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Donal Blaney: Choose your enemies as carefully as you choose your friends

Every week the Co-Founder and Chief Executive of the Young Britons' Foundation, Donal Blaney, explains one of Morton Blackwell's Laws of the Public Policy Process. Morton Blackwell is the Founder and President of the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

Having attended public school at the tail-end of the era of fagging and when physical punishments were still permitted (and even encouraged) it was quickly impressed upon me that the key to my survival at Tonbridge was to choose my enemies as carefully as I chose my friends. Tempting though it might be to land a punch in a scrum on a larger opponent, common sense dictated that it was more sensible to keep such older colleagues onside rather than to alienate them.

It is an equally important lesson in politics not to make unnecessary enemies – and one that some in high office seem to have forgotten, not least those advising David Cameron. 

Tim Montgomerie, the esteemed editor of Conservative Home, is the leading proponent of “the And Theory” of conservatism. Tim espouses the virtue of combining tradtionalist messages on, say, firm immigration and asylum control with a modernizing message calling for a compassionate response to those truly in need and a commercial attitude towards skilled migrants. 

Having started out as a purist I must confess to having been won over by this argument during the past 12 months or so. I remain convinced that a campaign that focuses heavily on lowering taxes and encouraging personal responsibility would be particularly popular today when tax rates continue to rise inexorably. For such a campaign to be successful it would necessitate a sustained and vigorous extolling of the moral virtues and imperatives of a low tax economy. 

This week’s Conservative Party conference suggests that such an approach has again been neglected and that we will run the risk, for a fourth election running, of attempting to fatten the tax-cutting calf on market day (to use Lynton Crosby’s analogy) – assuming that we even advocate lower taxes at all.

The current strategy of the Cameroons has admittedly been clever insofar as it is has focused on the various groups that have been ignored in the past and that the Party has sought to befriend – environmentalists, civil libertarians, homosexuals, the liberal intelligentsia. The Cameron approach has been to make it no longer a social taboo to be a Conservative and to seek to placate those groups that had hitherto adopted a knee-jerk anti-Tory stance.

It is also clearly part of that strategy not only to distance the current leadership from the failures of the past (and, for some reason, the successes too) but also to deliberately pick fights with those whose views do not accord with the current fashion. As well as assailing those bete-noires of the BBC, Norman Tebbit and Simon Heffer, the Cameroons have sought to show that they are no longer bosom buddies with the likes of The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and even The Sun – all three of which newspapers have coincidentally adopted an increasingly hostile tone towards both Cameron and the Conservative Party in recent weeks. 

Showing that the Party has changed by slaying policy dragons and cultural taboos may be one thing. Provoking discontent and disunity among traditional supporters, volunteer activists, lifetime voters and newspaper columnists on whose support the Party depends is another matter altogether and it is surely not wise. 

At a time when the Party’s poll ratings are not exactly reaching the stratospheric levels of New Labour a year after Tony Blair assumed his party’s leadership, it would seem to be a very risky strategy indeed to assume that the current leadership’s position is as unassailable as some cheerleaders would have us believe. 

The traditional weapon of the Conservative Party has been loyalty – a double-edged sword that has been wielded aggressively against leaders who have overplayed their hands in the past (Heath deservedly, or who have been perceived to be electoral liabilities - IDS unfairly). Conservatives, often derided in the past as “the stupid Party,” historically exhibited an all-encompassing desire for power, often at the expense of all else, including principle. 

While the desire for power may be stronger after 9 years in the wilderness than a desire for governance on a philosophically sound basis, it must surely not be pursued at the expense of causing levels of division or discontent that see the traditional Tory base disintegrating. The “And Theory” of conservatism is the pragmatic and politically astute way forward and yet instead enemies are being made with gay abandon – and enemies in politics have long memories.

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