Monday, June 01, 2015

The One Nation PM

David Cameron announced that he would be a "One Nation" prime minister, and in both outlook and practice he would appear to be fulfilling the role he has set out for himself.

Although he has indeed appointed a more Thatcherite cabinet than his predecessors, this has largely been through the pragmatic necessity of getting the right people into the right jobs.  The Cameron style of governance in any case favours continuity - a significant and, many would argue, welcome distinction from the almost constantly moving BLair/Brown years - and this obviously saw a number of committed Thatcherites retain Cabinet office (Gove, Grayling, Javid, Hammond to name a few).  They were joined by rising stars such as Priti Patel (attending, rather than a full-on member of cabinet) and Andrea Leadsom, while Thatcherite old-stager John Whittingdale got his place in the sun, not least because he happens to be the best-qualified person to hold his role.  The cabinet selection, in fact, was a triumph of pragmatism over ideology, with the arch-strategist George Osborne increasing his own authority as part of the harmonious duopoly that he and David Cameron seem able to run.

The Queen's Speech, too, carried some right-wing headlining.  The promise on a European referendum, the proposed welfare cuts and the right to buy bill; all these could have come straight out of the Thatcher playbook.  But they were all also manifesto pledges.  The European referendum is Cameron's attempt to lance the boil in his own party and give membership of the EU a genuinely popular mandate.  Putting it straight in to his first Queen's Speech was a matter of necessary management.  The other headlining issues reflected promises made during the campaign.

Look, however, at what wasn't there.  No British Bill of Rights yet, nor a vote to repeal the fox-hunting ban.  And under the wire, look at what else is happening.  Childcare allowances to be doubled, apprenticeships to be increased, and of course Cameron's own well publicised commitment to actually extend NHS provision in a 24/7 direction.  There is definitely an issue of costing of these expensive commitments to be identified, but they form part of a One Nation commitment to social mobility and "caring for the poor" that is certainly redolent of One Nation PMs of old, as Anne McElvoy persuasively notes in her Observer piece.

It's not just in policy commitments that David Cameron appears to be showing his One Nation colours.  His practice too reminds us of the methods of government of the most prominent of his One Nation predecessors.

The originator of the One Nation brand (though he would hardly have used that term) was of course Disraeli.  But Disraeli reached the top office at a point when he was almost too tired to pursue any active measures himself.   He left the radical reforming to his ministers, most notably his Home Secretary Richard Cross who has as much claim as anyone to be the original executor of One Nation Toryism.  Cameron is certainly not a tired man in office, but like Disraeli it is possible that foreign affairs (in his case the necessary negotiations over EU membership) will consume more of his time.  Thus, the practical measures required to put his vision onto the statute books will lie in the hands of his ministers.  That's why Iain Duncan Smith stays at Work and Pensions, and Jeremy Hunt at Health.

Mr. Cameron also understands the art of steady rule.  The Spectator blog suggests that the greatest reforms of the Cameron administration come from his ministers.  True, but it is the PM who must both give the political freedom to pursue this, and the steady leadership to stop it being overly divisive. This is a classic Stanley Baldwin approach, another notable One Nation leader.  Baldwin presided comfortably over a potentially divisive inter-war Britain, ensuring Labour had its chance to govern, making sure that the General Strike didn't become a class war, and giving radical reformers such as Neville Chamberlain their head.

The most potentially divisive issue facing Mr. Cameron is the European Convention on Human Rights. He has apparently decided that Britain will not in fact pull out from this, believing that the production of a British Bill of Rights should satisfy most of the calls for a greater prominence of British rulings in such issues.  The Telegraph reports that this has put him at odds with Michael Gove and Theresa May, but the fact is that this is Cameron the arbiter in action.

David Cameron clearly does not see power as something to hold on to for its own sake, and has a refreshingly detached view of holding office - hence his off the cuff comment to James Lansdale of the BBC about not running for a third term.  He is a leader who sets the agenda, and understands that very often he has to find en effective middle way between the competing ideologies of colleagues and party supporters, as well as position the Tories as an effective whole nation party once again.  The early indications are that he has the temperament and commitment to achieve this.  Any One Nation Conservative should be cheering him on enthusiastically as he re-sets the party for a generation or more.  

1 comment:

sukhbir singh badal said...

wow.. so amazing story.. very nice. thanks for sharing