November 5, 2005

WHAT IF YOU PREFER THE HUSK?:

David Cameron is the Thatcher of the moment - he should lead the Tories (Charles Moore, 05/11/2005, Daily Telegraph)

[T]wo things occur to me. The first, itself rather a pedantic, historical, 20th-century point, is that, when he had the chance, Mr Davis did little for Euro-scepticism. As a whip, he helped bash through the dreadful Maastricht treaty. I notice that most of the committed, expert Euro-sceptics - David Heathcoat-Amory, Bill Cash, Daniel Hannan - are backing Mr Cameron. Mr Davis wants to maintain the Tories' membership of the Europhile European People's Party at the European Parliament, while Mr Cameron says he will stop it.

The second, much more important, more 21st-century point is that this stuff about policy is not the key question. The policy difference between the two Davids is small. Policy, in itself, is not why the Conservatives have lost, nor why they will win. This is a leadership contest. [...]

In 1994, Mr Blair had the analysis: Labour had made itself unelectable by preferring ideology and squabble to attention to voters or to its opponents' success. The party should embrace the good bits of Thatcherism and leave the Tories with only the dry husk. And, as a man, he embodied his own message. He didn't seem to be very interested in politics in its party-minded, Westminster-corridors, petty intricacy: he seemed to be a pleasant, middle-class person with a young family and a desire to improve the life of his country.

Trickster though Mr Blair is, this was not all illusion. His analysis was essentially correct and his character was essentially suitable. That's why he won, and why he won again, and why, less convincingly, he won a third time. The fact, if fact it is, that he is now on the way out does not mean that the Tory lessons from Mr Blair are obsolete. After all, he only got the chance to apply his analysis of Margaret Thatcher four years after she had left the scene.

I think Mr Cameron has the correct analysis of the Conservatives' problem. It is that they became the wrong people, even when they had the right ideas. (By the way, this is far, far more the fault of the Tory MPs at the time than of the poor, much-abused party activists.) Their attitude seemed to be, "What can we get for ourselves?" rather than, "What can we put into our society?" That is why "Tory sleaze" bulked so large.

Worse, the motive for reforms became suspect. People decided that the Conservatives were always trying to arrange escape routes from public services rather than ways of making them better for everyone. You wouldn't vote for people like that, even if you agreed with the things they wrote in their manifesto, any more than you would attend the church of a vicar who, you happened to know, was always helping himself to the collection plate. So you might as well switch to nice Rev Tony down the road.

That is why Mr Cameron keeps talking about "change". Mr Davis doesn't.


The thing the Tories have going for them is that most of the Labour party would be only too happy to ditch the good bits of Thatcherism in their turn. The bad thing for the Tories is it's not clear that they're yet ready to take them back, nor that Mr. Cameron, like Mr. Blair and George Bush, will make them take them despite themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 5, 2005 7:26 AM
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