issue and then demanded that ‘something be done’

    And like a lumbering elephant the government rolls its battalions into every nook and cranny of our lives to address the problem (real or imagined) that the media has highlighted and –

    lo and behold! We end up living in the kind of centralised, cowardly, control-freak state we currently find ourselves in. Poltiicians talking over our heads to the media and vice versa with the poor old public in the middle looking up unable to participate.

    Perhaps the reporting of news should reflect the diversity of the changes we want to see more widely – local stories, individual examples of inspiration, ingenuity, charity and bravery.

    I’m sure the combination of relentless bad news and endless centralising initiatives affects our mental health and makes the United Kingdom the depression capital of the world.

    Please help give us a break and set us free!!!

  • Adam James

    More mumbo jumbo from the great pretender! David – your ‘policies’ (if indeed they exist) align you so close to labour that I fail to see even a slither of light between you and those mugs.

    The electorate is moving to the right while you continue to shuffle ever more left.

    All the major parties systematically fail to address the key issues of:
    * mass immigration
    * islamic extremism
    * the diabolical human rights legislation
    * surrendering of ever more sovereignty to the EU.
    * The failed multiculturalism experiment.

    These are the issues that concern people – they don’t give too hoots about the technology enabled decentralised government nonsense.

    Whilst I would love to vote the labour idiots into oblivion for the next generation, a vote for the tories is a vote for more of the same!

  • Richard Lung

    Mr Cameron,

    The Tories have long sung the anti-bureaucratic song. The fact is that capitalism (you sneak in your support for at the end) and state socialism are two pairs of legs to the same pantomime horse, that changes heads when one falls apart. The communists go to New Economic Policy and the market. The capitalists go New Deal and nationalisation.
    As the current crisis shows: scratch a capitalist and you find “socialism for the rich”.

    Cynicism? That doesnt begin to do justice to governing evasions of democracy, political and economic, respectively belonging in first and second chambers.
    Radical? Politicians, like yourself, cannot even screw up the courage of fair-mindedness to free the voters, from their serfdom to the illiterate X-vote, with a ranked choice, for the candidates they actually want most to represent them, and make it count equally with a proportional count.
    Yet without the foundation of the democratic voting system (single transferable vote) all your talk about power to the people is just a false promise, that will deservedly condemn you with your own words.

    Oh, and by the way, do humanity a favor and cancel more British nuclear power stations from the “nuclear cronies” (your turn-coat party’s term). Listen to Walt Patterson.

  • David Short

    “we want to usher in a new post-bureaucratic age, where we bring together the opportunities of the information revolution and the deepest values of Conservatism to create a massive transfer of power from central government and its agencies to individuals and local communities.”

    I can’t believe someone this ‘young’ can still use the cliche ‘information revolution’, a phrase we were using for the first time 15 to 20 years ago.

    And if the leader of the opposition has not noticed that our everyday lives are controlled, pestered, polluted and poisoned by ‘local’ power in the form of left-wing, unaccountable, loony councils, then he is blind and does not deserve to be in power.

    The last thing we need is more power devolved from central government; the opposite is achingly the need.

  • jon livesey

    I am a bit amused by the emergence of the “dreaded” e-word, mainly because the EU seems to be doing almost as good a job of destroying itself as the Labour Party is.

    I don’t think we have to worry in either case. Just wait for the howl of rage blaming the UK for “destroying” the EU and/or the Euro, and you will know things are going in the right direction.

    Seriously, the entire slant of news out of Europe is going to change radically in the next six months, and for the worse. We may well get to watch another 1968.

    Honestly, I feel a bit sorry for the continentals, but not much. After all, they all voted democratically for the EU by huge margins, didn’t they, so they can hardly complain about what’s coming next.

  • teledu

    I became dispirited when Cameron called his party “centre-right”; why not “right”? That’s the kind of party England needs in power to right the wrongs of recent years.
    Adam James (3:00 20th March) is spot on. These are the things that concern us – why don’t our politicians realise this?

  • harry Fredericks

    Good day Mr Cameron. I have not voted since Thatchers’ days. Your subject matter in this piece captured my attention only briefly i am afraid.

    What about the EU? you fail to mention whether the power that this despicable, unelected, unaccountable, collective dictatorship wields will likewise be taken back and given to communities. If you intend for the UK to remain in the EUSSR, against the wishes of the greater proportion of the British people, who too fully realise our membership is unlawful under the act of settlement and the coronation oath to name but two protections we enjoy (or thought we did of our sovereignty) then what worth is your devolution of nothing to the ordinary communities. You failed to mention immigration. The hottest issue and the greatest most hostile enemy of our country, why?. Ahh so that will be an EU “competence”. You are being dishonest Mr Cameron. Your party promised us a referendum, as did ZaNuLabour, and the LibDems. NOTHING ELSE WILL DO. I think I shall not vote once more.

