Sunday, February 28, 2010

'Catch phrase' politics is no substitutre for policies and substance

According to David Cameron it is his “patriotic duty” to remove Gordon Brown from office. Does this mean that anyone who votes Labour at the next election is being unpatriotic? It is Mr Cameron’s pursuit of silly, ‘catch phrase’ politics that puts so many people off voting for him. His tactics these past months has been to go after Mr Brown’s character, to play the man and not the ball. Pleasingly it appears that it is a tactic that is failing and therein lies the Tory party’s main problem - they are obsessed with tactics and have no real strategy.

Cameron leads a party that is desperate for power. Since his election as leader in 2005 he and his team have set out to portray him as a winner, someone who can change the 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 months would suggest that rather than the "heir to Blair", Cameron is in danger (as once suggested by Andrew Rawnsley) of going down as the Tories' Neil Kinnock. 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 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.

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). In recent weeks more and more local Conservative associations have expressed concern and dismay at the apparent arrogance and conceit of CCHQ. Why? The main reason is that Cameron's Conservatives are dominated by a small elite group - 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 2006 Cameron told his party's spring conference that it needed to change and that the changes needed to be "faster, wider and deeper". Four 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." How long before the Tory "big beasts" and rightwing press begin to turn on him, how long before Cameron is forced to retreat towards having to peddle past Tory agendas? How long before another 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? My guess? Not long at all.

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