The Conservative Party is far from down and out….
At the beginning of Layer Cake, the narrator informs us that “It is only very, very stupid people who think the law is stupid.” Similarly in politics, it is only stupid people who think the Conservative Party, taken as a collective whole, is stupid. Granted, given the current ruling circus that is hard to remember this sometimes but any political Party is so much more than its ruling group. As a whole, the Conservative Party, has an unquenchable thirst for power and is often very adept at maintaining it even when the chips are down and the situation looks beyond retrieval. It showed this in the early-90s when despite the trauma of Margaret Thatcher’s untimely exit, the poll tax riots and a Labour poll lead that lasted 3 whole years, it still won the 1992 General Election. Adaptability and a strong survival instinct sustain it, in fact, when it loses that it is vulnerable but the current Conservative Party is nowhere near that kind of complacency as yet.
Given all this I was somewhat surprised to hear Ed Miliband announce the demise of the government in the pages of The Observer. Ignoring the fact that Ed’s choice of words is poor, to say the least, following on from Bradford West, it also totally underestimates the opposition and confuses a personal crisis for David Cameron with a generalised crisis for the governing Party. Of course, one can become the other but that all depends on how long the Conservatives are prepared to tolerate Cameron’s presence poisoning their well.
Cameron and Cameronism, such as it is, has a similar kind of awkward relationship with the Conservatives that Blair and Blairism had with Labour. However, Camerons’ electoral record is vastly inferior to Blairs’ so the chances of it sinking deep roots are pretty non-existent. Even a casual visitor to Conservative Home can tell you that the Conservatives are not ‘Camerons’ Party’. Culturally the ‘Cameroons’, as they are sociologically speaking from the numerically tiny aristocratic wing of the Party, are viewed with a weary eye by many a true-blue Conservative. This is reflected in the virtual unanimity now of the Conservative-supporting press, from the Daily Telegraph to The Sun, in questioning Cameron and seeking to undermine his authority. Obviously, there is internal dissent, how else did the Daily Telegraph acquire the recently leaked memo about the horribly botched ‘Thatcher moment’?
This is a crisis yes, but a very personal one to the Prime Minister and his ruling circle. Furthermore, its worth noting that mid-term crises do not equate to automatic opposition wins. During the fuel crisis in 2000, for example, I genuinely cannot remember any leading Conservative being daft enough to tell their activists to go back to their gold-plated coffee tables and prepare for power. Plenty of time exists for the Conservatives to divest themselves of the gangrenous and highly toxic Cameroons and reinvent themselves or else go to the country with that special new leader spring in their step.
Looking at the potential replacements for Mr Cameron, should he fall, the name that leaps off the paper is David Davis. If Davis doesn’t want the top job then one wonders why he resigned as Shadow Home Secretary when he could have stayed and now been at the top table. One suspects he sees himself as Thatcher’s heir and rightful leader and Prime Minister and has never forsaken his ambition to be as such. He has been noticeable by his media presence of late and indeed emerged today to criticise government proposals to further monitor email and web use.
No doubt he will have learned the lesson taught by previous pretenders to the Tory throne and won’t want to wield the knife himself (they never end up wearing the crown) but will be happy to let us, the media, and others do it for him. This would not be good news for Labour because Davis is at least twice the politician Cameron is and would be well-received by the British public I would imagine. Of course, the transition would see us develop exciting poll leads which would make our heart quicken. The leadership will probably continue to behave like a teenager on their first acid trip and lose themselves in a narcotic-induced haze but eventually we will be in for a very long and hard come down onto the rocks of political reality; that reality being that the Conservative Party is very much alive and kicking and definitely not down and out.