The Conservatives: in favour of tiny puppies
Right, it's time to roll the sleeves up and step into the breach. While I fully understand the disillusionment felt by many on the right over the steps taken by Cameron to re-brand the Tories, and agree with a lot of what they say, I am going to try and explain why I am still a Cameron fan, if not quite a Cameroonie.
I do this partly because I'm getting a wee bit tired of the animus being generated from various parts of the blogosphere. It is, of course, absolutely none of my business what, for example, the (at all times estimable) DK
says about Cameron, especially since he's become a UKIPper, but the invective emanating from the usually more detached Richard North
is a bit alarming. In response to a slightly unfortunate Telegraph
interview North, incensed at the dropping of the old Tory fishing policy and the Bovine TB policy let rip with this:
That said, I am going to rip the throat out of that detestable, smug, self-satisfied little turd Â unfortunately, only metaphorically. How dare he! That closed-minded, ignorant, fatuous little prat. He needs to take his head out of his backside once in a while and look around, once he's cleared his own shit out of his nostrils. Then he should turn round and crawl back in his little hole and pull the lid down over him and never, ever re-appear.
I'm not entirely sure that the weight of the diatribe was entirely aimed at fishing and badgers but it still seems slightly over the top. The reason, I suppose, is that there is a feeling of definite betrayal on the right: a sense that Cameron has ripped the right-wing heart out of Conservatism and replaced it with soggy pulp. I'm not sure that's absolutely right to be honest. But this sort of comment, whether it's the club-room harrumphing of Simon Heffer or the more 'howling at the moon' effort above, almost invariably combined with lofty patronising of Cameron's age, or disdainfully arranged quotation marks around "Dave"is getting reminiscent of the Bennite raging against the tyrannies of New Labour. So I'll lay out some of the reasons I think he is doing a good job.
1. David Cameron's strategy is extremely clear. He intends, by projecting an image of Conservatism that is avowedly 'moderate', to gain rights of audience and, if possible, the benefit of the doubt for the policies that are to come. The underlying instincts of the Conservative front bench remain broadly the same as they have been for years: pro-market, Atlanticist and Euro-sceptic. Hague, Osborne, Gove and the like are not sopping wet liberals, and it is unrealistic to pretend to believe that they are. What they are is pragmatists, just has the Conservative party has always been, in victory at any rate.
Cameron is seeking to avoid the instant Mandy Rice Davies response that has greeted every Conservative policy since 1992, when John Major, William Hague or Iain Duncan Smith stated that the aim of policy X was to help the poor, or to try to salve the hurts ofsocietyy, all they got was a curled lip and a 'they would say that wouldn't they'. If Cameron can manage it so that the policy is listened to before being dismissed he will have made real progress.
2. He has brought a sense of professionalism to the party. There is little in politics so damaging as a sense of squabbling. The Conservative party gave up on being an organisation in the proper sense of the word in about 1994. For ten years there was absolutely no sense of unity, of purpose or of direction about the rump at Westminster. Since Michael Howard re-introduced a sense of discipline, Cameron has been able to take his party with him. Even the rumblings from Norman Tebbit have been both good-natured and self-aware, Tebbit being aware that dissent from him was actually rather good news for the Tories' public image.
3. He has transformed the Conservative polling position. Despite the readiness of many right-wing commentators to play this down, or even to deny it, when David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party, the Labour Party enjoyed a lead in the polls of about 5-6%. In a year he has turned this into a consistent Conservative lead of about 4-7%. For those who complain that this is nothingcomparedd to the stratospheric Labour leads of the 90s, Mike Smithson
has voiced considerable reserve against the validity of comparing polls now with those twenty years ago. For those who stress the weighting of the electoral system, the news that Lib Dems now marginally prefer the idea of a Cameron-led Conservative Government to a Brown-led Labour Government has the intriguing prospect of shifting the balance of tactical voting.
The Conservatives have won elections most consistently with a moderate, optimistic leader. They have lost most consistently when they become fixated with an issue of over-riding importance to them, but little resonance in the population at large. There is a hint in the criticisms of Cameron of a Goldwater Republicanism (or even a Footite Labourism): better ideological purity in opposition that the messy compromises and hypocrisy of government.
I bang on about post-modern narrative creation far too much, but that is precisely what Cameron is doing at the moment: creating a framework upon which to hang future policies. Once the basic premise of Cameronite Conservatism is accepted, it becomes vastly much easier to persuade the electorate to view policies in that light. So there we are. I doubt that I will have changed anyone's mind on the subject for an instant, but do feel free to let me know how wrong I am.