Dead Men Left

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tough on crime, except fox-hunting

I noticed that man Cameron, suddenly squeezed from the limelight by the merry antics of other party leaders, ahem, writing in the Guardian the other day. On one level, his attempt to reposition the Tories in the “centre” could not be clearer:

Blair has had nearly nine years in power. He could have mounted a systematic challenge to one-dimensional, knee-jerk populism.

Worth remembering that Cameron wrote the 2005 general election manifesto that demanded 20,000 extra prison places, 5,000 more police, and “proper discipline in school”. So sudden is the switch that it is tempting to conclude that very little is behind it other than “sensation-seeking, turning-over-the-furniture, épater les bourgeois predictability“, and that the Labour voters appealed to will prefer the real thing to “Labour-lite Conservatives.”

I think this is wrong. I may be overestimating their abilities, but Cameron and posse are doing something a bit more subtle than grasping blindly after New Labouresque cliches. The prospect that they actually are trying to redesign Conservatism, roughly along the lines suggested by various neoconservatives, should be taken seriously. Take the Gaurdian article, linked to above.

Instead, we'll set out ideas such as our proposals for Social Enterprise Zones, which would remove the many regulations and bureaucratic obstacles that hold back social entrepreneurs. We want to create a level playing field for the voluntary sector and social enterprises so they can win more contracts to deliver more community and public services.

It’s given a fancy spin, but what here is so disimilar from the aspirations of conventional Toryism? Cameron’s asking for more privatisation (“create a level playing field”) and philanthropy (“social entrepreneurs”). It’s a suitably modernised version of standard Tory rhetoric, but the desired outcomes are the same.

There is a convergence taking place, but it is one the Tories are trying effect on their own terms. This is much as New Labour converged on the governing Thatcherite consensus, but did so by way of its own traditions, and arrived at something near-unique. The key difference is that, to create New Labour, the last vestiges of utopianism had to be stamped out. Even the most fossilised and decrepit of right-wing, Old Labour union bureaucrats retained the sense of opposition and optimism that is built into the language of class. The Tories, never having been utopian in even the weak sense intended here, should have no such difficulty; where their problems lie is in their (hopefully fatal) belief that New Labour won its three elections, rather than the Tories losing them.