The Hollow-Gram: David Cameron Is No Moderniser, but Wedded to Old-Style Tory Policies. So Why Isn't There More Questioning of Him?

By Macintyre, James | New Statesman (1996), March 23, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Hollow-Gram: David Cameron Is No Moderniser, but Wedded to Old-Style Tory Policies. So Why Isn't There More Questioning of Him?


Macintyre, James, New Statesman (1996)


It is perhaps the biggest mystery of contemporary British politics that David Cameron has been universally praised by both the left and the right for having changed and "modernised" the Conservative Party. In fact, in every major policy area, he has failed to make fundamental changes to his party's approach. Challenged by this correspondent to name one single significant change Cameron has made, Fraser Nelson, the cheerleading political editor of the Spectator, merely said that they were "too numerous to mention". Michael Heseltine could only cite a different "perception" among young people. After he won the leadership in 2005, Cameron himself was asked on Sky News what exactly he wanted to change about the party. His response? A flash of irritation and an attempt to cut the cameras.

Four years on, it is time for more sceptical scrutiny, starting with the issue likely to decide the next general election: fiscal policy. From the leadership campaign onwards, Cameron adopted Michael Portillo's state-slashing neo-Thatcherite agenda, cloaked with a cuddly social liberalism. Had Kenneth Clarke, who also stood for the leadership in 2005, been elected, he would have made ridding the party of its ideological commitment to tax cuts the Tories' own "Clause Four" moment. But George Osborne, the shadow chancellor whom Cameron will never sack, has always insisted that they do not need any such moment. In fact, on Osborne's advice, Cameron abandoned the Tories' commitment to government spending plans in November. So, far from resisting calls for tax and spending cuts, they are backing them just when these are least needed.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives remain the party of the very rich, proposing to raise the inheritance tax threshold to [pounds sterling]2m. They failed to condemn the practice of short-selling shares last September and the party's opposition to bankers' lavish bonuses has been a last-minute conversion. But with the economy dominating the news, other areas in which Cameron has made no changes have been forgotten.

Only a year after becoming leader, Cameron abandoned moderation on the sensitive issue of immigration, demanding "significantly less" of it. The Tories now want a cap on "unsustainable" numbers of incomers, and Cameron has accused the government of "lying" over "uncontrolled immigration".

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His first announcement on the EU was to promise to withdraw Tory MEPs from the centrist European People's Party grouping (a pledge first made to see off his right-wing rival for the leadership Liam Fox). His decision to come good on that promise is a move from which even William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard shied away. The Tories are not alone in their intention to leave the EPP after elections in June; they are joined by others such as the Polish Law and Justice party, one of whose MPs, Artur Gorski, described Barack Obama's election as "a disaster" and "the end of the civilisation of the white man". Cameron also pushed hard last year for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. He presides over nothing less than the most anti-European parliamentary party in Tory history. …

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