David Cameron wraps himself, his Party and his Government in the Union Flag
By Paul Goodman
The Conference slogan - "Together in the National Interest" - isn't new. David Cameron used it in the post-election speech announcing his "big, open and comprehensive offer" to the Liberal Democrats. But it's worth noting for several reasons.
- It's the answer the Government's giving to the question: What's its message? Tim, Jonathan and I wrote earlier this autumn about the absence of such a message after the collapse of the Coalition's "summer of scrutiny" of Labour.
- It tells us that while the Liberal Democrat conference was largely aimed at its members, this Conservative conference is aimed at the voters. Clegg's Conference task was to rally his worried Party behind the Coalition. The Prime Minister's clearly convinced that Party activists' satisfaction at seeing a Tory-led government substantially outweighs their dissatisfaction at not seeing a Conservative Commons majority. He's right. He can thus clear the decks this week, and address the country as much as the Party.
- The slogan says nothing about policy - or anything very much at all. "The national interest" is a concept as vague as it is sweeping.
- It's none the less a commanding one. It says: "We're the Government. We're winners. We're in charge (sublimal message: after years of not being in charge)."
- It paints the Conservatives as a patriotic party working with others for the common good. Hence the identification of Party with country by striping up the Party's tree symbol in a Union flag design.
- By implication, it therefore paints Labour as an unpatriotic party that's out on its own and looking after itself. Labour MPs are bound to attack Cameron for wrapping himself, his Party and his Government in the Union Flag. Such assaults will only reinforce the message, which will suit the Prime Minister perfectly.
- The apolitical feel of the Conference theme suits David Cameron's temperament. The Prime Minister, though raised and trained during the age of Thatcher, has the outlook and disposition of an old-fashioned One Nation Tory. His recent remarks about the American Tea Party movement captured his instinctive distrust of ideology (which seems to sit comfortably with a programme of radical public service reform). Trying to float above politics altogether rather suits his style. There's a wartime feel about the Conference slogan and what Cameron's trying to do with it. Or, more accurately, a National Government feel. The Prime Minister's positioning himself as a Stanley Baldwin of our times. The slogan might as well be: "Safety First".