Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Couldn't you just shake David Cameron?

So we now know that David Cameron sometimes feels like shaking Gordon Brown. The great ‘clunking fist’ should not be too worried though, we all know that it is actually ‘Dave’ who shakes all the time, in fact he has not stopped ‘wobbling’ for months. Yesterday we witnessed Mr Cameron’s latest wobble as, once again, he moved (or was he pushed?) further to the right or as Polly Toynbee put it ‘deeper into the recesses of her (Thatcher’s) handbag.’

In fairness the task before Cameron is a monumental one. He leads a party that is desperate for power and since his election as leader in 2005 (yes it has been that long) he 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 really tough decisions and he showed real leadership in the face of huge and often hostile opposition. 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 Blair and Brown, but by 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.

Cameron views himself as the politician of the digital age, a bold and fearless leader who is unafraid to take risks but most of the changes he has made to his party have been primarily cosmetic (a new HQ, a new party logo) and shortlived (the party's "A" list of candidates). Mr 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 2007, Cameron told his party's spring conference that it needed to change and that the changes needed to be "faster, wider and deeper". Nearly two years 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." As the Tory "big beasts" and rightwing press begin to turn on him, how long will it be before Cameron 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 the Tory leader who started out saying his aim was 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? Is this what Cameron means by progressive politics? Is ‘do nothing Conservatism’ the replacement for ‘compassionate Conservatism?

The one person who has really been shaken by recent global economic events is not Gordon Brown, it is David Cameron.

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