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David Marquand and Boys Smith comment on Cameron

4 February 2006

What should the world make of the new Tory leader, the first for ten years who might really win a general election? I wrote an assessment after  hearing him talk, posted below.  Alas  we have had to shut off our 'comment'  facility after it was used for a viral attack.  It is being repaired. Meanwhile, we will post comments which can be sent to the [email protected] with  subject line Priority Cameron Blog. Here are the first two from Nicholas Boys Smith, author of the Demos pamphlet True Blue and a brief sharp warning from David Marquand. Also a reply from me. 

Nicholas writes:

David Cameron’s speech to Demos this week might almost be seen as the dress rehearsal for Stage Two of his leadership and (I hope) of the Conservative revival.
 
Stage One is about convincing the British people that the Conservative Party is like them, understands their values, shares their aims. This is the critical precondition of the road back to Downing Street. Three months ago most voters thought that the Conservatives were fundamentally not like them. Now, thanks to David Cameron, they are not so sure. The blizzard of announcements, U-turns and policy reviews has persuaded millions of voters that maybe, just maybe, the Conservatives are pretty normal after all. There is more work to do but it’s a pretty impressive start.
 
Some pundits make the analogy to Blair. They are right to. New Labour had to go through a parallel process – convincing the voters that they “got” modern Britain – and didn’t want to turn it back into a coal-smeared modern variant of the Road to Wigan Pier. Similarly, David Cameron has to persuade voters that he doesn’t want to turn Britain into a pure free market ‘dog eat dog’ and ‘devil take the hindmost’ jungle. He is well en route.

But Stage Two for Mr Cameron is just as tricky. Most voters now also associate New Labour with lies, spin, talk for talk’s sake and an absence of delivery. They are correct. Few governments has been as good at politics and as bad as policy. And few have so fundamentally confused strategy with a hail of almost random schemes, tsars, initiatives and targets. Someone once defined the New Labour Syllogism: “Step one – we must do something. Step two – this is something. Step three – therefore we must do it.” There is more than a little truth in the charge.

This presents a problem as well as an opportunity for Mr Cameron. An opportunity, because people want a change from the spin. But a problem because he needs to convince that he is different, that he is not quite like Blair, that he will do as well as talk.
 
Beyond the political positioning, this is what Mr Cameron’s speech was really about this Monday. It was a first public attempt at an answer to the question: “how are you different from Tony, David ?” If Stage One is being a bit like Blair, Stage Two is being very different.
 
How did “David” do ? He did well. An answer is beginning to emerge. The difference, it seems, lies in the ability to deliver, the focus on quality of life, the wider goals.
 
But there is more to do. The difference needs to be summarised in a word, in a phrase. The modern compassionate conservatism that Mr Cameron speaks of so often may work for Stage One. I wonder if it will be sufficiently distinct for Stage Two. Dare I say it ? Fair Conservatism ?”
 
Nicholas Boys Smith

David Marquand writes:

Anthony's report is interesting, but sneers about Eton won’t wash any longer. And Macmillan was the best prime minister since the war – infinitely more radical than either Attlee or Wilson. (Blair isn’t even in the contest.)

Equal electoral districts has been a radical demand since the days of the Levellers. It’s NOT the same as PR. (I say that as a strong supporter of PR, by the way.) The real scandal about the present constituency boundaries is that there is a huge bias in Labour’s favour. No democrat – least of all an open democrat – can possibly be in favour of that. As for the Tories ruling over Scotland, haven’t you heard about devolution?
 

My Response:

It is not a sneer at Eton. I was not trying to talk about his personal privilege but that Cameron is seriously routed in a political class of long duration dedicated to renewing its command of power. Perhaps we need a debate about Macmillan, I’m sure David knows much more of the real history than I do. But for me he represents everything that went wrong in post-war Britain. That is to say, he engineered the Tories long grip on power through the fifties.

As Minister of Housing after 1951 he undid Aneurin Bevan’s commitment to high standards in public housing so as to build a million on the cheap and started the hollowing out of public sector wealth creation (to use a modern term for it) that made so much of the UK a construction catastrophe. As Chancellor he permitted the insane invasion of Suez while going along with the refusal to join the nascent European Union, an irreparable folly. After Suez instead of grasping as de Gaulle did that Europe had to become more independent of the United States he crawled into Kennedy’s pocket pretending to be Greece to his young Rome, a position that Blair now reproduces. In short he oversaw Britain’s shallow and opportunist modernisation captured by his phrase “You have never had it so good” and passed on to Harold Wilson’s Labour Government of 1964. Wilson was captivated by Macmillan’s skills and in a way the two crucial decades from 1950 to 1970 can be seen as the era of “Macmillanism” whose rousing substitute for political thought was “events, dear boy, events” ( a phrase which still  strikes the British as deep and wise) while a visionary creation of Europe proved it wrong.

I say all this at some length as David Marquand has, with his usual acuteness, hit the mark. While in media terms British politics remains in thrall to Thatcher, politically everyone is trying to escape her hex. The best way to do this is through democratising the constitution and spirit of British politics. If this is refused, then old-style informal consensus is the fall-back and Macmillan was its master and its phrasemonger.

As I said, all comments welcome! 

 

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