Friday, December 19, 2008

Will Cameron be the Tory party's Neil Kinnock?

Team Cameron must be looking at the polls and thinking that Harold Wilson was right when he said that a week was a long time in politics and that a couple of months can feel like an eternity. The Tory leader has watched on rather helplessly and at times haplessly, whilst his party's huge opinion poll lead has disintegrated in front of him. The last time that Mr Cameron came under any internal pressure was back in the summer of 2007 when his stance on academic selection took his party to the brink of civil war. Back then Lord Kalms told a national newspaper that he was "disillusioned to a substantial degree" with Cameron's leadership and according to the influential Tory peer, the Conservative party needed to look again at its overall strategy, his advice to his party's leader being "Look, chum, we need to do some rethinking".

The fact is that the task before Cameron is a monumental one and he knows it. He leads a party that is desperate for power and has set out to show that he is a winner, that he can change his party and restore it to its position as the natural party of government. What Cameron is now grasping, however, is that leading change is a long, slow and often bloody process. The events of the past few weeks would suggest that rather than the "heir to Blair", Cameron is in danger of going down as the Tories' Neil Kinnock. Yet in many ways this is a grossly unfair comparison. In the end, Kinnock ended up helping make Labour electable. He was willing to take some tough decisions and showed real leadership in the face of huge and often hostile opposition from within the rank and file membership of his own party. It is easy to forget that the enormous task of ditching some of the most unpopular Labour policies of the 1980s was carried out, not by Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, but by Neil Kinnock. It was Kinnock who first challenged the party to dump policies and commitments that had helped to create an image of a Labour party that was soft on crime and addicted to the imposition of punitive taxes. David Cameron views himself as the politician of the digital age, a bold and fearless leader who is unafraid to take risks. He is still 'banking' (excuse the pun) on Labour shifting hard to the left and is becoming increasingly frustrated to see the new Labour tent still firmly sited on the campsite of the middle ground. Labour has dominated British politics for the past 10 years because of the changes initiated under Kinnock and implemented by Blair and Brown. In contrast Cameron's reforms have been primarily cosmetic (a new HQ, a new party logo) and short-lived (the party's "A" list of candidates). 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. In April last year, Cameron told his party's spring conference that it needed to change and that the changes needed to be "faster, wider and deeper". Over 12 months later and change in the Tory party looks to be slow, narrow and shallow.

Today, the words of former Tory (now Labour) MP Quentin Davies take on a new resonance. In his letter to Cameron outlining his reasons for leaving 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." If, as many predict, the Tory "big beasts" and rightwing press begin to turn on him, how long will it be before he is forced to retreat towards having to peddle past Tory agendas? How long before he is told that he needs to embrace more "traditional" core Tory issues such as Europe, crime and the family? How long before a newly elected Tory leader who started out saying his aim is to recapture the centre ground of British politics, is yet again forced (by his own reactionary right wing) to move to the right in an attempt to hang on to the Tory core vote?

Neil Kinnock achieved much as leader of his party, however the jury is still out with regards to what David Cameron will do to help change the fortunes of the modern Tory party.

1 comment:

Methodist Preacher said...

Good article Mike. Just one quibble with the headline "Will Cameron be the Tory party's Neil Kinnock?. That would be flattering to Cameron!!!!