Thursday, 1 April 2010

Cameron's 'big society' message is the key to election success

It might be calculated to appeal to Guardian readers, as one 3000 Versts reader alleges, but David Cameron's 'Big Society' message is absolutely compatible with traditional Tory philosophy.

Conservative means realising progressive ends. It is a message which will maintain the party's micro-resurgence. The 'centre ground' is not some insidious euphemism. It is the territory on which elections are won.

The electorate has taken the benefits of Thatcherism, banked them, and added the Blairite benefits of public service investment. Now they want a reduced deficit and a continued commitment to providing excellent education and health provision.

Modern Conservatives are committed to providing these essential services. They also want to squeeze out a centralised state, as if it were a toothpaste tube, enabling people who work in particular areas to take decisions for which THEY are best equipped.

In order to win the election, David Cameron must emphasise this message, and his party's 'One Nation' tradition.


Ulster Liberal said...

I don't want to feel like I'm hogging the debate on this issue too much so I won't comment excessively.
In my opinion one of the greatest post-war Prime Ministers has been John Major. Here is someone that could certainly have been described as a One Nation Tory. His politics also lack ideology, a substance you and I are both agreed that is lacking in Cameron's policies also.
The difference is that it was quite clear that Major took on each issue and made the relevant decision he had to make on the basis on what he thought was right in priority over any sense of an idealogical framework. Major was in politics due to a powerful sense of duty to public service and was all too aware that politics can be a literally life or death buisness, the most serious of vocations.
And herein lies the difference between the men. Cameron, by his actions, cheapens politics as some sort of extension of the entertainment industry. He is motivated, not by a sense of duty to the Nation, but by a desire to climb the career ladder and will grab hold of any populist branch, no matter how dangerous or shameless, in order to achieve this.

JeffPeel said...

Chekov, if Cameron is, as you say, focused on the middle ground (others would say, focused on bland populism) he isn't even doing a very good job at that. The small state/big society idea is the centre of Cameron's policy pronouncements but it just doesn't wash. It does not have the necessary substance of a central plank of policy in the middle of a UK recession. Labour has systemically messed-up - but there is no national sense in which Britain is a broken society. The Economist has made the point - again this week - that Cameron's analysis of the problems at the heart of Britain are not ones that are recognised by most. In short he seems remote from the realities of British life - constantly playing the cards that people expect him to play given his elevated social position. Frankly he often comes across as patronising in a New Conservative way. As a result, his poll lead has slumped.

He has also walked away from many of the central tenets of Conservatism. Yes he is socially liberal - but without the passion of Nick Clegg. Yes he's free market inclined - but without the focus of Thatcher. Yes he's into choice in education - but he has walked away from academic selection.

In appealing to the middle ground his policies are uniformly bland - uninformed by emotional attachment. Where Thatcher was a grocer's daughter, who climbed the greasy pole against all the odds - Cameron is simply seen by many as an opportunist toff - and possibly one who hasn't much in the way of political talent apart from being quite a good (but not a great) communicator.

The Northern Ireland mess is a case in point of his detachment. He has allowed his Lietenant here to walk all over those were loyal and committed members of the Party and who could have brought a lot to the polical discourse. At the same time he has alienated many liberal members of the UUP who are thoroughly disenchanted with Reg's weak leadership and the UUP's lack of vision. Much could have been accomplished. An opportunity has been lost. Cameron has done nothing to prevent the ongoing mess that is UCUNF.

Chekov said...

The problem with the Conservative party until Cameron took over, and the difficulty with pandering to activists, is that there's little emphasis about what the party represented before the 1970s. Thank god the present leader has revived a more traditional conservatism, which might even be paternalist in instinct, but actually takes as its basis the idea that the health of society is the primary indicator of political success.

'Populism', as you describe it, is more generally recognised as the type of dog whistle stuff which Cameron has steered clear of. On social issues he's actually pitched at precisely the right area. Socially liberal but a strong believer in marriage. Tolerant, but prepared to nudge people in the right direction.

I'm also sorry to say that while I find much to agree with in what you've said about Northern Ireland over the weeks and months Jeff, if it were left to you the Conservatives would be forever howling at the moon. If things go as I suspect they might, the main benefit of the election for Tories in NI may not be seats. But it will be an enhanced profile and possibly the moderate pro-Union position.

Incidentally, I hope I'm wrong about that. I hope it turns into a developing relationship which rolls out Conservatism gradually, to the point when the unionism goes without saying.

JeffPeel said...

Chekov, I'm not sure how you come to conclusion that my involvement in the Party would result in "the Conservatives forever howling at the moon." I joined the Party because I was hoping that Cameron represented change - but I have been disappointed. One of his first policy planks was distancing himself from academic selection - making a mockery of our support for it here. He, at every Party Conference speech, has made a point of saying how wonderful his education was - but he has made no effort to extend wonderful education to those children in England whose parents can ill afford it.

Cameron could do much to create a meritocratic core to his policy pronouncements that run counter to New Labour's hollow, populist social doctrines. Instead he embraces Labour's failed ideas such as state academy schools. He embraces mass media in the same way as Blair and Campbell - the sight of him riding a bicycle around London, followed by an official Lexus, was a case in point. On one trip to Northern Ireland he refused to be carried in a member's ostentatious Mercedes S Class - despite the fact that he had flown, moments before, into Belfast on a private jet (but there were no cameras on the tarmac to see it).

On my part I worked, without any financial reward, to build the Conservative Party here into something that was beginning to look credible. I took on a mammoth task - building more modern communications, an effective web presence, a membership database, and helped build relationships between Owen Paterson and the media - plus successful local businesses. I also invested hundreds of pro bono man hours of time and effort. Had I had access to hundreds of thousands of pounds donated from CCHQ - I could have put it to much better use than squandering it on the bottomless pit of the UUP's balance sheet.

I agree with you, Owen, that I'm a rather disagreeable person that perhaps howls a bit too much. However, I am a believer in progressive Conservativism. I believe in a liberal society and right of centre fiscal policy. I believe in a Conservative Party that embraces elites that are created through talent, hard work and ability.

But the Conservative Party, in "modernising", doesn't represent anything much of any substance any longer - except the egos of Cameron's media-types that surround him. It is depressing in the extreme - for me as much as anybody.