Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Tory criticism of David Cameron has begun. Robin Harris gives the best articulation so far of the case against the new leader in the latest issue of Prospect. This attack was inevitable, and some of it is correct.

It is wrong, for example, to disparage grammar schools -- and this was a mistake which no non-public-school-educated Conservative would have made. But the critics still have not understood the premise on which Mr Cameron's actions are based. They work on the assumption that the Conservative party has a secure place in the political landscape. It has only to achieve the right policies, therefore, and it will win the election. Mr Cameron thinks this assumption is false: the Conservative party's position is insecure, so much so that the party's endorsement of a policy actually weakens it in the public favour. His first public task, therefore, is to rebuild the reputation of the party. He has to be like a friendly new vicar taking over a semi-moribund parish. He must behave in such a way that people come to like him (and his wife and young children) and respect his motives and his competence.

Only then will they think of attending services and helping repair the church fabric. Only after hearts have softened can minds be won.

Only then can Revd Dave start engaging his flock with his views on the doctrine of the Trinity or the Apostolic Succession. Mr Cameron has made it clear that this initial process will take about 18 months, so it is silly to try to catechise him now on exactly how sound he is on all the Thirty-Nine Articles. It used to be Marxists who were obsessed with doctrinal correctness and Conservatives who understood that leadership was a more subtle matter. The Tories should thank David Cameron for reminding them that it is.

Robin Harris says that some donors are thinking of holding back because of what Mr Cameron has said so far, but my own observation is that the general trend is the other way. There is what City journalists call a 'wall of money' looking for a political party which is a viable alternative to Labour.

There are far more very rich people in Britain today than has been the case since 1914. Most of them are disillusioned with Blair and Brown, and seem to like Cameron.

The critics are right, however, to warn about babies and bathwater. There is, and should remain, a difference between the ultimate direction of Labour and Conservative ideas. A turning point for the worse came, as so often, under the premiership of John Major. In February 1995 he was asked by Tony Blair in Parliament if it was 'a responsibility of government to reduce inequality'? Mr Major replied with one word: 'Yes.' This took the wind out of Mr Blair's sails at the time, but his answer was wrong. If inequality is seen as automatically evil, then socialism will always seem like the better answer. This was a key perception of Margaret Thatcher when she became Tory leader. In many respects her persona then was as emollient as that of Mr Cameron today. She was almost dementedly reasonable, and unequivocally committed to public services. But she publicly identified equality as the enemy of human fulfilment, speaking instead the language of opportunity, freedom and responsibility.

Once upon a time it was Morecambe and Wise. …

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