How will Cameron respond to One Nation Labour?

by Jonathan Todd

Damian McBride is right. Jon Cruddas is too. Even Phillip Blond is.

This amounts to a triumvirate of correctness trapping David Cameron. Precisely the position – as demonstrated by seizing the leadership initiative from David Davis with his no notes performance at Conservative Party conference in 2005, his party’s proposed cut to inheritance tax on the eve of the election that never was in 2007 and his snatching of victory from the jaws of defeat by forming a multi-party government in 2010 – from which he is most dangerous.

McBride has picked up a valuable insight from Gordon Brown, who told him in 2004:

“I’ve already had seven years. Once you’ve had seven years, the public start getting sick of you. You’ve got seven years when you’ve got a chance to get people on board, but after that, you’re on the down slope. I’ve tried not to be too exposed, but it’s still seven years. The only chance was getting in next year before the election. Tony knows that. Every year that goes by, the public are going to say: ‘Not that guy Brown, we’re tired of him – give us someone new.’”

McBride goes on:

“Why does any of this matter today? Well, next Wednesday marks seven years since David Cameron’s ‘speech without notes’ at the 2005 Tory conference, so we will soon get a chance to test the theory again. Cameron obviously hasn’t been PM for all of that time, but he was the most over-exposed opposition leader in history, and has undoubtedly been front line in the public consciousness for 7 years.”

Cruddas has reviewed Britain Unchained, a new book by rising Tory stars, and finds it a revealing take on the party that Cameron now leads:

“Scratch off the veneer and all is revealed: a destructive economic liberalism that threatens the foundations of modern conservatism … It is because this faction is in the ascendancy that Cameron is actually failing; he remains captive to an economic reductionism that could well destroy conservatism – in the proper sense of valuing and conserving the nature and assorted institutions of the country.”

It is this embrace of economic liberalism that has so disappointed Blond, one of the architects of the compassionate conservatism that was the intellectual mooring to Cameron’s years as “the most over-exposed opposition leader in history”. Blond moans of Cameron:

“His failure to maintain a coherent new vision has led to spasmodic appeals to vague progressive notions that have further alienated his own base and suggested that the PM is not a master of his own beliefs … Cameron’s thinking is now out of step with public demands and economic reality. People desperately want a new economic and social settlement. But nothing is on offer from the right, so the left has moved into the vacuum.”

The power of Ed Miliband’s audacious one nation pitch resides in capturing the ground that Blond chides Cameron for abandoning.

Cameron began as a youthful Harold MacMillan figure, promising to bring the country together. He now seems captive to his party’s divisive Thatcherite instincts, exemplified by Britain Unchained. Miliband offers a unity that Cameron appears unable to provide.

Cameron will sense the threat in this. And surely, as when faced with big challenges in the past, won’t he pull a rabbit out of his hat, strike a counter intuitive pose and flip the narrative?

This part of his character has previously caused me to speculate that he may fully nationalise the RBS and Janan Ganesh of the Financial Times has argued for Tory support for wealth taxes along somewhat similar lines.

But, as we move through the seven year window identified by McBride, does the political agility coarsen?

Certainly, beyond this window are rigidly hardened perceptions. Nothing is shifting, for example, views of Blair and Brown any time soon. Maybe posterity will revive opinions of them, maybe not. There is little they can do about it now.

How near is Cameron to a place in his political lifecycle where his capacity to change opinions has left him? And, even if he retains some such capacity, how spectacular will the Britain Unchained faction allow any rabbits in his hat to be?

The scope for the bold moves that Blond desires is surely limited by the need for management of a party more enamoured with Thatcherite approaches. Moreover, gains from unexpected moves are likely to be sought by Liberal Democrats: for example, Vince Cable would claim a fully nationalised RBS and Nick Clegg increased wealth taxes as personal victories for them, not the stuff of a renewed Tory detoxification.

The right wing party he leads (or more accurately fronts and mismanages), the desperate party that he shares government with and the thrusting party that seeks to wrestle government from him all limit Cameron’s scope for manoeuvre. In fact – but perhaps I am just being unimaginative – I struggle to see much beyond personal invective for our Eds and a warning that it may be tough with him (Cameron) but it would be so much tougher with them (Balls and Miliband).

