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The Issue Blighting Cameron’s Prospect Is Nationhood

Last Updated: Friday, May 3rd, 2013

As I write these words, many of the local election results are not yet in, but already it is obvious that UKIP has triumphed. It has done so because it conveys a sense of British patriotism none of the conventional parties can match. John Bull would far rather drink a pint of beer with Nigel Farage than with David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg.

UKIP expresses a certain idea of Britain, and especially of England: pugnacious, energetic, good-natured, uninhibited, trenchant in speech, determined not to be pushed around or invaded by foreigners, ready to guffaw at political correctness. Merry England is protesting ever more loudly against the dominance of the cautious career politicians who run the main parties.

Unless the career politicians work out how to respond to this, they are going to find themselves with a real problem on their hands. The earth is trembling beneath their feet. Farage on present showing will triumph in next year’s European elections, and in any half-suitable parliamentary by-elections which crop up in the meantime.

So far the Tories, Labour and even the Liberal Democrats have sought to meet the threat by striking a harder note on subjects such as welfare, crime and immigration control.  This may be necessary, but is nothing like sufficient. If it looks like yet another attempt to manipulate the electorate by making clever but essentially cynical adjustments to policy, it could even backfire.

How do Cameron, Miliband and Clegg express a generous and self-confident sense of nationhood which renders UKIP redundant? For Clegg, with his deep commitment to the European Union, the task may already be impossible. Nor can one say that Miliband’s policy-wonkish demeanour makes it natural for him to don a Union Jack waistcoat.

It was clever of Miliband to raise the cry of One Nation at last autumn’s Labour Party conference. One Nation is a Tory concept, whose origins lie in the novels of Benjamin Disraeli, one of the greatest of all Conservative Prime Ministers. Disraeli’s successors have used it to show that measures of social reform are in firmly within the Tory tradition, because they help unite the nation and bridge the gap between rich and poor.

But Miliband has failed to build on his One Nation speech, by showing people what the phrase means to him. His colleagues feel increasingly frustrated by his seemingly total inability to take any decisions about what Labour actually stands for. More than ever, he looks and sounds like a backroom boy who is unfitted to the role of leader.

Which leaves Cameron. The Prime Minister hinted earlier this week that he might somehow find a way of introducing legislation in this Parliament to guarantee the holding of a referendum on EU membership in the next:  “I look forward to publishing a Bill, to getting support for it, to doing everything I can to show to people at the next election there will be a real choice: if you want a party that’s going to reform the European Union and Britain’s place in it, and then give you a proper in-out choice, there only is one option – that is the Conservative Party. So anything we can do to strengthen that offer, as it were, I’m prepared to consider.”

The language is still tentative. This is not how people talk in the saloon bar. It is not how Farage talks.

One of the many fascinating details in Charles Moore’s new biography of Margaret Thatcher is that in her entire life, she never went into a pub alone. People were nevertheless in no doubt that if she had ever gone by herself into a pub, and some sort of altercation had developed, she would have been more than able to stand up for herself.

It is this sense of sturdy independence that Cameron has not quite managed to convey. Like every Tory leader since 1990, he finds himself operating in Thatcher’s shadow. John Major, the man with the soap box, led the Tories to an unexpected and highly creditable overall majority in the general election of 1992, but later that year – on 16 September, to be exact, also known as Black Wednesday – it all went wrong for Conservatives, and they have never again won an overall majority.

Cameron’s leadership depends on whether he can at least win the largest number of seats in the general election of 2015. To do that, he has to develop a better ability to express nationhood. Otherwise he will be harried into an early political grave by Farage, and it will be left to a future Tory leader – Boris Johnson, perhaps – to reunite the Conservatives with their lost cousins in UKIP.

