True Green Tories
No longer does the Tebbit household dance to the crackling strains of a much-played pressing of Land of Hope and Glory. Yes, even Lord Norman happily shuffles along to today’s Tory record of choice. It may be the work of fey 1980s Manchester band the Smiths, but given David Cameron’s current run of form, the Tory leader’s selection of that four piece’s This Charming Man as one of his desert island discs was a knowing choice.
Continuing to perform his best bicycle-riding magpie impression, the boy David seizes upon all that glitters, and any criticism of a policy shortfall is drowned out by the frenetic peddling of his alchemic publicity machine. We live in a world of the celebrity politician, and if the public believe Cameron more likeable than Blair, then the former will happily sit back as Labour self-destructs.
To his critics, though, this is a sinister act of deception. Cameron, they say, is fooling the voting public, using a cloak of middle ground inoffensiveness to craftily map a return to traditional Conservative ideals. Indeed, many in his own party are convinced that a slick smoke and mirrors routine is masking his true intentions. For the likes of the Cornerstone group - the right-leaning limb of the party - Cameron’s affability is the perfect tool to return the Tories to government. Once there, Thatcherism can be resurrected, the bottles of blue rinse cracked open and the Tebbitistas resurrected from the land of the political living dead.
Both literally and metaphorically, Cameron entered the blood-stained Tory leader’s office with no ties. He can make statements on almost anything he chooses, knowing that, for the time being, the public won’t question him. And if his freshness allows the Tories to return to power via the well-trodden centre ground, before veering sharply to the right once the post election euphoria has passed, then old school Conservatives are prepared to indulge him. They remain calm in the confidence that his Technicolor dreamcoat will be ditched for something more sober once the keys to 10 Downing Street are safely heading into Tory palms. Whoever thought Norman Tebbit, a man who once described the left as the ‘insufferable, smug, sanctimonious, naive, guilt-ridden, wet, pink orthodoxy of that sunset home of the third-rate minds of that third-rate decade, the nineteen-sixties’, would express an extra-curricular interest in hugging a hoodie? Well, when Cameron suggests it, he is happy to lend him his arms.
After all, Cameron has been patrolling the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster for longer than many realise. An advisor to former chancellor Norman Lamont, he hovered in the shadows of the black Wednesday debacle. And as a backbencher he penned the bulk of the party's blunt 2005 manifesto, asking us if we were thinking what the Tories were thinking. Ten months in, beyond a fondness for wind turbines, we still don’t know what Cameron thinks. We’re repeatedly told that all will be revealed when his policy groups report their findings, and the old guard’s fingers are tightly crossed for the unveiling of a true Tory blueprint.
For the policy groups are chaired by survivors of previous Tory administrations: Johns Gummer and Redwood, Iain Duncan Smith and Ken Clarke. While Europhile Clarke will never be truly trusted, the right-wingers are confident that these party stalwarts are on their wavelength.
Being a career-politician, Cameron has closely studied the New Labour movement as the template for electioneering success. Flashing the license of a leftist heritage, Tony Blair effortlessly wooed a disillusioned middle England. And those who believed he had strayed from the traditional Labour script to slyly secure election success expected him soon to return to the party’s socialist credentials. Nine years on, their ambitions remain as forgotten as Clause IV.
So perhaps characters such as Romford MP Andrew Rosindell, who favours the death penalty, should have studied the Blair formula with a little more scrutiny. For nearly a decade Blair has repeatedly met any disquiet from within the ranks with disdain. Even that arch-scholar of Labour heritage Gordon Brown has been forced to bow to his nemesis’ election-winning mastery, leaving the lightweight left wing MP John McDonnell, who vows to re-establish “a real Labour government”, to fly the flag for the spectre of Old Labour.
And Cameron’s open-necked move to the centre ground may also prove to be permanent, with the psephological wool in fact being pulled over the eyes of the falsely content right-wing element.
He has taken a punt with the environment agenda and it has worked - so much so that he has proposed dropping the established Tory torch logo for an oak tree motif - while the family-loving and hoodie-hugging statements are winning friends across the electoral spectrum. It may be a ‘suck it and see’ approach, but if the positive polls eventually lead him to power, then why change the record? He has no obligation to take up the findings of Redwood - himself a member of the Cornerstone Group - and co if they don’t suit his agenda. Indeed, the false power of their policy groups may prove to have been a cunning distraction from his quiet revolution.
So for Tebbit and friends, the joke looks like it’s on them. Perhaps they should dip further into the Smiths’ back catalogue and share a long night - with McDonnell and the living fossils of the Labour left - tearfully listening to ‘That joke isn’t fun anymore’. It made number 49 in 1985, the year a young David Cameron began his political education at Oxford.