Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Goodbye Cuddly Dave: Welcome Back Mr Nasty

Good journalists, like good politicians, are able to perceive and put into words what many of us are perhaps only vaguely thinking. Today John Kampfner manages this trick nicely. He asks what has happened to that warm, cuddly, NICE Mr Cameron so many took a shine to back in 2006? His job then was to decontaminate the Conservative brand. So he went all liberal and green, talking about economic policy having to be based on the needs of the least advantaged, agreeing with Polly Toynbee that the poor were being left behind the national caravan of the well-off; and insisting young offenders were in need of a little more love. And remember this sentiment?

'Our goal is clear: to move beyond a belief in the Protestant work ethic alone to a modern vision of ethical work' [That was Dave two years ago.]

Those of us who survived Thatcher and Major were sceptical but I remember welcoming the Tories' apparent move to the centre as a sign they had finally seen sense and were more qualified to govern- something which, given our politics, they seemed likely to do again at some stage in the future. Kampfner suggests today that our simultaneous suspicions that all this was merely a feint, are now being proved correct:

Fast forward two years, to the verge of a recession and the fears of knife crime, and what do we hear? Society is broken; more prisons should be built; more people should be denied bail. While the Tories are nowhere near the point of Michael Howard's dog-whistle anti-immigrant pitch of 2005, they are slipping back into their political comfort zone. That is a shame for the country, and a lost opportunity for them.

Kampfner goes on to show how Camneron's liberal zeal has cooled, not just on law and order, but on civil liberties and green matters. Why has this happened? It has to be obvious. Cameron and his aides have concluded that vicory is in the bag, that Labour is now so far behind that he can dispense with all that cenrtrist twaddle and return to the core messages of his creed.

When so much was being made of Cameron back then, Peter Hitchens fronted a Despatches special revealing how Camereon had never been on the liberal Conservative wing but was a typical posh Thatcherite; Hitchens claimed he was merely flirting with this 'Blairite' stuff to win the leadership. This was the man, after all, who had written the Tory's 2005 election manifesto complete with its dog whistle messages on immigration and the rest.

But to some extent this move has been Labour's fault. It is only because Labour has dug such a huge hole for itself that the Tories can afford to return to their traditional turf. Maybe it is now too late but awareness of what has happened should at least bring Labour activists back into genuine activity.

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