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  • Why Cameron may be good for progressives

    by Shariq
    9th October, 2006 at 12:01 am    

    Within the next two elections Labour will lose power. Barring a Lib-Dem miracle, a Conservative will become Prime Minister. Given this, progressives may well be better off with David Cameron winning the next election.

    The Lesson from Canada

    Jean Chretien was a highly successful centre-left prime minister with neo-liberal tendencies. After ten years in power he retired and was replaced by his former finance minister. Paul Martin had run against Chretien when he won the party leadership. As finance minister he was popular and given a lot of credit for managing the economy. Always angling for the top job, he eventually resigned / got sacked before taking over when Chretien retired.

    Paul Martin’s tenure as prime minister was disastrous. Hit by the sponsorship scandal, Martin was forced to run a minority government before eventually losing to a Conservative party which had never threatened Chretien.

    The key point is that Martin’s sucessor Steven Harper, did not have to significantly revamp his party’s image or policy to win. He is a social conservative and pro George Bush at a time when Canadians are disenchanted with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reason Stephen Harper won was that the Liberal Party’s time was up. After a while people forgot about the positive aspects of the Liberals and started focusing on the sleaze and decided that they wanted a change.

    If David Cameron does not win the next election the Tory Party is likely revert to a more conservative figure. This man or woman will become the next prime minister and lead the agenda for five to ten years. By the end Britain will probably move away from the centre ground between America and Europe and turn firmly more to the right and may embrace hard-right conservativism.

    Cameron and the Conservative Party

    The dominant issue at the Conservative party conference was Cameron’s refusal to bow to make an upfront promise to cut taxes.

    His argument was twofold: the economic argument was that stability comes first and it would not be prudent to cut taxes if the situation did not call for it. More significant was the political one which he was selling to his own party - that three election defeats demonstrate the Tories need to change their image and policies to regain power.

    Although Stephen Harper’s election victory in Canada suggests this isn’t quite correct. Similarly the Democrats in America look like winning the November mid-term elections despite any semblance of a coherent vision, mostly due to public disenchantment with the Republicans.

    A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

    The obvious worry is that David Cameron is not as centrist as he is trying to project. After all George W. Bush too ran on a promise of compassionate conservatism and that didn’t turn out too well.

    However the main difference between the two is that despite claims of compassion, Bush’s major policy ideas - tax cuts, school vouchers and privatising social security, were still conservative. On the other hand Cameron has made the NHS his top priority and shown an interest in major global issues such as global warming and global poverty. He seems to appreciate how conservate principles need to interact with the modern world which can only be a good thing.

    Apart from that Britain doesn’t have America’s hard right intellectual core which formed after Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Most modern British Conservatives are essentially Liberal Conservatives. The problem I have with the average Tory is their unwillingness to focus on domestic and international issues that don’t affect their interests. Trying to cut down on public services always seems to be trying to extricate those who are better off from their social responsibility towards the rest of society. Clearly Cameron is different in this regard as well.

    Would I vote Conservative?

    After all that, would I take the plunge and actually vote Conservative in the next election? I definitely wouldn’t vote for a bog standard, right-wing, conservative ideologue. Such an MP would be part of a Conservative future trying to resist rather than bring about change.

    On the other hand if the candidate was a bright young A-lister with a broader agenda I would definitely be tempted. For instance the current vice-chairman of the Conservative Party, Sayeeda Warsi, spoke very eloquently on the Jack Straw debate today and I could see myself voting for her.

    This line of argument may not sit well with some readers of this blog who are inclined to vote Labour, Lib-Dem or even Respect. However, if you care about ideas and policies as opposed to loyalty to a party then some forward thinking is required.

    Related: webcameron.org.uk

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    Filed in: Party politics

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    1. The Past; Present; and Future

      the Human Rights Act and attempts to dislodge it…

      Good for Lord Falconer. Glad someone’s standing in the way of the Sun and David Cameron in their attempts to get rid of the Human Rights Act. Why they think it will help them I’m not sure -but it seems to be one of those time where the R…

    1. sonia — on 9th October, 2006 at 3:02 am  

      I was thinking Cameron was sounding pretty good but then he came up with this bollocks about trashing the Human Rights Act and i thought right that’s it. the man is a dodgy politician like the rest of them..

      But frankly, what were the LibDems thinking electing themselves such an old fogey as Leader? Nuts completely nuts.

      What is one to do?

