David Cameron and his party are undergoing an estrangement

by Dan Hodges

Something isn’t right with the Tories. They are in government. They have been forced to share some of the spoils of their 2010 election victory, but victory was still theirs.

Their political position is sound. Having spent the past year trying to find some direction, Labour has dramatically struck out towards the electoral wilderness. The Liberal Democrats continue to passively fulfill their role as human shields. Cuts, riots, wars, economic stagnation; all come and go with the opinion polls registering concern, but little sign of open revolt.

And yet the Conservative party isn’t happy. Or rather, it is not content. It may no longer be the nasty party. But it is the greedy party. It wants it all. And it wants it now.

Standing in the queue to enter the Manchester arena, you could sense it. Impatience. Not directed at the diligent G4S security staff, but at the political gods. For a party whose members believe they were born to rule, being forced to share power is in some ways  a more cruel fate than not having power at all.

Actually, that is an unfair caricature. Looking at the Conservative delegates they did not look all that dissimilar to their Labour counterparts. Perhaps there were a few more blazers, a little more Laura Ashley and salmon pink. But these were not masters of the universe. Just fairly ordinary men and women imbued with a sense of destiny and self-importance.

They feel this should be their time. The global economy is in crisis. The international picture an unsettled one. There is unrest on our streets. The unions are mobilising. There is a overwhelming sense of a society in moral decline. But they are being hampered.

Hamstrung by an electorate that did not have the foresight to ensure the natural order was fully restored, and partners in government who lack the strength and courage to steer the ship of state through treacherous seas.

These frustrations are prevalent amongst grass-roots activists. But they are not the preserve of them. At the Conservative Home party Lord Ashcroft, the Tory’s billion-dollar-brain, uttered a stark warning, “We are the conservative wing of the Conservative party. We have one objective and one objective only. A majority Conservative administration. And we will pursue that objective irrespective of any pressures”.

There is trouble brewing for David Cameron. Touring the fringes and receptions what was striking was the easy manner in which activists, commentator and even MPs openly discussed his succession. “It’s going to be a fight between Osborne and Boris”, said one insider, “and I think Boris is going to edge it”. At the moment this is obviously just bar talk. But had you toured the bars of Labour conference 18 months into the Blair administration it would have been impossible, unless you’d managed to sidle up behind Gordon Brown at an unguarded moment, to have found a similar discussion.

This is the prime minister’s paradox. The coalition has acted as an incubator to his fledgling premiership. It has insulated him from the full effects of his most unpopular decisions, enabled him to continue the process of decontaminating the Tory brand and neutralised the back-bench malcontents who would seek to drag him off the political centre ground.

But it has also prevented the Tory party from picking him up and embracing him as one of their own. There’s a distance developing. Slowly but surely David Cameron and his party  are undergoing an estrangement.

To understand this, you have to fully appreciate the depth of the antipathy ordinary Conservatives feel towards their Liberal Democrat partners. They are not viewed as a necessary evil. They are just an evil.

I attended a fringe meeting sponsored by Searchlight looking at how to unite the left and right in the fight against political extremism. It was hosted by Tory MP Kris Hopkins and included John Cruddas on the panel. As soon as the floor was opened to questions the chair of one Tory association stood up and said, “I came because I was curious to see John Cruddas. I was quite impressed by some of what he had to say. Couldn’t we just all get together and put our feet on the necks of the grotty little liberals?”.

The liberals, not the socialists are now the enemy. It’s not reds under the bed but sandals under the cabinet table that makes the blue blood boil.

In part that is a reflection of the perceived impotence of the principle opposition. David Cameron is now convinced Ed Miliband is unelectable. At a reception for journalists on Sunday he identified the booing of Tony Blair as the defining moment of the 2011 conference season, and for the second year running his main address didn’t even bother to mention the name of Labour’s leader.

But for all his faults, at least Ed Miliband can legitimately claim he is taking his activists with him as he embarks on his left-wing magical mystery tour. David Cameron wasn’t even able to entice his activist base as far as the  conference hall.

In the opening  line of his conference speech he told those delegates he did manage to stumble across, “I am proud of you”. In the second line he thanked them for winning the local elections. In the third he thanked them for their charity work. In the fourth he promised to join them in securing victory for their favorite son Boris Johnson.

Much of David Cameron’s delivery may have been  straight down the tv cameras. But he wasn’t primarily speaking to the country – he doesn’t feel the need to at the moment. Instead he was speaking to, trying to reach out to, his own party.

