Terrible advice from The Guardian's Julian Glover
I can't think of a way of writing this politely so I'll just write it directly: Julian Glover's article about the Conservative Party in this morning's Guardian is flawed from start to finish.
Four of his arguments and my four responses:
- "There is a tension inside conservatism between the old party and the new one. The new is focused on the future and has insulated itself consciously from the failures of the old – indeed, won public support by insulting the old. It is young, steady-nerved, ambitious and deliberately dismissive of what came before." As parties change there are always tensions but JG doesn't define the tensions accurately. It's much more complex and interesting than he presents. In many ways Cameron is a very traditional Conservative. As Ridley Grove's correspondent notes today, Cameron is a Unionist, a Eurosceptic and a social conservative. One of Cameron's greatest strengths is that he is comfortable with all the conservative traditions but is a temperamental moderate. He doesn't over-emphasise any of them. The Right has its caveman elements but the Right is much more interesting than is usually suggested. IDS, for example, was the champion of social justice before any of Cameron's circle. John Redwood writes intelligently about the environment. Peter Lilley writes intelligently about global poverty. David Davis is Parliament's number one civil libertarian. Does this make them new or old? To ask the question is to show how silly it is. It's also completely wrong for JG to write that Cameron has won public support by "insulting the old". During the grammar schools row Cameron became confrontational but that was a near disaster. He has since avoided any of the 'blood-on-the-carpet' modernisation favoured by Michael Portillo.
- "He could spend time schmoozing the tearooms and asking people in for drinks; a few would be flattered. But he cannot increase the number of real jobs on offer, and in real jobs he wants real allies. Those allies come from the future, the majority of Tory MPs likely to have been elected for the first time at the coming election." Mr Cameron would be wrong to take this advice. Cameron has no party management problems so long as he's 24% ahead in target seats. There will be problems in government when very difficult decisions are being made on the public finances. JG is also wrong to assume the new intake will be automatically and universally grateful to Cameron. For reasons that The Economist understands and I set out here the new intake are independent-minded and will need to stay close to their Conservative Associations. Cameron, like all sensible party leaders, will wisely "schmooze" his colleagues.
- "A current fashion among Tories is to call on Cameron to promote the old-timers, to give his team strength now that office looks near. He is wise to be cautious: Ken Clarke always stood apart from the worst parts of the old Tory party, which is why he makes a plausible member of the new one. But bringing back the old guard only makes sense to people who do not think that, underneath, the party had to change." Nonsense. This is a caricature of the old guard. Davis, Lilley and Young, in particular, are all agents of change and would all be very capable ministers. Cutting himself off from the talent on his backbench is one sure way of repeating the biggest failure of the Blair years; a failure to manage Whitehall.
- "On 2 October, Ireland votes for a second time in a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Barely 48 hours later, Conservatives gather for their autumn conference... This could be a real and caustic mess, with Euro divisions cutting across new and old Tories. Cameron's response should define his leadership. Does he follow the deeply Eurosceptic heart some say beats inside him? Or does he place ideological obsessions to one side to deal with the pressing issues of government?... Cameron may have to face up to his party this autumn. He will have to tell it that tolerating Lisbon is the price it must to pay for power... There will be a temptation to give in to primeval Tory instincts. The lesson of the Cameron leadership so far is that that is always, but always, the wrong thing to do." JG's choice of "primeval" is the giveaway word. As much as he may not like it, most Britons are Eurosceptic and pejoratively dismissing them as "primeval" does not advance understanding in any way. Cameron does, of course, have to be careful with the issue of Europe. It is an issue that still has the power to cause explosive divisions but Cameron has an opportunity to modernise Euroscepticism. So much of Europe is out-of-date. The Fisheries Policy is bad for the environment, the Common Agricultural Policy is bad for the developing world, the annual failure to audit the EU accounts is just plain indefensible. When Cameron is suffering politically because of tough spending decisions he does not need a war with his base vote by sticking two fingers up at them on Europe. Euroscepticism will be part of his 'Shoestring manifesto' of cost-free initiatives to keep the country happy while there is no money to spend.