October 19, 2005


For our future prime minister make way for nice Mr Camerair: David Cameron's deft emulation of Tony Blair is the Conservatives' best chance of getting back into government (Timothy Garton Ash, October 20, 2005, The Guardian)

His Policy Programme, blairishly entitled Vision for Britain, contains this remarkable assertion: "We must be a party committed to a vast programme of public service improvement." Vast. Is this Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal or William Beveridge's ambitious wartime plans for the welfare state? No, it's post-Blair public service hyperbole. And there's a touch of matricide too, as Cameron rejects one of Thatcher's most famous assertions. "There is such a thing as society," he says, adding catchily but emptily, "It's just not the same thing as the state." Well, d'oh! You don't say.

There are differences in emphasis; some of his emphases being more liberal than current government policy. For example, measures against terrorism "must never undermine the very liberal values we're seeking to preserve. So, no ID cards, no religious hatred laws that impinge on free speech." Other parts are less liberal. But there is nothing here that Blair could not sign on to if he and Cameron were compelled to form a Grand Coalition, as their German counterparts just have. In the 1950s, wits called it Butskellism, the centrist political consensus identified by the Economist with an imaginary Mr Butskell, combining the names of the Tory chancellor Rab Butler and Labour's Hugh Gaitskell. For today's crossbreed of Blair and Cameron, the New Statesman has got there before me, entitling a piece by the sharp-penned Nick Cohen "The birth of Blameron". I prefer my version, Camerair, since it also hints at the essential mixture of television cameras and hot air. It's so characteristic that Cameron's years of experience in the "real world" of business were in a media company, Carlton Communications.

Camerairism reflects a structural change more profound than Butskellism ever did. After the great ideological struggles of the 20th century, when communism and fascism were serious competitors to more or less liberal democracy, politics in most advanced industrial democracies is no longer about systemic alternatives. It's about variants of democratic capitalism. In Britain, in particular, it's more like a competition between two rival management teams, trying to convince shareholders that they are best suited to run UK plc. After NLNB (New Labour, New Britain), here's a bid from MCC.

Getting back to Thatcherism and the Third Way is a good start, but to differentiate themselves from Labour the Tories need to be more anti-Europe, anti-immigration, pro-death penalty, pro-religion, etc. They need to be the party of the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2005 9:08 PM
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