    2. huron — on 9th October, 2006 at 9:15 am  

      As a Canadian (in the UK) who loves reading PP, I thought I should add a note here:

      The Tories in Canada did benefit from the Canadian public’s disillusionment with the Liberal party (who had been in power for over a decade). As Shariq mentioned, it was clearly a matter of the public rejecting the Liberals rather than any massive Conservative embrace.

      HOWEVER, even after the major Liberal corruption scandal, the Tories were only able to “win” a MINORITY government. As such, the Conservatives are dependent on the three other major parties, all of whom are more centrist/leftist than they are. As a result, Stephen Harper has had to completely moderate his and his party’s positions, otherwise they too will be pushed out early. (And as a generalisation, Canadians do not support very right-wing or militaristic views).

      So, the point was… (sorry this turned out so long)…

      It is possible that the UK will experience the Canadian situation of a few minority governments before the situation stabilises again. This is precisely because, as Shariq mentioned, many people will not be able to bring themselves to vote outright for Conservatives. However, many will not be able to bring themselves to vote Labour either. So, with a confusion of various protest vote tactics, we end could up with a minority government.

      Considering the aftermath of Blair’s arrogance, frankly, a more humble minority rule by either party wouldn’t be such a bad thing!!

    3. Chairwoman — on 9th October, 2006 at 10:10 am  

      Sonia - As one of Sir Ming’s generation, let me assure you that ‘minging Ming’ was always an old fogey. When I was ranting last week about how progressive my generation was, and how reactionary yours is, I selectively forgot about Ming!

      As for Cameron, a man totally without substance.

    4. Paul Moloney — on 9th October, 2006 at 10:25 am  

      Armando on Dave:


      “Afterwards, I puzzled which was worse: people thinking I’d always been a Tory or people thinking I’d recently decided to become a Tory because of David Cameron? Surely, I persuaded myself, there can’t be anything more heinous than being so fickle and fey that nice young David has persuaded you to give being right wing a go?

      A Cameron convert is the political equivalent of someone who’s just got into jazz or decided that short-sleeved shirts look fine on him or who’s started asking: ‘Have you got any green tea?’ at the end of meals in restaurants. Converting to Cameron is a lifestyle choice, like moving to the catchment area of a Church of England school or using a breadmaker or only just starting to watch CSI or buying monthly membership of LA Fitness. Cameron is the new patio of politics.”


    5. sonia — on 9th October, 2006 at 10:40 am  

      chairwoman - :-) i can imagine!

      Given the problems with the party system and the lack of Proportional Representation i can’t really see how any one politician/party is going to help the ‘progressives’. huron’s comments are interesting in this context. perhaps if any one of these parties actually had to collaborate with the others in a hung parliament things might be different. Currently the system appears to be oh someone will get into power try and push their policies ( or in the case of would be dictators like Tony push his idea on to the party and use his power to twist the arm of the career politicians)and ignore everybody else. So we end up with the situation of elect-yourself-a-dicatator and then your-hands-are-tied. Until we wake up and realize the faults of the system - focusing on some individual candidate’s ideas/policies isn’t really going to mean any major change in politics

    6. AsifB — on 9th October, 2006 at 10:51 am  

      Shairq - Interesting article about the Canada experience.

      Are you saying that because the UK’s Conservative politicans are not as despicable as those in North America, that makes them alright then? Isn’t the problem for Labour the fact that the Blair and Brown Nulab approach of copying Clintonian triangulation has only succeeded in hollowing out their Party, so that even economic stability is no guarantee of electability.

      The thing that I can’t get about Cameron and the Polls is the equation, people are sick of Blair the charismacat so are looking for a change - Cameron copies Blair (only is less good as an actor , has a less interesting wife and father in law) - and the polls big him up?

      Sayeeda Warsi is indeed articulate, but she is also the woman who spent 15 minutes of Newsnight going to Portland Oregon to find an example of good public transport. (Integrated bus and tram stops like they’ve had in Newcastle and Amsterdam for decades - which tories and nu lab trasuryites have largely sneered at)

    7. Jagdeep — on 9th October, 2006 at 11:40 am  

      Cameron is just so….bleh.

      I would prefer a plain talking Yorkshireman like William Hague. It was a massive mistake to take on the leadership when he did, with no chance of winning the election. He should have timed his ambitions for now.

      And yes, I do like him precisely because of the speech he made at the Tory conference as a sixteen year old lad. It had them rolling in the aisles, Maggie and the rest of them.