Hoodie’s weren’t going to be hugged, they were going to be subjected to summary midnight justice. The huskies could fend for themselves.  Jobs, not the environment, were what  mattered. Europe was bashed. Business freed from red tape. It was all Thatcher, bulldogs and Britannia.

At the end the hall rose to him. Their applause was warm. As he had pointed out, this is not a party that boos its own leaders.

But he didn’t linger upon the stage. And they dispersed without a fuss. A party and a leader  slowly, but surely, beginning to go their separate ways.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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5 Responses to “David Cameron and his party are undergoing an estrangement”

  1. swatantra says:

    Cameron and the Tory Party will have to come to an understanding that they are unelectable without Cameron as their front man, the face of compassionate Toryism. Thats why the Tories are getting an easy ride, not because of the Lib Dems taking all the flack, unfairly,but because Cameron is the acceptable face of Conservatism. I woldn’t e surprised if both Nick and Dave step down vountarily in 2015, beause both will have achieved what they set out to do, the reallignment of British Politics.
    Ed who has little chance of winning might also decide to step down, which means we could have a GE with all 3 new Party Leaders which is an exciting prospect.

  2. Nick says:

    And why the apathy? Because neither the Tories or the Lib dems are doing anything about the debts.

    They aren’t even cutting. Figures just out shows spending last year was up. Not only in cash terms, but in real value of money terms.

    Labour won’t even admit to there being debts. Hence the constant prattling on about deficit reduction, with the assumption that the electorate is just as stupid as the BBC and things deficit means debt.

    7,000 bn in debt. That’s the real problem, just as it is in Europe, and that doesn’t include bailing out the feckless (or the deserving poor) in their retirement.

    That’s why most of the Tory faithful are put off. That’s why the fringe wins.

  3. AmberStar says:

    7,000 bn in debt. That’s the real problem…
    93 more rounds of QE at $75Bn a pop & we’re in the clear 😈

  4. AmberStar says:

    David Cameron & George Osborne are in deep trouble. Their entire strategy was clear the deficit by 2014, tax cuts before 2015. It’s begining to read like they will be at the helm during a crash as big as 2008.

    GO has zero chance after the Coulson debacle, failure of the economy & nobody likes him anyway; he had to disappear during the 2010 election campaign because he was a drag on the ticket.

    Boris would only be a challenger if: Ken beats him (go Ken!) or he steps down as mayor, stands as an MP in a by-election & still has time to mount a challenge, win & run an election campaign.

    David Cameron will hold on as leader because there’s nobody else.

    Absent a scandal or natural causes, it will be Ed v Cameron at the next GE, not so sure about Nick tho’.

  5. Robin Thorpe says:

    Dan, I think I agree with the overall tone of this although not some of the details. I agree that Cameron is not a traditional conservative; both he and Nick Clegg are more traditional Whigs, which is perhaps why they are not universally popular in their own parties. I think also that when he tries to use Conservative rhetoric his presentation is more strained, even shrill, as if he is trying really hard to sound passionate.

    I disagree that the Labour has struck out towards the electoral wilderness with EM’s speech; his message seemed to be more about ethics than any specific socialist policy and can still be fleshed out. I agree it wasn’t a particularly inspiring speech, however as Peter Watt has pointed out the conference speech doesn’t really count for much outside Westminster and activist interest.

    I would also like to say that I hope to see continued opposition towards any dilution of workers rights through a reduction of safety/employment/welfare regulations that the Tories are proposing. Andy Burnham did a good job on QT last night and I hope that this continues. As I found out to my cost last year employers do not need any relaxation in employment law to make adjustments to their workforce. I would have hoped there would have been a more vocal opposition from the Labour camp of these proposals. Most people don’t watch QT, listen to Radio4 or read the Guardian, so principled opposition must extend beyond these arenas. Cameron’s statement that Britain wasn’t made Great through over-reaching state regulation was right; Britain was made Great through slavery, violence, oppression and exploitation. I’d rather not return to those halcyon days thank you very much.

    Incidentally Britain was also made Great through violently enforced protectionism; I don’t see free-market neo-liberals proposing that as a solution any-time soon (not that I think we should; just that it is worth recognising that the wealth of our nation is built on the suffering of others. PreWW1 Britain’s economic health was a result of Empire building. Post-WW2 British and US economic health was a result of public-sector investment. Since the late 1970’s average wages have fallen when compared with inflation while executive pay and capital funds have soared. Neoliberalism has increased inequality.)

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