Brian Monteith: Tories have lost my vote

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The Conservatives have just lost my vote in the coming general election, and from where I am standing there is little prospect of them changing my mind.

In the last five years I have voted for three different political parties; going back further I also once voted for The Referendum Party. Although I am generally of a conservative disposition, believing as I do in small government and even smaller taxes, I am not some slavish adherent to one party – I always try to weigh-up what the respective manifestos offer and who the candidate is in my particular constituency.

I don’t think I am alone in being relatively open-minded.

Regular readers of my column will know that for all I consistently ­criticised the economic policies of past politicians that saddled our nation with so much debt I have been just as willing to point out the 
shortcomings of David Cameron and George Osborne when I think they have deserved it.

Unfortunately that has been more often than I would like, for I have found it very difficult to warm to this government. Far too often David ­Cameron has sought to chase headlines and be all things to everyone, than have a coherent approach that I could proclaim my own.

True, we do not actually have a Tory government (despite what the SNP and Labour may say), we have a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government – and that is a queer fish in many respects (I suspect many Liberal Democrats think that too). But this alleged watering down of Conservatism is no excuse, for in many of the issues that I disagree with the ­coalition it has been solely the Conservatives that have been at fault.

The failure to be radical in cutting taxes has been lamentable, saved only by the Liberal Democrats insisting in raising the personal tax allowance. Abolishing Air Passenger Duty and actually cutting fuel duty and alcohol duty – both of which hit the poorest hardest – have been opportunities missed.

George Osborne’s reform of Stamp Duty – which was necessary because of the rate he had allowed it to climb to, could have been even more radical if he had more gumption. The fact that Osborne’s modest changes forced the SNP’s John Swinney to rejig his own higher tax rates planned for Scotland serves to emphasise my case that tax reforms can change the political debate by letting people keep their own money.

But for all that we have an ­economic recovery of sorts, and I am expected to be grateful; the Tory party thinks people like me will simply be too scared of Labour getting into power to risk voting for anyone other than them. They could not be more wrong.

For one thing the economic policies of the two major parties are not different enough to make much difference to me – anyway, the international markets force any UK government to behave in certain ways.

Yesterday the UK government, speaking not just for itself but also on behalf of the Scottish Government, announced it would introduce legislation before the general election to force standardised packaging of tobacco products. For me this is the final straw in a litany of disastrous public health interventions that have failed to deliver the health improvements that were promised.

I do not drink less alcohol because the excise duties have gone through the roof, I have simply looked for better bargains. I now find that my tin of beans have to have salt added, because our politicians have meddled with the recipe. And I have not stopped smoking my cigars because of the demonisation of smokers, in fact I probably now smoke smaller ones more often and have also taken to a pipe. The empirical evidence suggests my rebellious response is not untypical. The falling trend in smoking has not accelerated as one could expect after passing new laws, instead it has slowed and in some instances reversed.

If an anti-smoking policy results in more children smoking it should be dropped immediately – but public health politicians have a religious zealotry that brooks no criticism. They simply press for even more laws.

The goal is of course to end smoking altogether – fair enough you may say if you don’t smoke. But it will not end there. Fizzy drinks will be next. First it will be the power or energy drinks – and they will be banned in shops near schools to “protect the children”. Then they will be taxed out of existence. Other fizzy drinks will be targeted next. Don’t believe me? Campaigners in New Zealand have already given the game away by calling for the abolition of fizzy drinks by 2025.

All they want you to drink is flavoured milk or water. Let’s not even get on to their plans for alcohol.

I wrote last week about how Labour is taking us down this road of lifestyle socialism where every facet of our life is controlled, and hoped that the Conservatives might not be drinking in the same pub.

This week, with their proposals to abolish the branding of tobacco ­companies – infringing their intellectual property rights – the Tories showed they have been supping in the Last Chance Saloon. And now their chance of my vote is gone.