April 15th 2010 could well go down in political history as the date when the wheels started to come off the Tory bicycle. They must be tearing their hair out at CCHQ. It was all going so well: ahead in the polls, a government in apparent disarray and a public seemingly desperate for change. Then came their leader's big chance to shine, the TV debates would surely give the ex-PR man a fantastic opportunity to further outshine the Prime Minister and that other leader, you know 'whatshisname', Clegg. Oops! What has happened these past few weeks is that the public has begun to see that the Cameron led Tory party lacks substance, coherence and conviction.
At the 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." Would David Cameron have delivered the same line? I doubt it. Since hie election as leader Cameron has tried to portray himself as ‘new Tory’ not ‘old Tory’ as the ‘heir to Blair’ and not the ‘son of Thatcher.’ The difficulty is that he leads a party that is dominated by members who joined under Thatcher’s leadership, a membership that does not want to move to the centre ground of British politics. It almost makes you feel sorry for Cameron – few people can lead a political party which obstinately refuses to be led. The other major problem for Cameron is the fact that too many of his front bench come from privileged, wealthy backgrounds. For many of the the Eton educated Tory 'toffs' 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 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 'Team Cameron' with the likes of 'barrow boy' Tories like Heath, Thatcher and even David Davis. Could people like George Osborne or Oliver Letwin ever really have a 'bare knuckled fight' with anyone? Would they have the bottle - or even the desire? I think not.
If, as seems increasingly likely, Cameron loses the election on May 6th I think it highly probable that the Tory party will end up tearing itself apart and that we will witness the formation of a new centre-right party (led possibly by Cameron or Nick Herbert) leaving the 'traditional' Conservatives (led by David Davis) to plough a Thatcherite furrow that will eventually lead to electoral oblivion.