By Andrew Gimson

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Iain Dale: John Hayes should keep quiet, and Justine Greening should be reshuffled “There’s nothing like telling people, especially journalists, how important you are. The thing is, you can indeed become important, but only when others have worked it out for themselves rather than constantly being reminded of it. David Cameron is said to be amused by John Hayes. I can understand why. He’s good company and an arch parliamentary gossip. He tells a good yarn. But anyone at the Downing Street court who is suspected of opening their gobs to the papers too often will do well to remind themselves that what the Prime Minister giveth, the Prime Minister can easily take away.” Read more: http://is.gd/Qri8It

Grant Shapps MP: Why you should Vote Conservative today “This week, thanks to the work of this Conservative-led government, hardworking people across the country will see our income tax cut in their pay packets. But if Ed Miliband and Ed Balls got their way, they’d saddle us with £83 billion more borrowing and more debt – more of what got us into this mess in the first place – and that’s just to pay for their ever growing welfare bill. They have opposed everything we’ve done to get the welfare budget back under control, without putting forward any firm ideas of their own…So I’ve been telling people in my patch exactly why they should vote Conservative – because we’ve showed that, even in these tough times, Conservatives are the party who back people who want to work hard and get on in life – and we’re making it happen.” Read more: http://is.gd/PbiAD7

Stephan Shakespeare: Why it’s a mistake to target only a small section of voters “There is a widely-held and wrong assumption that only a small section of the electorate is open to being persuaded from their current political voting intention to a different one. A second, also wrong assumption is that these few voters are located along specific parts of a supposed political spectrum, for example where left and right blur into each other, and that the strategy for winning elections is to understand specific narrow band and target it.

I say confidently that the assumption is wrong because there is experimental evidence against it. I have reported previously on ‘Choice Blindness’ studies; here is another one; I recommend anyone interested in winning elections to read it carefully, but for those willing to make do with the abstract, here it is.” Read more: http://is.gd/jlUNnc

Garvan Walshe: Time for a Syrian No-Fly Zone “Today’s false Machiavellis warn against getting entangled; they imagine jihadists and the regime exhausting themselves for years to come. Their memories are short. Before we intervened in the Balkans, young bearded men from the Middle East, North Africa and the less salubrious parts of Birmingham travelled to help the embattled Bosniaks. The Kosovo Liberation Army – though more organised than anything in Syria – are nothing close to the liberal democratic freedom fighters we chose to imagine them to be. We’ll very rarely have the luxury of supporting unblemished allies who fight gloriously in an unimpeachably just cause, but it’s the policy of half measures, of raising expectations that we’ve no intention of meeting,  that will end up turning Syria into a desolate terrorist base.” Read more: http://is.gd/HfgFyY

Paul Goodman: Five snapshots of Cameron on tour “Then he is outside in the sunlight as the members applaud, turn to each other, brandish mobile phones.  For a moment, I am seized by a sudden sympathy for him.  It is utterly disproportionate.  After all, no-one asked him to do the job.  He is never going to go hungry after he leaves it.  Many of his problems are his own fault.  But the bottom line is: what he does is public service.  What I and much of the Village do is not.  I have been a politician, am now a journalist – and know which is harder.  He spots me.  “Goodbye, Paul,” he says. “Thank you for coming.”  I hold out my right hand.  Out comes his left one.  Its palm encloses my hand, shakes it, and pushes it slightly downwards.

And then he’s gone.” Read more: http://is.gd/iMuld8

Adam Afriyie MP: “Jobs for the boys” is making this Government too big “Starting at the top, there are currently 31 people who attend Cabinet on a regular basis. Having spent more than 20 years starting and growing businesses, I cannot ever recall chairing a company board meeting with more than a handful of directors and executives in the room.  Any more people and it simply wouldn’t work; it wouldn’t be effective.  In my time as a Governor of the Museum of London, we would seldom have more than a dozen or so active participants in a board meeting; even in some of the world’s largest companies you’d be unlikely to see more than 15 people.” Read more: http://is.gd/EtjOXA

Peter Walker: How ring-fencing turns public servants into state dependents “Everybody knows the next spending round will be tough.  The low-hanging fruit have been picked, the easy savings made.  Most of this has resulted in changes to tactics.  Driving really imaginative and radical change, strategic choices about the shape of services, sharing of buildings, use of IT, merger of back office departments, deciding whether the public really want a public service to do something – and using local electoral accountability to underpin the decision…this is what has to happen next if we are to shrink the size and cost of the State. People who lead public sector organisations got their jobs because they wanted them.  Nobody has been forced to be there.  Smaller budgets mean they will have to take decisions to do things differently.” Read more: http://is.gd/9aUpWO

 

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