Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Monday 20 February 2006

Is Cameron shifting the Conservatives to 'the left'?

I pose this question because a person who is referred to as 'a close ally' of Lady Thatcher (Robin Harris, ex-speechwriter and member of Lady Thatcher's No 10 policy unit) has apparently written an article for a magazine, due to appear shortly, that that accuses Cameron of following a 'potentially disastrous' strategy which risks losing significant Tory 'core' support, by having "systematically repositioned the party to the left".

As a former member who is anxiously waiting to see if the initial hopes that Cameron could re-engage the Party with a wider band of the electorate, rather than a fringe rather too far to the right (this is my somewhat jaundiced assessment), will be realised, I have been waiting for just this kind of development (Mr Harris's winge) with some anticipation and confess a little guiltily that now that it has happened I feel a certain relish. Of course, I have no desire whatsoever to see the Conservative Party move 'to the left', but it seems to me a no-brainer that it must move leftward somewhat to what might be described as a 'centre-right' position if it is to attract back people like me (who has mostly abstained since 2001) or those who have actually joined another Party - which I never have and see little likelihood of me ever doing! I thought for some years that the Conservative Party would have to continue its slow decline in electoral popularity until it reached a stage where, in desperation, the Party would realise that it had to change if it was to survive. As part of this evolution I always imagined that some of the more die-hard 'right-wingers' would inevitably have to be lost as supporters as they were unlikely to agree to even a minor shift in policy to slightly less extreme territory.

I had thought that the nadir had been reached during the final months of the disastrous period as Leader of Iain Duncan Smith (whose election as Leader was the catalyst which caused me to resign my membership), but it was clear that Michael Howard was not the man to take the hard decisions necessary if the Party were to be resuscitated - even though I have always quite liked Howard's tough, but civilised, stance, together with his special brand of linguistic precision. When I first became aware of the name of David Cameron, perhaps about this time last year, I had no idea that he would very quickly become a potential Leader (nor had anyone else, I suppose), but even though (and to a certain extent because) he and George Osborne are both considerably younger than me, I knew enough about their reputations to think that here, at last, was the kernel of something that might be quite exciting - if only the Conservative Party had the good sense to see it. We now know that the broad membership of the Party did have the necessary level of realism to allow Cameron to come to the front. Throughout its history the Conservative Party has on several occasions shown this ability to take unexpected and radical decisions involving major shifts in strategy. The fact that someone such as Mr Harris is the latest in a series of people with antedeluvian ideas on what the Party should do in terms of policy to come out into the light is, to me, a real sign that the 'Cameron strategy' is beginning to work.

Of course, no segment of the Party's support, however marginal, should be alienated without careful consideration and certainly not just for reasons of cynical 'short-termism', but it seems to me that the soul of the Conservative Party is being fought for at present. I hope that calmer heads than Mr Harris will continue to guide policy in the Conservative Party and that Mr Cameron can be allowed to get on with what seems to be a fairly long-term strategy of repositioning the Party where it can be a plausible right-of-centre alternative to the cynical bunch of spin-meisters who govern us at present. I continue to hope that I shall feel able in the not too distant future to re-apply for membership, perhaps even before the 18 month period of the consultation bodies Cameron has set up has elapsed, but this is very unlikely to happen if the views of people like Mr Harris begin to be taken seriously within a growing segment of the membership. It is perfectly true that certain aspects of what Mr Cameron seems to be saying about health and education strike me as rather too close to NuLabour for my liking, but believe it is far too soon to start agitating against him (indeed that would be absolutely disastrous). Having said that, a political party cannot stray too far ahead of what public opinion seems to want, even if it is also the job of a politcal party to seek to persuade an electorate that its policies, even if they involve major change, are the right way to go; it is in this final part that I hope Mr Cameron's longest-term strategy lies - to convince the British people that its devotion to a 'big state' is not in their own long-term interests, however comforting it may seem to be, for a while, always to have 'nanny state' taking care of all aspects of one's life. Time will tell.

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