Cameron knows how to balance compassion with Conservatism
Over the past few months I have lost count of the number of people who have asked me – satirically – why I am not standing in the current Tory leadership contest; and after I have bumbled out some reply, they have always said, oh well, who are you backing? “David Cameron,” I have said, quick as a flash, and for the most part this answer has so far drawn a look of anxious blankness, the look you see when people are sure that they ought to have read some classic work, and are in two minds whether to bluff it out or admit ignorance. “Oh yes,” they say, mentally noting that they ought to get to grips with the subject of David Cameron, along with Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.
Well, I hope that if there was anybody out there still ignorant of the merits of Cameron, that ignorance was dispelled this week. You may not want to go quite as far as Bruce Anderson, whose essay on Cameron in this week’s Spectator is a kind of tear-sodden nunc dimittis. Like old Simeon in the temple, Brucie has seen our salvation, and though you may not be prepared to agree with him that Cameron is our saviour and a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of the Tory party, most dispassionate commentators would surely have to concede that it has been the 38-year-old’s week. Cameron is the one who has made up the most ground.
Cameron is the contender on whom the odds have shortened most dramatically. Before they get any shorter, I urge you all to go out and have a tremendous punt, and as for my colleagues in Parliament who are still toying with other options, I say this. David Davis and Ken Clarke are both great men, in many ways; but be good to yourselves, my friends, and think it possible that now is the moment to hitch yourselves to the Cameron bandwagon for the entirely cynical and self-serving reason that he is not only the best candidate, but that he is going to win.
Cameron has come closest to finding the language we need if we are to make the meaning of Conservatism clear to a new generation. I like this stuff about there being a “we as well as a me” in politics. I like his constant repetition of “we’re all in this together”; indeed, I am vain enough to have a feeling that he nicked it from me. It is a simple idea, but it bears explication. It means that Toryism is not about one section of society grinding the faces of another section of society, with Tory politicians getting off on the sheer ideological purity and savagery of it all.
It means recognising that there will always be winners and losers, and if we want to encourage people to win – as we do – then we must also be prepared to look after the losers. We’re all in this together because if people at the bottom feel shut out and lost, then they are more likely to turn to crime and despair, and make life worse for everyone, including themselves.
I like Cameron’s pitch, because he understands the vital importance of optimism in politics, and stressing that the Tories are the party of energy and opportunity, whereas Gordon Brown’s Labour Party, whichever way you cut it, will always be rooted in the politics of chippiness and envy and spite. In fact, I found nothing to dislike at all in what he had to say, and much to admire, so I will end with only a couple of notes of caution to my fellow “modernisers”. The first is that I am not at all sure what the hell we mean by “modernising”.
If I were a punter I would be heartily sick of hearing the Tories whiffle on about whether they are nice or nasty, gay or straight, does my bum look big in this and all the rest of it. And what is all this stuff about “change”? Unless my ears were deceiving me, someone up there on the platform said that we Tories had to change the way we walked, the way we talked, our sexual composition. Well, I don’t think we should aggravate the woes of the NHS with thousands of Tory thrusters queueing up for speech therapy and gender reassignment. From the point of view of the electors this obsession with changing our appearance is also dull, narcissistic, and completely irrelevant to their problems. No one gives a monkey’s whether we wear ties or not, or whether we have baseball caps or breakdance down Blackpool promenade.
What they do care about – and this is the second point – is how they are governed; and while we Tories must articulate a new compassionate Conservatism, we should never forget that in asking people to vote for us we are essentially asking to take charge of taxation and spending, and that our prime duty is to bring a new and more sensible – and more Conservative – style of economic management. We are likely to face Gordon Brown at a time when his record looks increasingly vulnerable. Inflation is on the rise, retailing is in difficulties, and he has not cut a single one of the 84,000 jobs he promised to lose in the public sector. That means the public sector is continuing to expand, and Brown is taking ever more money from the private sector to fund this expansion, and therefore preventing its use in wealth creation or the generation of new jobs, and all without the reform that would deliver real improvements in those public services.
It would of course be wrong to go into the next election promising a huge purge of public sector jobs, and it would be electorally foolish, since the 800,000 new officials Gordon has created not only have jobs and families; they have votes. But the Tories must never forget that millions of people are looking to them to save them from the depredations of the taxman – and those millions are by no means the richest in society, but the very poorest who pay grotesque proportions of their income in tax.
Of course the Tories must rediscover compassionate Conservatism; but the trick of the next few years will be to show that you can have compassionate policies that are for the benefit of business and enterprise, and that you can gradually bear down on spending and taxation in a way that is good for everyone. That is the connection we must demonstrate. That is the job for Cameron, and Cameron is the man for the job.