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David Cameron: Modern Whig, Traditional Tory

Tom Griffin
29 August 2008

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Guardian brings us news of the latest edition of Progress magazine, in which Skills Minister David Lammy makes Labour's latest attempt to develop a line of attack against David Cameron:

The truth is that the Tories' change in language has touched a nerve, reflecting a big gap in our own political narrative. Yet beneath Cameron's rhetoric lies the basic philosophy that failed Britain in the past. The Tories demand responsibility without offering support; they appeal for fraternity without any real belief in equality; they have finally noticed 'society,' but remain implacably hostile to the state.

Over at Comment is Free, David Marquand suggests that the Tory leader won't be so easily pinned down:

Labour's paladins are barking up precisely the wrong tree in charging him with crypto-Thatcherism. The crystalline, divisive purity of Thatcher's Tory nationalist vision is alien to him. Where she sought to haul the country out of the path it had followed for almost 60 years, Cameron is running with the grain of the troubled times we live in. His anti-statist rhetoric and talk of a "broken society" may shock the left commentariat, but they resonate powerfully in a nation that has grown tired of endless chivvying by Whitehall, and where the shards of vanished civilities lie all around us. 

Marquand suggests that Cameron can best be understood in terms of the 'Whig imperialist' tradition that stretches back to Edmund Burke. Yet that in itself is perhaps a testimony to the nebulous nature of Cameron's political personality. As Marquand points out, Whig imperialism has been by by far the dominant political tradition of the British state. Has there been any major British politician who could not claim to represent that inheritance in some form?

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