Wednesday, December 07, 2005

It’s Cameron: a compassionate Conservative?

As expected, David Cameron became the new leader of the British Conservative party (“Tories”). The MP of Witney, 39 years old and an MP only since 2001, won a decisive victory over David Davis (the members of the Tory party had an internal vote, and Cameron got 134 446 votes or 67%, and Davis got 64 398 votes or 32%).

I have written about Cameron earlier, and I think those words are worth repeating:

"The members voting for a new Tory leader would ideally want a David with Cameron’s public relations skills, and Davis’ experience and policy. When having to choose, they will go for the guy who looks good on TV. Is that necessarily bad for Labour, who might soon be challenged by a young, hungry opposition leader?

I would say no, the future of the Labour party will be decided by decisions within the party (and government). The Tories are still too irrelevant to do any harm, so Labour’s worst enemy would be a leader that does not understand to govern with his new, smaller majority, or a party that does not understand that it has a leader of incredible potential. Keep on going Blair, focus on reform instead of the Davids, but make sure to govern together with your MPs and your party."

But one further point that must be discussed is Cameron’s actual policy, also in relation to Gordon Brown (who most probably will lead the Labour party in the next general election). Today I read a very interesting analysis in The Guardian by Jonathan Freedland (who is a true republican, always questioning why Britain should be a monarcy). Freedland’s main arguments are the following (whole article here):

“The honeymoon's over - or at least it should be […] a "compassionate conservative", as Cameron styles himself, is not a new creation. We have seen one before - and his name was George Bush.

He too knew how to talk nice -"No child left behind" he promised in 2000, usually surrounded by plenty of telegenic black and female faces - but once he had installed himself in power, he was as ruthless a rightwinger as any Republican in history. […]

Europe hardly featured in the leadership contest, but one of Cameron's few specific promises was to pull his MEPs out of the European People's Party grouping in the European parliament - leaving them instead to rub along with a few ragtag nationalists and hardliners on the fringes.

But it is domestically where Cameron comes into clearest focus. […] In four years in the Commons he has voted against every extra investment in schools, hospitals and the police. […] Again and again, Cameron may talk left, but he remains a man of the right. […]

Labour will have to decide how to deal with this, and soon. The next hundred days will be crucial; it is now that the public perception of Cameron will be formed. […] Brown signalled it yesterday: it is that Cameron is a rightwing wolf in compassionate sheep's clothing. He is the same old Tory, just rebranded and with a full head of hair.

Will it work? That much is a test for the whole electorate. We will have to weigh Brown's record against Cameron's panache - and choose. What really matters most in politics, style or substance? We are about to find out.”

We might be entering a new phase in Brirish politics. If Labour will continue to really put politics and reforms first, Brown’s record will for sure beat Cameron’s panache. Needless to say, that's what I'm hoping for.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Matthew McGregor said...

You are totally right to quote Freedland, he has it (as usual) spot on. The contest within the Tory party has been about style and who is best on TV, but they have not really debated policies. The more people look at Cameron, the more they will see how right wing he is. For example, in this speech - http://politics.guardian.co.uk/toryleader/story/0,16473,1637034,00.html - he attacked trade justice campaigners and said that the Tories needed to do more to defend capitalism.

I think that the election was more about the Tories rediscovering professionalism, not about them taking their politics to the centre ground. Over the next few months the media will carry on being in love with the exciting, young, new Tory leader - but I don't think that it will impress voters out in the rest of the country - they are more interested in their schools and hospitals and trains than they are in politicians getting all excited in Westminster.

7/12/05 12:29  
Anonymous Jon Worth said...

Matthew, Eric - I tend to agree with your analysis. But I do fear that the UK popultion might not see it that way, due to the 'Perception Gap' - see this from MORI for more. Basically, if the Tories hammer on about problems with public services AND their have a photogenic leader, the combination for Labour could be quite bad as the population might start to believe them.

7/12/05 17:18  
Blogger Eric Sundström said...

Jon and Matthew; seems like we are on the same track, and I think you said it all Matthew:
"I think that the election was more about the Tories rediscovering professionalism, not about them taking their politics to the centre ground."

However, I think you are right Jon when you say that we need to worry about the combination "problems and photogenic leader", but I would also like to add the fatigue people will feel after having the same government for some 12-13 years.

In a way, this is the situation we have in Sweden right now: things are rather good and improving, but we have been in government for long, the opposition has a new leader, and they point out everything that is not working perfectly.

Solution? Show that their guy is a right-winger just as always, and win on your own pro-reform record.

8/12/05 13:59  
Anonymous Jon Worth said...

I agree with the analysis Eric...

Only a grumpy ageing PM Persson versus Frederik Reinfeldt (who resembles a second hand car salesman) is a very different fight than the UK one between two public educated, smooth talking party leaders!

While I am bit concerned by Cameron, at last it is going to make UK politics quite interesting again, and it remains to be seen how Labour will react. Maybe we need an alternative to Brown as Blair's successor?

8/12/05 21:18  
Blogger Eric Sundström said...

Interesting, who would be the best alternatives to Brown, Jon? Any female candidates?

12/12/05 10:35  

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