  • Cautiously Optimistic


    New Labour has totally sucked the life out of this country to the point where I decided to up and leave.

    I got completely fed up with being fed a daily barrage of lies and manufactured statistics to justify the micromanagement of every aspect of my life. From telling me I needed an ID card to protect me from terrorism to telling me second hand smoke was even more toxic than pollonium 210 to justify me not being able to enjoy a cigarette inside a pub any more. All of it utter nonsense and it just goes to show the levels of control that are being enforced over our lives.

    I do not know about a post bureaucratic age. But if it means a reduction in having my every move monitored and stored in a database, people being able to make up their own minds about supposed health risks rather than trotting out terms such as third hand smoke or passive drinking, I might be up for moving back home.

    While you are at it, why not put a stop to the idea that some jumped up council jobsworth has the right to come into my home to educate me on the type of food I buy or the fact that my wheelie bin was put out 2 minutes early and had the wrong type of food waste in it. That the same council jobsworth will not be filming me for 2 months under anti terror legislation to make sure I am not applying for a place for my kid in a school outside the catchment area.

    And while you are at it, can I expect you to close the huge new data centre at Heathrow that will track every single journey I make and decide that I may be a terror risk because I ordered a vegetarian meal?

    Labour have simply sucked every ounce of fun out of life in Britain. If anything is going to change for the better, for Pete’s sake, just press the reset button on virtually anything this totalitarian government has passed over the last 12 years.

    Then, I may return to a Britain I might recognize again.

  • Archie

    Add to the list of Adam James, above, the extraordinary increase in violent crime and you have quite a list of problems to solve, Mr. Cameron! Do I think you are the man for it? Frankly, I do not. In fact your “policies” appear to be indistinguishable from those of the incumbent shower. Perhaps that is why you aren’t 50 points ahead in the polls?

  • Dave B

    I think this sounds wonderful. I really, really, really hope the Conservatives win the next election.

    I’ll be crossing my fingers for a Conservative win, but volunteering for the Conservatives during the election too :-)

  • Susan Lerigo

    Dear David
    You are spot on with this article. I hope you can get this message across to our nation .

  • Alan Hill

    “Stultifying blanket of bureaucracy”

    You’ll be getting us out of the EU then ?

  • David Gardiner

    Mr Cameron wants to give people power back over their lives? Is that why he is imposing so-called A list parliamentary candidates on his own constituencies, thereby disempowering his own supporters and workers?

  • Merlyn

    I’m am waiting to hear what David proposes to do about our capitulation to the Islamic extremist threats, where we get information as to where and when the next attack will be in exchange for our “adapting” Home and Foreign Policy to their liking.
    David, over to you.

  • Alan D

    Sorry David, but your party has a huge credibility gap and I suspect that you realise this. Looking at the website of Tory activists (Conservative Home) there don’t seem to be any ideas – it’s only opportunism, croneyism and Blair II that’s on offer. The country needs an alternative to Labour – and right now we don’t seem to have one. What can you offer us?

    By the way, is it really true that you have 15 old Etonians in your shadow front bench? Blair would never have allowed that, “appearance is everything”.

  • Tee Bee

    A pretty article Mr Cameron. Like many others I abhor what Labour has done to our country. Your ideas are appealing but you still do not tell us what the Conservatives will actually do! The election is getting closer. Please tell us in detailed practical terms what you will do in your first 90 days to advance your agenda.

  • Arthur


    that sounded like waffle to me, I didn’t spot a big idea.

    I’ll vote for you if you:

    – Abolish IR35

    – Prevent the police from acquiring DNA from innocent people

    – Allow protests outside parliament

    – Exile anyone who promotes violence against the British people

    – Scrap the Intra-Company-Transfers method of immigration

    Just the above will get my vote, although I would like to see you roll back every piece of legislation nulan introduced.

    If you won’t do the above, I can’t see the point in voting for you.

  • Jim Scott

    I’ll vote Tory again as I long to see Labour receiving a thorough kicking but it saddens me that, despite the total cock-ups visited on us by this Government, the Tories aren’t further ahead in the polls. There is no end to popular measures which the Tories could advocate and which would gain overwhelming support from most of the electorate, but somehow Mr.Cameron never seems able to capitalise on the mess made by Brown and his colleagues. I really fear that come the election, we’ll have another term of Labour inflicted upon us.

  • Ashley Slater

    A post-bureaucratic age is a nice concept. We’d all welcome less government, less incompetence and fewer self-interested public servants, but where’s the detail? I realise you need a vision first but you can’t have a vision alone.

    I want to hear more.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here