Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Tory Toff


There has been a modest amount of excitement among the blogs about the Peter Hitchens hatchet job on Cameron for the Channel 4 series 'Dispatches'. The Cameron haters from both left and right inevitably loved the programme, while the Cameroonies have plenty of issues with it. You can get our very own Conor Daly's triumphant views about how the programme exposes Cameron for the fraud he is on his blog here; the [right-wing] Tory commentator Iain Dale, meanwhile, takes a predictably more wary view of the programme he was asked to help with, on his blog here. Left-of-centre politics lecturer Bill Jones also comments here.

So no shortage of views on the man still most likely to be the prime minister after Gordon Brown. No-one doubts Cameron's appetite for power - there was a time when that was all that was considered necessary for a successful Tory leader. And opportunists have always had a role in politics - there was no greater opportunist than Lenin, who would have been a footnoted failure if he had not been able to seize and use opportunities and cut his political cloth accordingly (New Economic Policy anyone?). Then there is Tony Blair himself - the man who dropped all of his bona fide left-wing causes in the race to make Labour electable again. So why is Cameron, the leader of a party which once prided itself on a lack of ideology, getting it in the neck all of a sudden?

First, there is the envy factor. In a society where egalitarianism has become a holy grail, and elitism one of the worst of sins, a man who went to Eton can hardly expect to have a decent press. When another Old Etonian, Douglas Hurd, ran for the leadership of the Tory Party in 1990, this decent man was hindered from the start by the simple fact of his schooling. We loathe Eton because we can't all go there, and we would much rather force everyone to come up from the mediocratic institutions of the state - preferably an anonymous comprehensive.

The second reason, however, is to do with the feeling of betrayal of many hard-line Tories. Hitchens is an example of this, as is Robin Harris, Margaret Thatcher's former Policy Unit head, who was also interviewed in the programme. Men like these, and the countless comment makers on 'Conservative Home', hate the fact that Cameron has been quietly jettisoning the worst aspects of the Tories' ideological baggage, and hate even more the fact that it has proved popular amongst voters, if polling is to be believed. In much the same way as Labour true believers would have preferred to keep their unelectable policies intact than pander to the frailties of electability, so too the Thatcherite rightists loathe any thought that their party might become sullied by appealing beyond its core. Both groups would much rather party politics remained a private affair, confined to the true believers. The crime of Cameron now - and Blair over the course of a decade or more - has been to by-pass the immovable core of their parties and successfully appeal for support from the uncommitted mainstream.

Of course Hitchens hates Cameron. He has recognised the reality of modern electoral politics and moved the Tory party accordingly. It's how you get elected and if, as Cameron is and Hitchens isn 't, you are interested in the pragmatic pursuit of power in order to achieve some of your political aims, then that's what you have to do. It isn't betrayal. It's democracy in action.

1 comment:

medibot said...

If i was given the chance to make a TV programme about somebody i hated i'd try and dig up a little more than what we all knew in the first place.

Trying to make it look like we have a real life Alan B'Stard on our hands (though of course B'Stard is now a Labour man...) when really you have a run of the mill politician like many before (hypocrisy, power hungry, "posh" etc) isn't going to do much.

We already knew and if it didn't really bother people then it won't now.

Of course Cameron has changed tact over the years, how you get into and upwards in the Conservative party is totally different to how you get voted into Parliament by the public.

He's playing the game and he seems to winning.