As with other books in the Biteback series, especially Jeremy Browne’s one on the Liberal Democrats, Nick Herbert’s case for voting Conservative is not the ‘official’ line, containing strong traces of the author’s own personal views. That both makes the book more interesting yet also not such a sure guide for a floating voter, unless you are in Nick Herbert’s own constituency.
He makes, for example, an eloquent case for why action is needed to tackle climate change both at home and abroad, rooting his interest in the rest of the world both in humanitarian terms and also economic self-interest of a tradition nation. But it’s very much Herbert himself speaking when he says, “too much of the right has taken refuge in denial of climate science … too many of the right’s thinkers have preferred to sweep the problem under the carpet”. Many Conservative MPs and candidates speak otherwise.
In some respects, too, the book is written as if the reader is not a floating voter but already fairly committed to the Conservative cause.
Most notably, Herbert points out the long-term gap between government income and expenditure in Britain, with extra pressure in the future from an ageing population. But he assumes with only the most cursory supporting argument that the answer therefore is to cut other spending rather than looking at whether higher taxes or charges for more services are an option.
It’s not just that he doesn’t agree with higher taxes; he doesn’t even take the time to dismiss this alternative approach as if he assumes the reader would obviously reject it too and doesn’t need any persuasion.
(One fallout from this peremptory rejection is that Nick Herbert’s book doesn’t get into the sort of interesting debates over the evidence about how much taxes do or don’t damage economic growth and what sorts of taxes have the biggest effects that former Lib Dem MP David Howarth has articulated, with conclusions that don’t neatly fit on any points of the political compass.)
Likewise, when it comes to the Adrian Beecroft report which recommended introducing ‘fire at will’ and other employment law changes, and which has been heavily criticised for the lack of evidence presented to back up its recommendations, Herbert’s response is just to praise Beecroft, blame the Lib Dems for blocking it and not present any argument to counter the critics. If you’re an unthinking Tory a bit of ‘ooh Lib Dems are horrible’ doubtless does the trick, but if you want persuasion? Then there’s no case there for you to chew over.
The books is certainly an interesting read, and if you’re already a signed-up modernising Conservative you’ll find much in it to agree with. If you want a better understanding of the roots of Conservative philosophy, there are also some good, clear sections. But if you’re a floating voter looking for material to convince you, there’s too much assertion and assumption for the book really to have a shot at doing the job.
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Note: a review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher.