May 9, 2008


Out-thought by the Tories: Labour is flailing in the face of new Conservatism. The fightback has to start with reclaiming fraternity (Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford, 5/10/08, The Guardian)

We could be at a turning point in the political life of the country. The electoral alliance that brought New Labour to power is disintegrating. Popular indifference towards the government is hardening into outright dislike.

While the government pretends nothing is wrong, David Cameron's new Conservatives are staking out ground that once belonged to the left, talking about a social recession, taking the ideological initiative, hungry to win. Look at some of the rightwing thinktanks and you discover a profound shift in Tory thinking. It seeks a break from Thatcher and Hayek. The project is significant: to build a basic emotional connection with the people. Last week's results suggest it is beginning to work.

This new pro-social, compassionate Conservatism is intellectually backed up by a focus on fraternity. The left, they argue, is wrong to think fraternity is another word for equality. And the Thatcherites are wrong to think that liberty will take care of fraternity. Fraternity is about society, wellbeing, and relationships. The Labour government, it argues, has failed because it has abandoned the fraternity of ethical socialism in favour of state management.

Compassionate conservatism is Thatcherism, but with a smiley face.

Can things get better for Cameron?: In a week of triumphs for David Cameron and his party, work is intensifying behind the scenes to ensure the dawn is not a false one. (Rosa Prince, 10/05/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Emboldened by success in the local elections, Mr Cameron had travelled to Crewe earlier in the week to campaign in the by-election triggered by the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody, Labour's longest-serving female MP.

Activists made a childish attempt to embarrass him by sending two people dressed in frock coats and top hats, but it fell somewhat flat – after all, people had already shown themselves more than prepared to back another Old Etonian in the form of Mr Johnson.

In fact, by the time the two chums met up at the Spectator party, it had become apparent that the new mayor intended to dispel from the start the idea that he would prove lazy or ineffectual.

His first policy announcement, banning the consumption of alcohol on buses and tubes, played well with Londoners and the press. Posters detailing the ban appeared within hours.

Over at City Hall, enthusiastic young men in bright ties debated Mayor Boris's plans for his first 100 days in office, with a zero-tolerance approach to crime at the top of the agenda.

The energy and enthusiasm of the new mayor were proving infectious, and a new generation of Tories was keen to mark its dominance over the newly claimed territory, with various Cameroons, including the Carphone Warehouse co-founder David "Rosso" Ross dropping in.

And there was fresh cause for delight the day after the Spectator bash.

As Mr Cameron joined the athlete Paula Radcliffe in Battersea Park to start the Race for Life, in which several of his young assistants were taking part, news trickled out of a YouGov poll for The Sun the following morning, giving Labour its worst ever rating and the Tories a massive 26-point lead.

Earlier, the Tory leader had finally persuaded Andrew Feldman, his closest friend since Oxford and a businessman upon whose common sense he has come to rely, to take charge of running Conservative HQ.

With that appointment, Mr Cameron neatly sidelined Lord Ashcroft, whose money he relied on but whose interference over policy he never quite welcomed. He now feels he has a team to take him through to the general election.

So far, so perfect for David Cameron and his party: secure on the home front, party organisation in place, in charge of London and riding high in the polls.

And yet, and yet…Describing himself as "permanently paranoid" as a result of the Conservatives' long years in the electoral wilderness, Mr Cameron has had to remind himself over and over again during his perfect week to avoid appearing to "gloat" over Labour's seemingly terminal unpopularity, given that it is related to an economic outlook which is causing genuine anxiety in large parts of the country.

The Tories do have much to gloat about, and have in London a meaningful opportunity to show what it means to have a Conservative in power. But the question remains as to whether Mr Cameron can really win over the electorate: it has certainly fallen out of love with Labour, but may not yet be ready to transfer its affections to the Tories.

At the weekly meeting of the party's backbench 1922 Committee on Thursday, Mr Cameron put in a rare appearance to thank his happy troops. But he warned them not to be complacent: "The hard work starts now," he said, before delivering a short sermon about the need for discipline.

But has he taken that on board himself? Many were alarmed to see him boast in an article in the Independent newspaper yesterday that the Conservatives were now the "true progressives", and argue that those who cared about equality and social justice no longer had a home with Labour.

Using words that echoed Neil Kinnock's famous "I warn you not to grow old" attack on Margaret Thatcher in 1983, he said: "If you care about poverty, if you care about inequality, if you care about the environment – forget about the Labour Party. It has forgotten about you."

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 9, 2008 7:42 PM
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