It is fascinating that both Julian Glover and Matthew Parris should broach this topic, this week – since they are civil partners, and both brilliant writers, writing for different papers. They surely discuss their stuff together. First, Julian Glover warns us that if Cameron is not supported, then behind him lurks something much nastier:
This week Turnbull, who deserves great credit for sacrificing his career rather than giving in to the right, gave a sad little speech to the Australian parliament endorsing the government’s emissions trading scheme. Almost no one from his party turned up to hear it. Cameron is a far stronger and more secure leader than Turnbull ever was, but it is not so very hard to imagine a future in which he, too, finds himself speaking from the backbenches as the Tories lurch off under the likes of Liam Fox and David Davis. If the election goes wrong for him, it might even happen this year.
Is this the “Vote Cameron, or my goodness you don’t want to see what we’ll bring in instead” strategy?
In Australia where the eminently electable Malcolm Turnbull was replaced by “Tony Abbott, whose iron-man physique and much-mocked “budgie smuggler” *tight swimwear is only equalled by the firmness of his views. He notoriously described climate change as “absolute crap””. So Mr Glover anticipates a world in which impatient Tory rightwingers drag the party in their direction:
a Cameron government held hostage by parliamentary arithmetic is likely to be a government under the sway of the right. … A Tory party whose centrist leader has failed to deliver the argument-clinching victory which was the only reason his secretly sceptical party ever stuck with him in the first place, will be looking towards a second election, possibly soon. His new MPs will not all be extremists. But they will need nerves of steel not to dart off to populist policies on things such as climate change.
Secretly sceptical? Every time I go to the Carlton Club (a family member is a Conservative, albeit a mild one), I am amazed by the bilious commentary along the lines of “not sure about Cameron at all”. He has rescued the Tory party, and this is how they see him.
Glover warns us to support Cameron, or a weak Cameron may give way to something worse. Parris’s target is Cameron himself, with what he calls a ‘global warning‘. Accurately running through the various right wing successes (Germany, Spain, Massachusetts) he then moves on to Australia. After the Left were dismissive and contemptous about the resurgency of a Palineque Right within the right-wing Liberals . . .
You may know what happened. The rebel faction succeeded in ousting Mr Turnbull and replacing him with one of their own, Tony Abbott, under whom the Coalition has lurched to the Right across a range of issues, especially taxation. Let’s allow Mr Abbott’s team to speak for themselves when I quote Barnaby Joyce, the Shadow Minister for Finance, on loft insulation: “The fluffy stuff you put in your roof for rats to urinate on.”
His analysis has some similarities to Glover’s:
David Cameron is lucky he was elected leader some years ago. In today’s climate he would never have topped the internal Tory poll. He stays leader now because he has done a good marketing job at humanising what had become an ugly party; because of his own personal qualities of command; because of the nimble and decisive way he reacts, front-foot, to events; because his opposite number, Gordon Brown, is such a shambles; and because. . . Well, because no big unforeseeable thing has yet tripped Mr Cameron, and no big, charismatic figure on his right stands ready to challenge him if it did
The problem is, according to Parris, that Cameron “knows he isn’t quite right for his party’s or the electorate’s present mood.” The mood being: a return to atavistic Right-ism (I am paraphrasing): sceptical of the environment, fiscally hawkish (consistently so, Mr Cameron …), hating not hugging hoodies, and so on. Parris’s advice?
The worst thing I know about the Tory leader is that he does know how to be nice to people, how to keep people onside; he knows about good manners; he has the skills. Within his own party, however, he has sometimes not bothered to apply them. In politics this is worse than a needless discourtesy; it is an expensive one. Mr Cameron needs to be on his guard, and hug his party close
Both writers would like us to support the Conservatives, and would like the Conservatives to earn our support. But, wittingly or not, both feed the strong suspicion that the rebranding into Compassionate or Green conservativism – whether Cameron believed it or not – never brought his Party with him; that this Party has been relying on the world turning towards its Right wing views, rather than any particular changes within itself; that we may vote Compassionate CentreRight, and get Miserabilist Denying Far Right; and that their strategy may be as much about motivating a base of ‘white male resenters’ (see Dillow) as convincing the middle ground of their reasonableness.
My obsessive chronicling of their fiscal and economic errors is meant to show one variant of their atavism: that they think we are forever in the early 1980s, and a supply-shock/productivity-shock recession. Hardcoded with the wrong remedies.
Glover says: “Vote Cameron or my Tories will be taken over by something nasty”. Parris says “Vote Cameron but he really ought to move to the Right which is where some of the action is”. How about “Don’t vote Tory unless they are definitely liberal conservatives through and through?
*this made me laugh and laugh.