As a Brasenose PPEist I’m probably breaking the college spirit by speculating against only our second Prime Minister. In recent weeks, however, it seems that the Conservative leadership isn’t as clever or canny or even conservative as we’ve been told. Whisper it softly, but Cameron will surely not be a two-term PM, even if we see a two-term government.
First the Coalition alienated the public through NHS reform and the 45p tax cut for the 1%. Then in a panic-stricken attempt to win them back the Tories sought to re-establish their centrist credentials through ritually humiliating their base: the granny tax, gay marriage, and a perceived servility to marauding Lib Dem ministers.
The results are predictable – Labour leads the Tories by ten points and Cameron’s personal rating is abysmal, flattered only by Ed’s. The philosophy of government pursued by the Coalition appears masochistic, but it’s not intentional. This recklessness is a consequence of the tension between the traditionalists and the modernisers; between shire Tories and the ‘Notting Hill’ set of social liberals who inhibit the upper echelons of the Party. Those tribes haven’t been able to reconcile their divisions, resulting in a clinical PR job which barely masked instincts that the public still finds unpleasant.
Modernisation is great. It worked for New Labour who won three thumping majorities. Doubtless the Conservatives needed to widen their appeal and convey a social purpose. Yet Cameron’s modernisation – the ‘detoxification’ of the brand – was half-baked. Riding huskies and hugging hoodies may have blunted the teeth of the ‘nasty party’, but it didn’t speak to aspirational working classes who, whilst deserting Labour in droves, didn’t turn Blue.
Twenty years have passed since the Conservatives last won an election outright. 2015 is the last opportunity for the current leadership to demonstrate its worth. But it’s tough to see how they can. The Tories failed to win in 2010 owing to a chronic lack of support amongst three groups which they are now systematically alienating – the public sector, ethnic minorities and the country north of Birmingham. Oh yes, and women. The vilification of Sayeeda Warsi, Conservative co-chair, by backbenchers has been a particularly nasty demonstration of latent prejudice in the party.
Tim Montgomerie, the influential founder of the grass-roots web phenomenon Conservativehome, last week asked prominent right-wingers from media, business and Parliament who they wanted after Dave. The results tell us more about the party today than tomorrow. Hague and Boris do well; Osborne doesn’t. Priti Patel – a relative unknown – actually beat the Chancellor. She wasn’t the only female right-winger to poll strongly. In the absence of success the right has become nostalgic. The conclusion that the Party is ‘yearning for another Thatcher’ seems apt. If Cameron’s Coalition continues to mess things up, we may get one.