For the entire time I have been a member of the Conservative Party (35+ years) we have been the party of the individual and the free market. Under successive Conservative governments:
- State subsidies where (rightly) withdrawn from nationalised industries to force them to compete on an equal footing with the private sector.
- Whole areas and indeed sub-regions of Britain faced economic restructuring after unprofitable industries (rightfully) closed-down due to their inability to attract customers or make a profit.
- Responsibility for such decline was placed (rightfully) at the door of those companies whose management and trades union leaders were unresponsive to their customer's needs in the modern market place.
- Whole swathes of government administration have been (rightfully) removed from the state sector and transferred to fee charging agencies in an effort to force them to be market responsive and charge end-user fees for their services.
- Subsidies to local councils have been (rightfully) reduced and caps placed on Council Tax increases to force councils to reduce non-core expenditure, dispose of assets, merge back office functions and do "more for less".
- And, of course, our welfare reforms have been (rightfully) implemented including the benefit cap and the spare room subsidy on the basis that state handouts should be a last resort, not a way of life, and people ultimately have a responsibility for themselves.
And as a Conservative, I wholeheartedly support it all.
What I cannot accept or understand however is how any politician (especially a Conservative) could say...
"All the above is fine for the state sector, for the free market, for local government, for benefit claimants and for business - but not for us in Westminster. If my political party cannot balance its books, cannot attract members (or customers), cannot compete in the modern market place and cannot cut costs to fit the economic situation then we shall simply dip into the taxpayers' pockets to make up the difference."
If we do go down the line of state funding how could any Minister make a moral case for refusing state subsidy or an increase in funding when whoever they were sitting opposite at the negotiating table could simply say, "why are you refusing us as we all know you wouldn't be here if they state removed your subsidy too." The policy would re-empower every pressure group and give trades unions a stick to beat us with. More importantly, it would fundamentally weaken the moral case for free markets.
It really doesn't have to be this way. The National Trust has 3.93 million members who between them contribute £140 million per annum. Studies indicate the majority of those people never visit a NT property. They contribute because it's something they believe in and they want to help. I know it's been said many times before, but surely we need to do much more work on why just 1% of the 10.7 million people who voted Conservative in 2010 are prepared to join our party, and just 2% are prepared to support us financially. I fail to see how accepting taxpayer funding will do anything to make our political establishments more responsive to their customers (voters) than they are now.