Magazine article The Spectator

Your Guide to Fundamentalist Moderation in the Tory Party

Magazine article The Spectator

Your Guide to Fundamentalist Moderation in the Tory Party

Article excerpt

That fundamentalist who has just won the Iranian election showed the way. Since then, Mr Michael Howard has given a lecture arguing that the Conservatives should not attach decisive importance to tax cuts. Mr David Willetts had already said more or less the same. Then Sir John Major wrote in the Daily Telegraph that the Conservatives should not move to the Right.

Mr Kenneth Clarke, Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Mr Andrew Lansley seem to share these views. So too, as far as we can gather, does Mr David Cameron. Mr Cameron, although at the moment not looking as if he will achieve the feat, is emerging as the best bet among the 'stop Davis' candidates. He would, for example, enforce for MPs the strict moderate dress code of no ties on television.

The parliamentary Conservative party, then, is gripped by fundamentalist moderation. This is worrying to the West. Western diplomats remember that fundamentalist moderates have become Tory prime ministers relatively recently. Sir Edward Heath unleashed the Inflation Terror of the early 1970s. In the 1990s Sir John Major, though winning the premiership only as a result of Eurosceptic Thatcherite votes, persisted with the ERM as recession deepened.

Yet moderation continues to inflame certain Conservative backbenchers in each generation. It is the cry of the dispossessed seeking an identity; the humble longing for red boxes and a ministerial vehicle. When it is pointed out to them that Mrs Thatcher provided MPs with plenty of those, their reply is, yes, but if one is Thatcherite the liberal media say horrible things about one. Extreme moderates want the red boxes, the car, and for the Conservative party's journalistic opponents to think them nice. Some of them think that Mr Cameron can arrange all that.

The Davis camp's fear is that this moderate extremism could spread from the relatively small Cameron-Rifkind-Lansley backbench districts to the broader parliamentary party. Its prospects among the party in the country are negligible. But backbenchers are easily swayed by mob psychology. Although a phenomenon almost entirely confined to Westminster and of course Notting Hill, there is nothing so frightening as a moderate mob. So the Davis people take care to put it about that they too can be moderate. They point to Mr Damian Green and Mr Ian Taylor, two former Kenneth Clarke supporters, as being for Mr Davis. They tell the Mail on Sunday how, as a schoolboy, Mr Davis had come to the aid of a gay pupil whom homophobes, as they were not then known, had bullied.

At that, there would have been a crisis meeting between Mr Cameron and his close friend, Mr George Osborne.

Mr Osborne: 'Davis has out-gayed us, Dave. Whaddawe gonna do?'

Mr Cameron: 'Well, we could say I was the best Algernon in any Eton production of The Importance that any beak could remember.'

Mr Osborne: 'Er, yes. But in the play Algernon, at least technically, is straight. Couldn't we have you as Lady Bracknell?'

Mr Cameron: 'All right, then. Cool. Go for it.'

Mr Osborne: 'But we'll need more. Couldn't we have you walking from Eton to Covent Garden to retrieve a pair of Nureyev's tights from the stage-door dustbin?'

Mr Cameron: 'Well, if you must.'

Mr Osborne: 'And getting Nureyev to sign them? …

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