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George Bathurst: Cameron's defeat in the Syria vote shows how urgently Conservative Renewal is needed

Bathurst GeorgeGeorge Bathurst is a Conservative councillor for Windsor, Lead Member for Policy & Performance at RBWM and one of the organisers of the 2nd Conservative Renewal Conference. Tickets are on sale at You can follow George on Twitter here, and the Conference itself here.

David Cameron is not leading a coalition just with the LibDems.  As the vote on Syria illustrated, he is attempting to lead a three-party coalition including Labour.

As the dust settles on David Cameron's Parliamentary Calamity, it becomes increasingly clear that he sees himself not merely as leader of the Conservative Party but of the political party of Great Britain. Sane, sensible people agree with him and everybody else is a bastard/gadfly/racist/disgrace (add your insult here).

In this, as in so many other ways, Cameron is an echo of Blair.  The difference is that Blair's rhetoric may have soared but he didn't often lose touch with political reality (at least until Iraq).  Cameron, by contrast, is attempting to govern without reference to the usual laws of political gravity.  Having left behind the leaden clothes of the mere mortals in his party, he has forced through a remarkable series of Acts, in the teeth of fierce opposition from his own side and the support of the official opposition.  There is a remarkable degree of consensus between Labour and the Cameron Tories on all the big issues, including gay marriage, HS2, the EU, bashing the rich, the desirability of a large state and - above all - the economy: the spending commitments of the two largest parties differed by less than a rounding error before the last election and since then, the Coalition has in fact spent more than Labour promised to.

That Cameron has got as far as he has, pursuing his personal agenda rather than that of his party, is testament either to his great political skill or how unbalanced our constitution has become.

As Icarus taught us, a nasty accident is the usual result for somebody who flies too close to the sun.  It is a great shame for Britain that such an accident should have happened on so important an issue, when he had the attention of the whole world and with much more at stake than his political life.  (Whether Parliament was correct is a separate question; according to the Los Angeles Times, the White House is planning action ‘just muscular enough not to get mocked’.)

When the enormity of Cameron's humiliation has sunk in we will be left asking why Conservative backbenchers were last on his list of allies.  Before returning from holiday, Cameron had spoken to Obama.  He had consulted his own clique.  He had secured the LibDems.  He thought he had squared the Labour Party.  He must have known his own backbenchers would be sceptical yet he didn't bother to woo them.  As he always has done, he treated the majority of his own party as the true opposition.

It is not just the incorrigible backbenchers who are thus disenfranchised.  A three-party coalition makes elections pointless as the result is always the same.

The historic split in the Conservative Party, which goes back at least to Mrs Thatcher's break with the post-war economic consensus of Heath and Macmillan, is widening: paternalist and establishment Tories versus classical liberal, free-market and libertarian Conservatives.  We cannot win without each other so this argument needs to be resolved, and resolved constructively, if the party is once again to present a coherent manifesto.  

So-called modernisation, which has really been a regression to the status quo ante Thatcher, has been as electorally unsuccessful as it was previously.  Rather than moving beyond traditional Conservative values, as the Prime Minister has attempted, we must re-apply them to modern problems. We must renew.

This why we are holding a Conservative Renewal conference on Saturday 14 September in Windsor.  It is being opened by Adam Afriyie, who has explained in the Telegraph why he couldn’t support the government over a rush to war, and dinner is with Michael Gove, who supported it so passionately. It’s not just about Syria though, with Theresa May facing Migration Watch, Václav Klaus speaking on Europe and much more.  Listening to great speakers is only a party of it; the majority of each session is for debate, so people can speak back.  It is hoped that the output will assist the process of redefining what our party stands for in the modern age, not merely handed down from party leaders but bubbling up from members.

Please come and join us. Tickets are available at


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