Interesting to see the Conservatives attempt to “launch” an initiative this morning on mutuals and co-operatives, about which I wrote last week. It would be unfair to say that not a dog has barked, but it hasn’t exactly taken off. Let’s hope this initiative fares better than the “Conservative Co-operative Movement”, launched with fanfare two years ago.
Interviewed about the plan on Sky News this morning, the Tories’ shadow chancellor, George Osborne, claimed that they were now speaking the language of ordinary voters. But he was soon asked about the latest Tory attack document — Labour’s Two Nations, prominently advertised on the Conservative website — which states that women under the age of 18 are “three times more likely to fall pregnant in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas”. And that: “In the most deprived areas 54 per cent are likely to fall pregnant before the age of 18, compared to just 19 per cent in the least deprived areas.”
As Will Straw has pointed out, “The figure was out by a factor of ten and is coming down.” Our own George Eaton makes a similar point.
When asked about this, Osborne actually sniggered. At that point, he didn’t seem to be very much in tune with the electorate at all.
More broadly, it is also interesting to note that — finally — the wheels are beginning to loosen on the great Tory bandwagon, even in the pro-Cameron media. I first wrote that the Cameron façade was beginning to crack in October 2008, and my colleague Mehdi Hasan and I returned to the subject — and predicted a hung parliament — in June last year.
I suspect that as the election draws nearer, and the Tories are finally forced to face some real policy scrutiny, David Cameron will start to get a little hot under the collar. We shall see.
Here is Michael Stephenson, general secretary of the Co-operative Party, on the Tory co-op plan:
George Osborne’s comments show the Tories are completely clueless on co-operatives. Mutuality is about giving communities a say in how services are run. That is about more than involving workers, it is about people running services as a community asset.
The Tories don’t have co-operative values. Just as Cameron’s Conservative Co-operative movement turned out to be neither a co-operative, nor a movement, George Osborne’s plan for employee-run public services fails to balance the needs of consumers, the public, with the interests of the public-sector workers themselves.