Monday, October 03, 2005

Beside the seaside

This should be an exciting week to be a neo-liberal or conservative. The Conservative Party Conference is taking place in Blackpool, and with a leadership election around the corner, the contenders are using this occasion as a platform to share their vision with the party faithful. This is therefore an opportunity like none other to reshape and articulate prinicples of modern conservatism. Thus far, five men have thrown their hats into the ring. It is important for Party members to listen to each man's vision for the country and decide whom to entrust with the task of leading the Party into the next dispensation.

It is not enough just to field a candidate who can beat Gordon Brown at the next election. There is no point in being in power if one lacks the principle to bring about effective change in society. Far better to remain in the wilderness. What we should be looking to hear from the contenders is not how they intend to win the general election, but what they intend to do for the good of the country. Whatever is good for the country will be good for the party, but the converse is not necessarily true. It is unfortunate that the one man who appears to have properly grasped this truth is not standing. David Willetts has instead given his backing to David Davis.

Peter Oborne, writing in the Spectator, tells of a general election that took place during the dark days of Labour opposition. As the results were announced and it became clear that Labour had once again suffered a heavy defeat, the talk turned to whether the party needed to change to appeal to the general public. At this point, it is alleged that one of the leading party leaders defiantly pronounced: there is to be no compromise with the electorate!

That attitude has characterised the Conservative Party in recent years. Its response to election defeats and negative opinion polls has been to move even further to the right.

After the fiasco of William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and the negative campaigning of the last general election, the Conservative Party has finally learnt its lesson. The contenders are all now freely talking about the need for change, and the importance of occupying the centre ground.

David Davis is on the right of the party. He has however promised that there will be no 'swerve' to the right. Davis has described himself as the 'Heineken' candidate, reaching parts of the country no else can reach. He is correct in thinking that as the son of a single mother, brought up on a council estate, he had an upbringing different from what one might expect in a typical Tory. Maybe so. While that in itself does not qualify him for the job, there is something to be said for having a leader who appears to reconnect the party to the working classes. Sometimes even the mere perception of a thing is good enough.

Liam Fox appears to be a genial, fun-loving man. It is important to have a leader who appears human. Of all the candidates, he has produced the most right wing manifesto, making abortion an issue in the election. As a former GP, it is only to be expected that he would have strong views on abortion one way or the other. He talks encouragingly of healing Britain's 'broken society', thereby attempting to debunk the misconception that the Conservative Party does not care about the impact of socio-economic issues on the lives of the general public. The one thing that may count against Liam Fox is that he is Scottish. Were he to become Party leader, he may be facing his fellow Scot, Gordon Brown, at the next general election, and probably Charles Kennedy of the Liberal Democrats, another Scot. This may be too much for English voters to stomach. It is possible that this fact alone may persuade some Conservative Party members not to vote for Fox.

Malcolm Rifkind espouses One Nation prinicples, and remains a skilled orator. However he is trailing the others, and it is suggested that he may step down at the end of this week.

Kenneth Clarke. Well, what can I say? He is widely hailed, and promotes himself, as the man to beat Gordon Brown. This may be true. In addition, he scores highly with the non-Tory voting public who may be persuaded to vote for the party if he were leader. However, he has not told us what his vision is for Britain. His answer to the problem the Conservative Party faces seems to be simply: vote for me. Then there is the Europe question. The fact that Europe is on the back burner at the moment does not mean that it is safe to let Ken lead the Conservative Party. The first sign of trouble, and his pro-Europe views will split the party. In any case, with a Government hell-bent on surrendering our sovereignty to Europe, we need a Leader of the Opposition who will keep an eye on the national interest. I doubt that we will get that with Ken Clarke.

David Cameron is doing well, but he will not win. He is only 38, and lacks the experience. Then there is his background. He went to public school, and then to Oxford. I have no problem with that, but in a party trying to shed its image as an 'out of touch' orgainsation for the rich, this is creating a certain amount of nervousness. His ideas are good, though, and it will be a good thing if they are adopted by the eventual winner.

So let's sit back and watch the week go by.
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