At a dinner held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister, Michael Howard (then leader of the Tory Party) stated: "What you stood for then, we stand for now." Given yesterday’s events one could just as easily imagine those words coming from the mouth of Gordon Brown. Brown’s afternoon tea invitation to Lady Thatcher clearly rattled the Tories. Contributors to the Tory activist’s website Conservative Home expressed a mixture of shock, anger and grudging respect for Mr Brown. One wrote: “I thought I was dreaming about the return of our most glorious and blessed leader.” Another said it was “a sad, sad day for the Conservative party and yet another nail in David Cameron’s coffin.”
From the beginning Team Cameron has sought to portray their man as a new and not an old Tory, as the ‘heir to Blair’ and not the ‘son of Thatcher.’ The difficulty is that he leads a Tory party that is dominated by members who joined under Thatcher’s leadership, a membership that does not willingly want to move to the centre ground of British politics. Take yesterday’s reaction to the report by the party’s Quality of Life Commission. One Tory MP (David Wilshire) told BBC Radio 4 that it was “bonkers”, one of the party’s MEPs (Roger Helmer) described the proposals as a full frontal attack on Tory values and a leader in the Tory supporting Daily Telegraph argues that many of the proposals are 'misguided.' It almost makes you feel sorry for Cameron – after all very few people can lead an organisation that so obstinately refuses to be led. The other major problem for Cameron is that the Tory party looks and feels dispirited after a summer of gaffes and cock-ups. In contrast Brown has enjoyed a summer where he has looked sure footed and solid.
You also have to ask if the Tories really are 'up for it.' Too many of his front bench come from privileged, wealthy backgrounds. For many of the Eton educated Tory 'toffs' who surround Cameron politics is a bit of hobby, something to do in conjunction with few non-executive directorships. The Tory commentator, Tim Montgomerie hit the nail on the head last month when (writing for the Guardian) he suggested that:
"Too many of David Cameron's frontbenchers are part-timers. It was recently revealed that they hold 115 outside interests between them. They appear to lack the hunger to win that characterised Labour in the 1990s. Senior journalists complain that they hardly receive any calls from Conservative HQ but are constantly briefed by Team Brown."
Contrast Cameron’s closest allies with the likes of Heath, Thatcher, Major or even David Davis. Could you really imagine people like George Osborne or Oliver Letwin ever having a 'bare knuckled fight' with anyone? Would they have the bottle - or even the desire? I think not.
It may still be too early to tell but perhaps Gordon Brown is right and, after several flashes of political wizardry on his part, the wheels really are beginning to come off the Tory bicycle,