    8. Kismet Hardy — on 9th October, 2006 at 12:05 pm  

      Good joke on rory bremner the other night. Rory (as william hague): It would be ridiculous to send David Cameron out to meet the voters on a unicycle juggling three balls in a clown’s suit talking politics, so we decided to get rid of the politics…

    9. Yakoub/Julaybib — on 9th October, 2006 at 12:25 pm  

      I heard Cameron’s aids deliberately leaked the Muslim Ghetto story to the Evening Standard prior to his party speech. Just another Islamophobe, then. And just another neoliberal. I’ll vote Green, but let’s face it - if voting really changed anything, they’d abolish it.



    10. Jagdeep — on 9th October, 2006 at 1:07 pm  

      The boy who cried wolf is what comes to mind whenever I read your posts Yakoub, ‘racist tropes’ and ‘islamophobes’ and all.

    11. Sunny — on 9th October, 2006 at 1:48 pm  

      Yakoub - There was nothing in his speech about “Muslim ghettos”, that was a term that the Evening Standard used. Political aides usually send out speeches in advance to the press anyway so the story can coincide with the speech. I get sent most of them too. So there’s nothing sinister about it.

      Shariq - an interesting article and I agree with it. The point about a Conservative party coming in inevitably and preferring David Cameron to another Michael Howard clone on that basis is a good one. I hadn’t thought of it but it makes sense.

      I think the cynicism from our readers is unsurprising but it’s worth noting that Cameron has done more than any other Tory leader in recent times to come to the liberal left and talk about issues other than immigration and cutting public services. Call his style gimmicky but he seems much more accessible than Gordon Brown or Tony Blair. Labour is full of incompetent technocrats who keep making policy statements after policy statements asking for “reform” while doing nothing much in practice. They need a huge renewal and it is debateable whether Brown will be able to do this.

      huron - interesting points but the problem is Liberal democrats here, who should be the third option are in worse doldrums than Labour. Only the most hardcore supporters or extremely annoyed protest voters will go for them.
      Our system is different in that its first-past-the-post so the Tories will probably not have to form an alliance but it’s likely they won’t get a huge majority like Blair did in 1997.

    12. sonia — on 9th October, 2006 at 1:52 pm  

      cameron has said the NHS is his top priority - but what does that mean? it doesn’t say anything about his ideas on how to solve them though.

    13. Kismet Hardy — on 9th October, 2006 at 1:57 pm  

      Cameron knows he’ll get a lot of votes just through sheer likeability and rehashing The Sun’s editorial commentary: tough on immigration, tough on crime, tough on terror, priority on helping the sick, needy, poor, old and kids. Soundbytes hit home much more powerfully than boring old policies. He’ll win

    14. Chairwoman — on 9th October, 2006 at 2:05 pm  

      Sunny - Apart from ‘NHS’, I haven’t a clue what Dave is standing for. Of course the NHS is desperately in need of something, as a hands on user of the service, let me assure you that it needs a lot more than tweaking.

      But what of other issues? We hear a lot about the environment, and of course, the buzz phrase of the moment, multicultualism, but there’s a deathly silence on the economy for instance. And what about prices, which of course are part of the economy. I don’t get out much, but I shop online, and I can tell you that in the past 10 months or so, my weekly supermarket bill has gone up between 20 and 25 per cent, depending on who I buy from. Also energy prices are through the roof, despite the fact that the raw product has actually fallen. Council tax this year is at a ludicrous level, and as a reward, we are all, apparently going to have our rubbish collected once a fortnight instead of once a week. If they doubled the allocation of bins, or the size, it would be of some help, but without, it has to become a health hazard.

      I’m not even going to start about the cost of borrowing compared with the reward for saving, or house prices.

      I want to hear something mundane for a change, then I might start to believe there are serious people seeking our votes.

      For unless I start hearing policies about the non-sexy subjects, it will be a spoilt ballot paper for me.

    15. sonia — on 9th October, 2006 at 2:07 pm  

      13. yeah kismet you’re right, one doesn’t need more than that to win, and if you’ve got the sun behind you saying all that stuff for you..

    16. Chairwoman — on 9th October, 2006 at 2:09 pm  

      Sonia - For one moment I imagined Dave with a golden glow surrounding him.

