Tuesday, 9 February 2010
One Nation Tory
I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about David Cameron, about the task he has set himself, about what he represents. I’ve seen some of this reflected in comments about his performance. I would like to try to clarify things, as much for myself as for anyone else who cares to read what I have to say. What follows is, if you like, an appreciation in progress.
I should say to begin with that David is not my favourite Conservative politician; that honour belongs to Boris the Menace, the fantastic Mayor of London and sentimental old leftie. Ideally I would prefer to see Boris lead the party, but then realism kicks through the walls of my dream. Everybody I know loves Boris, but we also know that Boris is a treasure and a liability at one and the same time; one would always be waiting for him to stand on a landmine, to fall into some media or public relations trap.
Then there is David, certainly not colourful, just more dependable, more reassuring. The thing is the Conservative Party needed David Cameron in the way that Labour needed Tony Blair; they came at the right point in the respective histories of their parties. He can only really be understood against the background of the civil war that beset the Tories all during the Major premiership, refusing to settle down through the leadership of William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. He brought a kind of peace to a party that at last recognises that power is more important in some instances than principle.
I know with a certainty that his style of politics would have been defined as ‘wet’ during the Thatcher years. Indeed, as Peter Oborne has pointed out, he has described himself as a ‘one nation Tory’, the term used by Thatcher’s opponents, harking back to the days of Benjamin Disraeli, another time when the party was in transition. But that’s exactly what the party needed - a reconnection with older, less-bruising traditions. I don’t think Cameron has necessarily ended the divisions- and some of these go deep, particularly over Europe- but he has successfully presided over a highly effective armistice, uniting the likes of William Hague and Kenneth Clarke, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove in senior office.
People might argue that Cameron simply walks in the shadow of Blair, as Blair walked in the shadow of Thatcher. He is a pragmatist, that much is certain, but I can see no other comparison with Blair, a man, so far as I am concerned, who immersed himself in the deepest forms of turpitude, who presided over a government that massively increased the power of the state as it weekend our civic culture.
That’s what Cameron’s brand of ‘new old’ Conservatism is about - reversing the damage caused by years of mismanagement, returning responsibility to ordinary people, shoring up the ramparts of society. Cameron as prime minster will mean a return to responsible government, to cabinet government with decisions taken collectively, away from the presidential façade of Blair and the cronyism of Brown. Peter Oborne puts it even better;
He comes into politics out of a sense of personal service and duty. He believes in self-reliance, patriotism and personal independence. He will not, as Tony Blair did, abuse his office for personal enrichment. He will not be intoxicated, as Blair was, by power for its own sake. He will not go weak at the knees when he meets an American president or an international tycoon. He may very well fail, but he is rooted in a clear and purely British set of values. I can think of no leader who stands so squarely in the Tory intellectual, social, moral and political tradition.
Yes, for all these reasons and more he deserves our support and encouragement. This is the hour; he is the man.