The Tory spin machine was in overdrive yesterday. According to party chair Caroline Spelman, the defeats in Sedgefield and Ealing were quite encouraging for the Tories. The Tories never expected to win either seat and what really matters say CCHQ is that under David Cameron the Conservative party is, generally, heading in the right direction. To a certain extent the final part of the previous sentence is true. Why? Because the results will almost certainly mean that Cameron will end up being forced (like Hague, IDS and Howard before him) to retreat to the right. He will be told that he needs to embrace more 'traditional' core Tory issues like Europe, crime and the family. So yet again a newly elected Tory leader starts by saying his aim to recapture the centre ground of British politics but is forced (by his own reactionary right wing) to move to the right in an attempt to hang on to the Tory core vote.
The two by-election results have made one thing abundantly clear; David Cameron's superficial and simplistic strategy to drag his party to the centre ground of British politics is not working. The truth is that Cameron’s imposition of a candidate for Ealing Southall who was all style and no substance - someone who became a Tory out of convenience, not conviction - totally backfired. Tory campaigners hailed Mr Lit as the ‘perfect’ candidate, his good looks, charm and a high local profile encouraged them to believe that he could secure a massive coup by routing Labour from one of the its safest seats in the capital. But only days later it emerged that, just a week prior to his selection, Lit had donated £4,800 to the Labour Party and attended a Labour fundraising dinner. The Tory frontbench will rally to Cameron's defence but they know that the humiliation and embarrassment of the past few weeks are very much of Cameron’s own making. Cameron views himself as the politician of the digital age, a bold and fearless leader who is unafraid to take risks. Well he certainly took a risk in Ealing Southall and the outcome is that his leadership as well as his judgement are now seriously in question, particularly amongst the ordinary, rank and file members of his party.
Cameron visited Ealing himself on no less that six separate occasions – including a ‘Cocktails with Cameron’ event (obviously good old fashioned door knocking is too tiresome for the new brand of Tory activist). Cameron's team were supremely confident that the adoption of a vigorous and well funded ‘marketing’ campaign in Ealing Southall would win the day, that style and image would triumph over hard graft and a more traditional approach to political campaigning. How wrong they were.
The by-election results clearly indicate that the new Labour tent that Blair and Brown helped to create is still firmly erected on the campsite of the middle ground. Clear differences between Brown and Cameron, in both style and emphasis, are now emerging and these results will help accentuate these differences even further. David Cameron’s support for a 'celebrity' style candidate in Ealing offers a real insight to the workings of today's Tory party. Cameron's Conservatives are made up of the ‘right kind of people’, his people – privately educated and from a background of immense wealth and privilege. Under Cameron the Tories still believe that the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, their economic, and their social views. Increasingly Cameron reminds me of the man who, on seeing the mob racing down the street in protest calls out to the crowd "where are you going? I need to know because I want to lead you."
Today the words of former Tory MP Quentin Davies take on a new resonance. In his letter to Cameron outlining his reasons for his decision to leave the Conservative party and join Labour he wrote 'Under your leadership the Conservative party appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything. It has no bedrock. It exists on shifting sands. A sense of mission has been replaced by a PR agenda.' Cameron's PR agenda has failed miserably, how long before he is forced to retreat towards having to peddle past Tory agendas?
David Cameron was the future once, didn't last long did it!