Sunday, 22 March 2009

Conservatives hit their 'Clause IV' moment....?

. Costigan Quist has some on this over at his cafe. He rightly concludes that there are 'deeper, darker splits' splits within the Conservatives however it has been pretty clear that these have been in evidence for some time. The first time they spilled out into the public view was the quite vicious campaign conducted against George Osborne last year. Of course, the sides are not exactly the same (for example, Iain Dale supported Osborne but is against the leadership on the 45p band) however the fact remains that these rebellions are motivated by a core of the Conservative Party whose sole interest in supporting Cameron and the 'Cameroons' is to march the party back into power.

Nobody should be under doubt about the depth of Cameron's commitment to a social justice agenda. Conservative Home makes it quite clear that the whole process is about an image driven 'decontamination' so later public spending cuts are more 'palatable'. Similarly the discreet shelving of inheritance tax reform should be seen in a similar light. The narrative weaves together under some kind of 'fiscal responsibility' umbrella; the rich 'pay their share', the banks are regulated and the public finances have to be trimmed. It does show that at least there is a thematic core beginning to emerge to the Conservatives line on the economy however, when we get to policy details they are still light and rather lame being perfectly blunt. Kenneth Clarke will obviously play the role of the 'acceptable face of austerity' as opposed to Osborne who will have slight problems playing that role.

It has often been said that there has yet to be a defining 'Clause IV' moment in the 'modernisation' of the Conservative Party and the question invariably arises is this it? The answer still has to be no for two reasons; a) there has been no large-scale structural reform within the Party (something that did occur in Labour) and b) there has not been a large influx of members to the Conservatives, something that entrenched Tony Blair's modernisation of Labour. Although this rebellion looks serious the fact is it is not significant because the Tories have been out of power so long that their restive activist base will accept anything Cameron says if they feel it helps them achieve a return to government. However, it is a precursor of the kind of troubles that will afflict the Conservatives when they do return to office. How problematic they will be will depend on the size of a Tory majority and shape of the next Parliament.

Interesting times ahead indeed....

10 comments:

Andrew said...

I think you make a mistake in assuming that the Conservatives need to have a Clause IV moment.

The repeal of Clause IV didn't give Labour an instant 20 point swing in the polls. It was a symbol of Blair's decontamination of the party that was seized on by the media, but the transformation would have gone on without it. The Tories have spent the last 3-4 years going through the same process, to a point where that fact is now readily accepted by a majority of the electorate.

Darrell G said...

Andrew,

The whole point though is that the changes are on the surface and only reach any deeper in the small clique around Cameron. Otherwise the Conservative Party remains exactly the same as it always has been (witness the survey last year which found attitudes amoungst the potential new intake of Tory MP's to abortion, much more restrictive and socially conservative)....

All this will be found out once the Tories get into power...i dont agree incidentally that there is the positive enthusiasm you say there is...not like their was around Blair...the best thing the Tories have going for them right now is they are not Labour....

Oranjepan said...

I think you're being too generous to the tories.

They are in complete disarray with the national leadership opposing their membership at every turn.

It wouldn't be so bad if we could be sure what their true agenda is because at least they would be capable of governing: confusion over whether they are 'nice' or 'nasty' is far more damaging to them than a characterisation as one or other - whether a policy is perceived as 'good or 'bad' it is more important to have a coherent message than be sending out mixed signals.

Darrell G said...

Oranjepan,

Me be generous to the Tories :O...shurley some mistake??

Seriously though....I think they are moving toward a coherent, clear narrative on the economy and we are starting to see that (though how that will gel together policy wise is a bit of a open question)...as to the membership and leadership being at loggerheads well id say yes and no but the important thing to me is that while they remain in opposition (and have been for a long time) the membership will basically let its tummy be tickled as a matter of expediency which in my view is why this is all visible as the occasional yelp of frustration at the moment rather than a concerted rebellion....

Oranjepan said...

Maybe, but I think this is part of a bigger story.

How long before Boris Johnson returns to parliament and mounts a challenge for the leadership?

If he retains the mayoralty his power base starts to rival the national leadership and this gives an alternate pole of focus which will draw away from Cameron and will continue to open up a wider rift.

There is a major choice facing the right - do they want national power or regional power?

They can't have both while their figureheads pit themselves against each other - a single party can't have two competing leaders with two opposing policies!

So, will Cameron provide support for the 're-elect Boris' campaign and would Boris want it?

Put it this way, it is the dividing-line between the right-wing and the centrists - there is no longer a 'centre-right', if there ever was.

The realignment of the parties into more coherent units is a necessary precursor to PR - after they've torn themselves apart the LibDems will be the only party capable of forging a workable majority coalition, at which point our system of government will be irrevocably changed.

Oranjepan said...

If you argue that one side or other is *wrong*, they can legitimately disagree with you on democratic grounds.

However, if they are divided then they can't appeal to democratic support and therefore cede the advantage to the side which provides a solution.

PR is the solution; we support PR; only we can introduce PR.

Darrell G said...

Oranjepan,

I think the answer to that has to be national power always. This is the party that regards itself as the 'natural party of government', at least Labour never had that problem...it's left was always semi-happier being out of government and being the principled opposition...

You might have a point about Boris but I can only see something like that following another electoral defeat (and the consequent 'core values' argument) or alternatively a narrow electoral win....if Cameron returns the Tories to power he will get kudos for that and that should see him through a term at least, probably two as a minimum...

The Tory right has been enfeebled by a lack of governmental power (diametrically opposite to Labours left which is enfeebled by governmental power and emboldened by being in opposition)...I am sure it will recover its confidence when the keys to Number 10 are secure but that is a question for then....

Oranjepan said...

Cameron won't get any kudos unless he gets a large overall majority of 60+ as this will open him to attacks that he should have done better given the circumstances.

On the other hand 60+ opens the possibility of regular organised rebellions which weakens his hand policy-wise.

So while being the party of government might be the orthodox prescription for this sort of dilemma I don't think it will be helpful in this case.

Cameron is stuck between two stools, appeasing on the one hand his vocal right-wing membership and on the other hand appeasing his centrist business-backers. He needs both, but can't please both simultaneously.

Letters From A Tory said...

"b) there has not been a large influx of members to the Conservatives"

That maybe, but donations to the party have comfortably beaten Labour's effort for months on end.

Darrell G said...

Oranjepan,

You might be right in that the high poll ratings produce high expectations but I think it would be wrong to underestimate the gratitude of a thirsty Tory right for having its thirst quenched. Besides I think lessons will have been learned from the late Thatcher/Major years.

Cameron is no Major; for one he enjoyies popularity in the wider country.

Letters,

Yes but they dont really change the nature of a political party do they because although their voice will in some cases be heard in policy formation they dont have critical mass when it comes it...

My point is rather that this influx entrenched Blairism in the wider membership but Cameron has no such luxury....