    17. Robert — on 9th October, 2006 at 5:16 pm  

      If David Cameron does not win the next election the Tory Party is likely revert to a more conservative figure

      I disagree Shariq. I think this is an incomplete analysis. In the event of a conservative defeat (in 2009?) the choice of whether to dump the leader will depend on how the Tories actually perform. There was no chance of Majopr staying on after ’97, or Hague after 2001, since they were both weakened by the country voting against them by a landslide.

      Iain Duncan-Smith never fought an election, in part because his party expected he, too, would lose in a similar fashion. Howard resigned because he was “too old” and could have stayed as party leader for longer if he wanted. There was a feeling with him that he was something of a caretaker.

      On the other side of the aisle, Kinnock did not resign after losing in 1987. It took the second defeat in 1992, when he confidently expected to win, to crush his resolve.

      I think Cameron is the Kinnock of pre-87. Even if he loses in 2009 it will be a narrow loss, and he will have the credibility to stay on, hopefully entrenching the changes he is making now, and fight the election after that if he wants (he is a young ‘un after all). If he does not fight more than one election, he will not be dumped in order for the party to make an ideological about-turn. John Smith and Tony Blair continued Kinnock’s reforms. Just as an extreme-left party would not have won Dowing Street, I do not think an extreme-Right party would fare better. The electorate isn’t that predictable.

    18. shariq — on 9th October, 2006 at 7:50 pm  

      Huron - Thanks for clarifying the situation in Canada. Minority governments maybe the end result, but without the bloc vote of a group such as the Bloc Quebecois, its easier to get an overall majority. I think the x factor is going to be who gains control of the lib dems.

      AsifB - my point about uk tories was the same distinction people make between hardline republicans and the more moderate ‘east coast’ republicans.

      As for people being sick of Blair, charisma always works in politics. The real thing they share in common is trying to get their party into the political middle ground.

      Robert - Interesting points. However most Tories still hanker for William Hague as leader. The Ken Clarke wing of the party was disappearing before Cameron came along - after all thats why they voted for IDS.

      I think there is a sense within the Tories that with the majority down to 60, this is their chance. If Cameron can’t deliver, even with a reduced majority people will sense that they can win next time, even if they promise tax cuts etc.

    19. sunray — on 9th October, 2006 at 9:50 pm  

      David Cameron
      hes another young Blair
      id be suprised if he lost the next election

    20. Leon — on 10th October, 2006 at 11:41 am  

      Given the problems with the party system and the lack of Proportional Representation i can’t really see how any one politician/party is going to help the ‘progressives’.

      Agreed. No reform means no change. Until the system reflects the wishes of the electorate all parties are going to play the absurd games that first past the post system requires of them.

    21. Blake — on 4th November, 2006 at 5:26 am  

      [I stumbled across this blog while foolishly googling a certain Gautam M., who recently buttered up and hit on my best friend at an author's festival- apparently, not an uncommon occurance- and I'm sad to report she fell for it hook line and sinker and is now in some sort of love-daze waiting for him to return her calls...but moving right along...]

      A few comments from a Torontian/Canadian:

      1. Sunny- you said “…Our system is different in that its first-past-the-post…”

      No, the UK transmitted first-past-the-post to Canada upon our birth, and we have yet to shake it off.

      For anyone interested in the details of the latest parlimentary mess first-past-the-post has wreaked in Canada, look here:


      The percentage of popular votes versus seats in the house is vile.

      2. Shariq- the main thrust of your article, that most people vote (that is, when they bother to vote at all) to throw the bastards out and not from a sense of philosophical vision, is infuriatingly true. Add to this tendancy a slavish devotion to media images, and the average voter is further handicapped. Like a bunch of retards drinking lighter fluid (I think especially of our American cousins, festooned in yellow ribbons and dutifully Diebolding their vote)

      3. Young, fashionable, and photogenic neo-cons are still neo-cons, or at the very least spokesmodels for neo-cons, and are in my opinion the worst sort of wankers to walk the face of the planet. And they are being unleashed in wave after merciless wave at unprecedented rates. Cameron deserves a beating on this principle alone.

      4. I am a firm believer in 3rd alternative voting, and in throwing one’s energy into groups pushing for electoral reforms, meaning proportional representation. Neo-cons in sexy socialist disguise will never go away until that is achieved.

    22. raz — on 6th November, 2006 at 7:07 pm  

      LOL seems like old Conservative habits die hard:


      Conservatives suspend counciller over racist poem

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