Thursday, September 11, 2008


Is Cameron No More Than a Thatcherite in Disguise?

The Compass pamphlet out today, written by John Cruddas MP, criticises the idea that Cameron can be dismissed as a 'toff' or,in Brown's words, a 'shallow saleman'. Cruddas argues that:

"by jettisoning the language of ethical socialism,[Labour] has lost its capacity to match Cameron's pro-social rhetoric and usurp his claim to value politics. It has become a politics without sympathy, unable to engage with everyday life. In contrast, Cameron's ethical language of social life has resonated amongst many who in the past would never have considered voting for the economic liberalism of Thatcherism."

Stephen Byers, writing in The Guardian agrees the 'toff/shallow salesman' line of attack has no purchase but does argue:

Let us just take one example that goes to the heart of Cameron as a politician and as a party leader: his talk of "achieving progressive goals through Conservative means. Sensibly he hasn't attempted to give any detail as to what this would mean in practice. If he were to do so it would become clear that "Conservative" means simply "cannot deliver the changes necessary to achieve progressive goals. What it does show is that at heart Cameron is an old-style Conservative who is deeply uncomfortable with the state playing any role in our lives.

The distinguished political thinker David Marquand, however, recently added his own analysis on this topic. Recalling that Labour candidates fought the 1950 and 51 elections on the slogan 'Ask your Dad', predicting a return of the Tories would undo Attles's reforms. Yet this was not to be:

"But with trivial modifications, it[the Tory government] left Labour's economic and social legacy in being"

Marquand cites the great Whig/Conservative thinker Edmund Burke, who believed statesmen should: 'combine a "disposition to preserve" with an "ability to improve". He concludes:

'Labour's paladins are barking up precisely the wrong tree in charging him with crypto-Thatcherism. The crystalline, divisive purity of Thatcher's Tory nationalist vision is alien to him. Where she sought to haul the country out of the path it had followed for almost 60 years, Cameron is running with the grain of the troubled times we live in.'

Marquand sounds closer to the truth, for me, than Byers. Cameron's liberal Conservatism is perceived as genuine and attacking him as a hypocrite will win few votes. Instead Labour must contrive to find a message which also conforms with the grain of public thinking but which is fresh and believable. Somehow they must convince voters that they have the potential to govern effectively for another five years. Wish I could be more helpful...

As ever, with Marquand, all he wants is a new David Owen to rise from the ashes and lead him to the promised land. However, Cameron isn't a Thatcherite, but neither is he a Whig or SDP Mark II, he is a traditional Tory who has learnt the lessons of Tony Blair and is wearing the same clothes.

How effective that will be, when the public had shown themselves to be hearily sick of Mark I is yet to be seen.
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