The opinion polls since late 2005 must have rocked most Labour Party members – we wondered whether the public were really being sucked in by Cameron. Surely not? I knew – we knew – Cameron’s rhetoric was meaningless. The rebranding of the Conservative Party was precisely that; it carried no real directional change to the party and no sign of its ruling elite taking any time to persuade the grassroots that their policies were the only way to return the party to power, as Blair had done in 1994.
Where did that leave us? We had an electorate who were desperate for a government they could trust, but didn’t like either of the options. Were they to trust Blair and his associated baggage of the Iraq war, or were they to trust Cameron’s Conservatives, who were then new, fresh-faced, and hadn’t put a foot wrong? It was the latter, of course, but that was not because the public were enthused by Cameron, more they thought (to quote the mantra any campaigner hears repeatedly on the doorstep) “he’s the best of a bad bunch.” The Tories were very careful to not put a foot wrong too, by keeping any controversial policies well under their hat.
But the events of recent weeks have finally flushed them out. The prospect of Gordon Brown’s arrival as PM, and the realisation that they could no longer get away with the
all-fur-coat-and-no-knickers approach of avoiding controversy by avoiding policy, the Tories’ flagships sailed out. We’ve seen the Tories’ new thinking on grammar schools, or rather the leadership’s means of trying to drag its bigoted grass roots (and even front-benches) into the 21st century; we’ve seen Dave fly off to Africa whilst the country (and not least his own constituency) was under feet of water; we’ve seen backbenchers defect to Labour and others call for Dave’s resignation; we’ve even seen very important donors withdraw their support, citing Cameron’s “arrogant, old Etonian” style of leadership, exemplified in his ignoring the party’s wishes and imposing a puppet candidate for the Ealing Southall by-election: following that up with lots of appearances on the campaign trail, and just to show Brown how weak Labour is in the aftermath of the Tories’ win, change the party’s name on the ballot paper to “David Cameron’s Conservatives.” Oh dear.
Almost predictably, Cameron hasn’t been able to stand the heat for long, and his response has been exactly as you’d expect from the old-Etonian who spearheaded the 2005 General Election manifesto in asking “are you thinking what we’re thinking?” Not quite content at the public’s unequivocal answer to that, enter none other than Mr John
Deadwood Redwood. Cringeworthy images of him singing the Welsh national anthem aside, was there ever any question what a former right-wing member of Thatcher’s government would come up with? It would seem Conservatism is only Compassionate as long as the polls allow it to be. Yesterday’s report did nothing more than just lightly scratch the surface to expose what we all knew was lying beneath: fundamental cuts to hard-fought protections for working people and consumers from which Hague and Howard would have shied away because they were too right-wing and Europhobic. The tag-line, as Daily Mail-esque as one could imagine, was “saving businesses billions by cutting red tape,” not “removal of health and safety and working time regulations to protect workers.” Shame, shame, shame.
We can be delighted about one thing: the public are starting to see the political spectrum open up for what it is, and for how each party will govern. Gordon Brown and Labour for firm resoluteness in times of crisis, real constitutional reform that will bring decision-making closer to the people, and a commitment to equality and social justice. David Cameron selling a product that was rotten at least 15 years ago, but a product for which he’s been frantically and constantly changing the sell by date, without thinking what’s happening to the product inside…
I’m glad we finally got our first taste.