‘I’m not sure what David Cameron intends to do for me when he offers to support people if they split up with their partners’
“We won the economic argument but lost the culture wars.” Or so the post-Cold War Right often claims. But, viewing the apparently inevitable return of Britain’s Conservative Party to government, we might ask whether we actually did as well as all that.
With Boris Johnson’s mayoral victory and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election in the bag, the Conservative Party is preparing for power. Its Parliamentary ranks betray the quiet yet undisguisable sense that they are on the homestraight. To their opponents they boast that they have successfully “detoxified” the Tory brand, while complainants on their own side are told with a nod and a wink that Margaret Thatcher was not Margaret Thatcher until she came into office. Ignoring for a moment the historical nonsense of this, the success of “conservatism” only once disguised or neutered demonstrates a serious ideological victory for the Left. It is true that at the next British general election we might have a Conservative victory, but on the party’s present showing it could not be a victory for conservatism.
The Cameron project has already conceded that a conservative party will only arrive in government again if it is not conservative. It must not sound conservative or look conservative. More importantly it must not argue for policies that are conservative. So for instance there could be no talk of tax-cuts, hawkish foreign policy, immigration or Europe.
The strategy supposes that any conservative-orientated change which might improve the running of our economy or public services should either be resisted, or held in reserve and sprung as a surprise after the public have done the decent thing and voted the party into office. The idea that they will either have the gall to do the latter, or remain in power if they did, seems not to have occurred.
But beneath all this is the sad knowledge that the Conservative Party probably will stride into office on ground it never fought for before. After all, Boris Johnson managed it in London. Some of us sat in agony through the Mayoral debates as Mr Johnson espoused his passion for issues he’d never written about when he had the opportunity, but which his party knew would flatter the electorate rather than challenge them. The party machine has learnt from this. And so we will be able to look forward to more talk of making Britain “greener” and more of the “we’re all in this together” and the meaningless “we won’t allow anyone to be left behind.”
Like Barack Obama in the States, there is enough Prozac in the Cameron clichés to keep the party going. But what do they even mean? President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld were repeatedly put through the wringers for spouting gobbledegook, but even Bush’s most garbled phrase was not as question-begging as the average phrase from Mr Cameron.
Aside from his Blair-like habit of talking to the electorate as though it’s the first time they have heard English spoken, the Conservative leader’s statements seem more than a branding exercise: they demonstrate a rejection of basic conservative thinking. Two years ago Mr Cameron told a Google-organised conference that: “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money.” I’m not sure that anyone who isn’t a politician ever had to “admit” that, but I am happy to admit that I’m not sure what Mr Cameron intends to do for me when he talks of the importance “above all [of] the strength of our relationships.”
In a speech about making Britain more “family-friendly” Mr Cameron expanded on the idea recently: “We’ve got to ensure that every family has access to the emotional support and help they need – in the relationship and after separation, should it be necessary.” But what on earth is he going on about? Why is it the state’s job to support people if they split up with their partners? What will the help consist of? Counselling? Assistance with the shopping? A state-sponsored replacement? If the state can help you when your relationship splits up, why doesn’t it go the whole hog and step in beforehand? Or set suitable couples up at a central-government level? It is not in the distracting touchy-feeliness of such sentiments, but the reflex belief in the universal applicability of the state that the Left’s ideological victory is clearest. If people have a problem then the state must have an answer.
Many Conservative party members reject this carping. Most are simply happy that people are looking at them again. But perhaps they should consider more deeply the electorate’s current interest in them. Is it really love? Or are they just on the rebound?
Our armed forces face overstretch and even possible defeat in Afghanistan. Our tax payments to various arms of the state rise, year after year. Our sovereignty is eroded on a daily basis in practical ways by Brussels. And yet we continue with an alarming policy on immigration.
To slip for a moment into the language of Cameronism: if someone is in trouble and you care about them, you shouldn’t pretend that they’re doing just fine. You should try to help them understand where they are going wrong. And turn them around.