The most dangerous man in politics?

Jim Jepps


Whilst watching David Cameron's performance on Jonathon Ross last night a chill begins to creep up from the soles of my feet, gradually engulfing me entirely.

Cameron is the first politician to be invited onto Ross's show and he clearly fitted very easily into the format. Youthful and relaxed enough to be a celeb and serious enough to remain a proper politician the Daily Mail and Norman Tebbitt may be horrified by his appearance on the show but this is a clear indicator of how much good it will have done the Tory leader. Ross is reported to have said "upsetting Norman Tebbit has given me some small sense of satisfaction because he's spent 12 years upsetting me,"

The BBC reports that some sections of the loony right were very unhappy with his appearance,, mainly because Ross asked characteristically risqué questions about whether (shudder) Cameron had school boy fantasies about Thatcher. It was a difficult moment for 'call me Dave' which he handled expertly.

Despite Ross's initially friendly opening he actually showed himself to be a tough political interviewer pressing Cameron extremely hard on the Iraq war (Cameron backs Blair on Iraq war) Ross gained applause for his criticisms of the war and then attacking Cameron over his refusal to call for the legalisation of all drugs, a hard line position that doesn't seem to have even piqued the interest of the media so far.

But despite the tough questioning Cameron remained firm and personable throughout - coming across as a 'reasonable' person even when defending the indefensible. Where he was weakest was when asked to defend the rest of the Tory party, because there is a clear divide between the slick and media savvy progressive Tory agenda of Cameron and that of your bog standard Tory council still made up of a mixed bag of reactionary duffers, die hard racists and soft right careerists.

Dave Cameron is certainly living up to his 'son of Blair' persona, giving a fresh and modernist spin on what is at heart a reactionary neo-liberal agenda. By proposing essentially irrelevant but radical looking policies he is attempting, rather successfully, to distance the Tories from the memory of the flagging Major government associated with sleaze, back to basics and economic mismanagement.

By calling for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped in favour of a bill of rights, a more open selection procedure for the Tory London Mayoral candidate (Guardian), by being willing to speak at TUC conference, by talking green and having photo ops with huskies and loads more he commits his party to no substantive progressive policy but sends out effective PR that the Tory party is viable and relevant.

There is no question that Cameron's crusade to reshape the Tories as a spin dominated media machine has its opponents in the party. Stylistically talking like a surfer dude (for instance describing the task of fighting terrorism as "awesome") is as likely to win over a Liverpool shop worker as it is to repulse the ossified lumps of the old school tie brigade.

New Labour have of course tried the same trick that the Tories did during their reign and reply to every accusation from the opposition benches with "but you were crap as well when you were in" but as the years progress this argument has less and less currency in a context where few people can detect the difference between the policies of a Tory and Labour government.

But whilst many regard Cameron as the triumph of style over substance and many Tory detractors have quite understandably pointed out that copying Blair at the very time when everyone else is heartily sick of him is not necessarily the wisest strategic decision the Cameron leadership has raised the real possibility of a future Tory government.

The question that the left needs to address is how likely and how important that prospect is. If there was a general election tomorrow New Labour would win it - but the next general election will be fought under a new Labour leader (probably) and in a number of years time. Time enough for Cameron to make further advances.

Its worth bearing in mind that in this year's local elections the Tories were the main beneficiaries of Labour's meltdown, and at the general election the year before whilst 8,043461in England voted Labour some despairing that there was no viable alternative, others happy with the government, the Tories gained 8,116,005 votes - so whilst Labour won 286 seats to the Tories 194 due to the nature of the electoral system, it is still surely of interest to socialists that more people in England voted Tory than Labour and that the opening for building up progressive forces will not last forever.

A defeat for Labour may create the possibility of a resurgence in the Labour Left which successive victories certainly have not done - whether that is a good or bad thing is up to your perspective I guess. A Tory win would also make the posing of a left alternative more difficult - no matter how ferociously we argue that Blair's government was not of the left.

The fact is that the argument on Blair is effectively won - he should go - and most of the Labour Party agree, but the deeper argument over how to pose a progressive alternative is still far from settled - and a strong Tory Party which has the potential to win the next election is likely to push most of the left, outside of the hard left cadre onto the defensive and to soften their criticisms of one of the most confident neo-liberal governments we have ever had to face.


June 2006

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