Magazine article The Spectator

Three Cheers for David Cameron, the Willie Whitelaw of His Generation

Magazine article The Spectator

Three Cheers for David Cameron, the Willie Whitelaw of His Generation

Article excerpt

It's funny how both supporters and opponents of David Cameron's bid for the Conservative leadership seem to agree on one thing: that the whole idea of Mr Cameron is rather revolutionary. The key question is thought to be whether or not the Tory apple-cart needs upsetting. Upon your answer to that your attitude to Mr Cameron is thought to turn.

Nobody, however, disputes the assumption that he is the Conservative leadership candidate most in tune with the demand that 'the party must change'.

Not everybody does think it must. In his speech to the Blackpool conference, Cameron's principal rival, David Davis, talked of a new 'agenda' but not a departure from the Tory way of looking at things. Liam Fox made a point of decrying the fashion for self-hatred within the party; and neither Kenneth Clarke nor Malcolm Rifkind has been trying to represent himself as pursuing some sort of renaissance within Toryism:

how could they?

Cameron, meanwhile, comes close to suggesting that his party needs to be all but born again. The language he uses is redolent with images of rebirth, rebranding and renewal, bold thinking and a comprehensive clear-out of the Tory attic.

Implicit in the appeal he makes is the claim that he himself is, in his own person, modernity made flesh -- new Britain incarnate. His supporters dance around him rather as Friedrich Nietzsche's more fanatical disciples used to, Elizabeth Nietzsche having dressed her brother in the white robes of a prophet.

Which is all rather strange, because the reason I support David Cameron today, have done from the start, and am pleased to welcome a rapidly growing horde of Cameronadmirers to the fan club, is that from the very start this man has struck me as the most oldfashioned potential Tory leader I have encountered since Douglas Hurd's bid for the leadership in 1989. Today (I believe) we need a proper, traditional Tory built upon classic lines; and Cameron is that person.

Do not be fooled by the rhetoric. 'I am the candidate for change' is the ancient and familiar cry of bright young Tory things, and is intended to soothe, not ruffle feathers. As with the arrival up the drive of a new young curate on a bicycle, cycle-clips around his corduroy trousers, a ready smile and a range of cautiously modern opinions on the Immaculate Conception on his lips, the impression is of continuity with just a dash of daring -- so that we can attract 'the young people' back into the pews. Maybe there will even be a guitar in the choir.

The evidence for Mr Cameron's claim to be slightly shocking does not go much further than his own assertion, and doubtless he believes it. But we are none of us the best judges of our own natures, and I suspect that Cameron is both less and more than he thinks. He is the continuity candidate.

The articles of faith to which this young leadership aspirant subscribes are evergreen Tory instincts which, during the Thatcher wars, some of the older lags began to forget:

the importance of putting a sheet anchor down into the current of the age; keeping the appeal of the party broad; knitting people together rather than polarising; an abiding fear of going to war with one's own nation; a mistrust of ideologues and ideology; a sympathetic manner, an air of goodwill and a ready listening ear; and a massive civility combined with a habit of keeping one's own counsel. …

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