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

Thursday, 2 October 2008

David Cameron's closing speech at the Conservative conference

I watched the speech live yesterday afternoon and since then I've watched excerpts of it (a few of which included almost the whole thing) several times; I've also begun to read blog posts (here, here (*), here (+) and here, for example) about reaction to it, from those not natuarally inclined to support Cameron or the Conservatives, in other words people who are basically either Labour or SNP supporters.

(*) - Not in fact about Cameron's speech, but about another conference contribution, but as the general tenor of what I'm about to write touches on the same subject, I include it for reference.
(+) This is only part 1 of what she plans to write, but part 2 may be relevant to what I'm about to write, too, so it is also included for reference.

Personally I thought it was a very good speech, not a 'brilliant' one by any means, but very 'solid' and 'statesmanlike', the latter probably because of his own growing realisation (i.e. nigh on certainty) that he will, assuming the opinion polls are not completely wrong or that voting intentions do not change dramatically between now and the next election, be our next Prime Minister. The tenor of his speech recognises the fact, as it had to, that whoever wins the next election (even if it were to be Gordon Brown, however unlikely that might now seem) will have to deal with the most almighty economic mess.

However, broadly-speaking I think Cameron's speech did well what he was probably setting out to achieve; to galvanise his Party for the coming election, first and foremost, and to demonstrate that the Conservatives with him as the party's Leader, are a viable alternative to govern this country and that he personally is capable of performing the role of Prime Minister. However, what I want to look at is one paragraph from his speech on the 'Family', the first part of which alarmed me somewhat, but the final part of which made me think all was not as it might at first appear; I'll discuss my reasoning below. The full speech, from which I quote the paragraph, is here:

We will also back marriage in the tax system. To those who say…why pick out marriage why do you persist in aggravating people who for whatever reason choose not to get married I say I don’t want to aggravate anyone, but I believe in commitment and many of us, me included, will always remember that moment when you say, up there in front of others, it’s not just me anymore, it’s us, together, and that helps to take you through the tough times and that’s something we should cherish as a society.

The first part would seem to imply that anything outside of a conventional man-woman marriage would be outside the scope of what he proposes for the tax system, but I believe the bit about the standing up to make a commitment in front of others leaves open other possibilities. I think it is probable he was addressing this segment of his speech to two distinct audiences, firstly the 'traditional Tory' who thinks that the only acceptable form of family relationship is that between a man and a woman who are married and who have no truck either with people who 'live in sin', with or without children, or even, heaven forfend, two men or two women who live together in a romantic and sexual relationship. The second part, however, seems to me implicitly to recognise that two men or two women who have gone through a civil partnership ceremony, and in doing so made a commitment in public similar to that made by a man and a woman who go through a marriage ceremony together, form a 'family' too and will benefit from the tax-breaks he proposes.

The earlier part is, if my analysis is correct, designed not to alienate the 'base' whereas the later part is possibly too subtle for most of the 'base' to realise precisely what he is saying (so alientating them), whilst being designed to appeal to gays and lesbians who commit to each other in a civil partnership. I would like to be able to ask David Cameron to clarify whether my analysis is roughly correct in what it seems to imply for civil partnerships, or whether I am indulging in far too much textual analysis for my own good and he means only what he is saying in the earlier part; I doubt if I'll get a chance to hear a clear answer on that subject though, unless someone like John Humphrys or Jeremy Paxman decides to ask about it, unlikely given that the focus of their interviews with him in the near future is likely to be on economic matters, given the current parlous situation. My worry is though that the subtlety with which Cameron, being an astute politician, has chosen to express himself is designed specifically to give him 'wriggle-room' to follow whichever policy seems expedient at the time, depending on which tabloid newspaper happens to be running one of its 'gay scare' stories at the time. What all this boils down to is that whilst I basically share most of the views of most mainstream Conservatives, on social matters I have less-restrictive views (which match precisely my less-restrictive views on all other matters as I believe in 'small government' in all spheres) and frankly don't trust the Conservatives not to 'revert to type' on social matters if they see it in their short-term interests to do so.

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