Miliband should be credited with putting Cameron into a place where what he can offer is limited, predictable and nasty. But he should not underestimate the force of what will be thrown at him. There remains a need to address concerns about Labour’s supposed profligacy and personal attacks will have to be bested. Wind will also be put into Tory sails by any uptick in the economy.

It is, though, very much game on.

Jonathan Todd is Labour Uncut’s economic columnist

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4 Responses to “How will Cameron respond to One Nation Labour?”

  1. Felix says:

    A case of the electorate’s seven year itch.

  2. Amber Star says:

    David Cameron has never flipped from Thatcherite to One-nation since being elected. That was an Opposition Only approach.

    The Tories will not nationalize even the West Coast train-line, despite that being the only sensible thing to do from left, right or center; if it must be brought under the auspices of government control, he will shift heaven & earth to have it immediately subcontracted to Virgin.

    As to fully nationalizing RBS. Not a snowflake’s chance in hell. They will give it away to the nation – free shares despite the horrendous ‘cost’. Then poor people, struggling with falling living standards & unemployment, will sell their free shares for buttons to the vultures i.e. it will be a massively discounted re-privatization in the guise of encouraging Thatcherite, one-nation share ownership. Unless the rest of parliament unite against what may well be a populist policy, the RBS will be given back to the private sector by the back door.

    A wealth tax, you say. You have got to be kidding. Any ‘wealth’ tax will be aimed squarely at the squeezed middle; i.e. property owners with one home in which they live. It will likely be a tweak to the council tax regime for higher value property but which will continue to give discounts for 2nd homes & be free for properties self-certified as ’empty’.

    Cameron will respond to the one-nation speech brilliantly. But he’ll do it with PR ‘passion’ & clever phrases; all sound & fury, signifying nothing except more Thatcherite give-aways of stuff which shouldn’t be his to give away!

  3. swatantra says:

    Some suggestions here for Dave, in the same way that I may have suggested ‘One Nation’ a year or so back which Eds acolytes picked up:
    1. Talk about the ‘New Britons’ ie we are all the future, Britain in the modern world, where Thatcherism Blairism and Brownism hardly matter anymore. A new generation of Britons that can shed the shackles of the old and move forward into a brave new world. A Britain that is thriving with entrepreneurs with a social conscience. Where class and race and religion don’t matter, nor whether you are Polish or Somalian, but in which we all pull together, because that is what the New Britons are. You are one, I am one.
    2. Develop the Big Society and call it the ‘Big Community’ where we all look after each other. Because that is what New Britons do.
    3. New Britons believe in responsibility, self responsibility and serve the State, not themselves. Echos of JFK here.

    But I have a sneaking suspicion that Dave will fall back to default position, that Tories always do whenever they are in trouble ie play the race card, euroskepticism and knocking welfare scroungers.

    I also agree that 7 years is about right, then its time to look elsewhere for Leadership.

  4. uglyfatbloke says:

    The game is certainly ‘on’, but let’s not get caries away. Ed’s speech was pretty good and it was delivered in a very polished and confident style, but it was still only a conference speech. Outside the political class (in the widest sense of activists and enthusiasts) it was n;t that big a deal. It did help to give a bit of confidence to the faithful, which is important, but it’s not a long-term game-changer.
    If there is any recovery in the economy Cameron will get the benefit and the glib-dumbs will continue to wither away,,,how sad, If Cameron looks like he’s going to win a majority, the Labour vote in Scotland will be badly damaged. Increasingly Scottish people see the gnats as a better bulwark against the Tories, and Johann Lamont’s speech did n’t help at all. TV pundits may be praising her for it, but it really has n’t done any favours among the electorate.
    Of course ‘the economy stupid’ is the big fish, but it’s not he only fish. Blair and Brown were disastrous for other reasons – the wars and personal liberty being just two damaging areas for Labour.
    On the plus side, most of he people who left Labour over the wars or the ‘stealing on expenses’ scandal or cannabis are not going to to vote for the Tories or the Glib-Dumbs, but equally, they are not going to come back to Labour either. In England they’ll vote Green and in Scotland they’ll vote for the gnats. In Wales Plaid are still well behind the curve, but that may not be the case in two years time. There’s also the possibility that regardless of Ruth Davidson’ views, Cameron will decide to offer FFA for Scotland after all – possibly in exchange for Scottish MPs not voting on England-only issues. Opposing FFA would be a disastrous choice for Scottish Labour, but accepting FFA would be siding with the Tories. Fortunately, Cameron is not that smart….probably……

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