There’s more than one way to be the nasty party. Take this recent gem from Michael Portillo, off the frontbenches and out of the Commons now, but for so long the archetypical modern Tory:
“We have the right to be disapproving of obesity because the costs to public health and to national productivity are borne by us all.”
That may be New Conservatism speaking - nothing to do with Europe! - but it’s extremely nasty. Portillo couched his article in terms of personal responsibility, but what he advocates is that the state has the right to tell citizens how to live their lives.
I wish I could see it as an isolated example, but I can’t. Project Cameron is increasingly transforming the Conservatives into a very modern party of “No”: no to high salaries; no to cheap food; no to foreign holidays for the poor; no to driving to the supermarket for a convenient weekly shop.
Something has gone badly wrong. For all the talk of a citizen-centred politics, the Conservatives seem to have lost sight of personal freedom as the rock on which their appeal is founded. They want to use our creative energies in the third sector, but to choose the ends to which they will be put. Rather than seeking a smaller role for politicians, they are staking claims on new social and cultural territory: peering into our fridges and suitcases, and even visiting our bedrooms to look for the marriage license.