Steve Rathbone: This proud Tebbitite is rallying round David Cameron - and so must others if Britain's shocking decline is to be reversed
Steve Rathbone lives in Battersea, taught for twenty years, recently diverted into international relations and is on the Candidates' List. Here he returns to a theme which Tim Montgomerie addressed earlier in the week.
Not long to go. The General Election of general elections approaches. As the daunting national debt crowns a pile of woeful policies and botched decisions, the civic duty to purge the country of Labour misgovernment beckons all right-minded people.
It is hard to comprehend fully the damage done by Blair and Brown to the nation’s economic and social fabric, its moral compass and sense of identity. Most worryingly for democracy, what political scientist Frank Furedi describes as ‘anti-politics, a cynical dismissal of the elected politician and an obsession with sleaze’ have reached a level unseen in our lifetime. So, we can and must work together to elect a Conservative government to reverse Britain’s shocking decline since 1997. Indeed, I suggest it is a moral imperative.
The question is, will all available Tory activists be out there doing their bit when the time comes? Or will those who balk at elements of Cameronism - largely on the party’s traditionalist Right - work at a slowed pace or even not at all? The potential Stay-At-Homers and Clandestine "Kippers" in the party need to think very hard about the likely consequences of their actions. If you are one, don't stop reading!
As someone on the Tebbitite wing of the party, and proud of it(!), I certainly felt unease at some elements of the party makeover – too self-consciously green here, falling over backwards to be ‘inclusive’ there. It is perhaps a Conservative tenet to be suspicious of any hint of ‘irrefutable’ dogmatism. The recent undermining of efforts to enforce an orthodoxy of ‘man-made climate change’, which we had previously been told was ‘settled science’, should be a warning to more zealous modernisers in the party.
And then there was that moment at last year's party conference (excellent in all other respects): Bono’s speech on the big screen on the final afternoon in Manchester felt, frankly, like an internationalist club pounding on the party’s head, although some older members just seemed bemused by the man with the funny tinted sunglasses and goatee. There are many valid questions about international aid and its targets, but that’s not for now…
Thankfully, David Cameron then made a broad-ranging keynote speech which painted an exciting picture of what might be achieved, if only we could win. The content of that and subsequent addresses and policy statements suggests he has a determination and durability strongly appropriate to the demands of this difficult period. And try as they might, our opponents’ efforts to re-attach the ‘nasty party’ label (a phrase actually coined by one of our own!) aren’t working. David Cameron is patently not nasty. Anecdotally I have never heard anyone, of any political persuasion, seriously doubting that. And I talk to a lot of people, including, quite literally, those on the Clapham omnibus.
The leadership team can be accused of misjudgment or indecision from time to time, but the general pattern has been impressive. Some of our party had a dishonourable role in the expenses’ row, but David Cameron was quickest off the mark to face, head-on, the need for reform. People who criticise ‘modernisation’ (and I have been one) can forget what a nadir we sank into after 1997.
Efforts by some disgruntled folk on the Right – annoyed about Lisbon, our relative quiet over immigration and so on – to accuse David Cameron of being Edward Heath Mk. II are risible. He may not be a Thatcher, but as Bruce Anderson and others make clear, we need to look at the actual chronology of the Thatcher years, separating it from the wisdom of hindsight, and heroine-worship, however merited that is. She was more pragmatic and inclusive than the legend suggests.
David Cameron has been bold in policy development. There has been a very exciting melding of Conservative principles of self-reliance and development of individual potential with profound social concern through Iain Duncan Smith and Philippa Stroud’s pioneering work at the Centre for Social Justice. Intellectually, they have nailed the canards of the liberal-left, while being sufficiently Big-Tent to glean the best of ideas and experience available. What might be termed their innovative-traditionalism could bring about the very social transformation which statist-welfarism denies its recipients. But only if the Conservatives win…
To recap, can we really be in such a mess? As someone once said, yes we can. Can we reverse things? Yes we can. But only if we are in power. We need all hands on deck to secure a clear victory for… the Conservatives.
This is an appeal to those who have found David Cameron with the husky dogs, the jibes at the ‘Turnip Taliban’ and Steve Hilton’s alleged lack of shoes in the House of Commons a bit too much to bear: I know what you mean, but now just forget all that and rally round. In the great scheme of things, what really matters? You are essential to victory this year and we hope, a second term. If you don’t help to the best of your ability, you will probably have five more years of Labour government. You won’t enjoy them. David Cameron has the backbone and the team to hold to a course in a storm, as he will surely need to, if we win. But he needs pro-active support from all of us. And he needs it now.