Conservative Party Conference: All will be revealed...
Well, it wasn’t. In the UK, the feature was introduced as: 'Behind the smile: Gifted and polished or empty suit. Who the heck is David Cameron?' And so one awaits with bated breath to hear from this week’s Conference the positive pronouncements and the primary policies which will define the next Conservative government. And this Conference is the opportunity to do so. If an election is to be held in the spring of 2010, leaving the manifesto show-pieces until the autumn of 2009 will be too late for them to enter the public consciousness. While the world and his dog may be sick of the present government and even more sick of its leader, there is still a considerable element of ‘known unknown’ about Mr Cameron’s political philosophy, and this can only be rectified by distinguishing and by definition.
When Time magazine introduced the rest of the world to David Cameron as Britain's prime minister-in-waiting, he appeared only on the front of the European, Middle East and African editions of the magazine: he did not make it on (or even inside) the US edition, or those covering Asia and Australia. Time sells 3.4 million copies in the US - compared to just 1.1 million in the rest of the world. Having a cover on Time magazine is prized by politicians as a sign that they have made it. But it seems the Leader of the Conservative Party still has some way to go before he may reach the majority of his audience.
Mr Cameron may ooze Etonian and Oxbridge confidence, and he may embody the yearning for a generational shift. But he lacks the understanding of the need for clarity and definition. What made Burke, Disraeli, Churchill and Thatcher ‘great’ was that they personified the Conservative Party for a particular era, providing its policies, appeal, style and structure to suit the age into which they were born. In his approach, Mr Cameron risks being a Derby, a Bonar Law or even a Heath, insofar as he told Time: 'I think you just get on with it. It's the best thing to do in politics rather than trying to endlessly work out the definition of who you are or what you're about.'
No, Mr Cameron. The people need to understand ‘what you’re about’, and they will only grasp this through definition. Cranmer might agree with you when you say ‘You can't walk a mile in everybody's shoes’, but it is your task to make them feel that not only could you, but that you would want to. When David Willetts describes his leader as a man who ‘is comfortable with Britain as it is today’, the gulf becomes apparent. And it is not that the majority wish the nation to return to 1558 or recreate that of 1958, but that this majority is manifestly and distinctly uncomfortable with ‘Britain as it is today’, and decry what New Labour has done to it. And they may cite uncontrolled and uncontrollable immigration and the consequent ‘multiculturalism’ as a primary concern.
What are you going to do about this, Mr Cameron?
It is one thing to enforce a ‘points’ system upon those seeking to immigrate from India or Pakistan, but how do you intend to prevent millions of Poles, Romanians and Hungarians from taking 'British jobs', or making use of doctors, dentists, hospitals and schools while British taxpayers are forced down ever-lengthening queues? And you say you want Turkey to join the EU, granting its citizens the same border-free migration rights as all EU citizens. How will you stop millions of Turks from swelling the ‘ghetto’ communities of Bradford, Oldham or Leicester, storing up the potential for civil unrest, exacerbating the likelihood of civil war?
In 18 months, David Cameron is likely to be Prime Minister, and it is likely to be an electoral landslide of the magnitude wrought by Tony Blair in 1997. Yet 18 months prior to Mr Blair entering No10, the people had more than a vague idea of what he was planning to do - devolution, the minimum wage, the New Deal funded by a windfall tax on the privatised utilities.
What has David Cameron pledged?
He will raise the threshold for inheritance tax from £300,000 to £1m - a move which will not affect vast swathes of people. And he will find £121million to reinstate weekly dustbin collection. Yet even the announcement of this policy fundamentally contradicts his pledge to restore powers to local authorities.
What is to be Conservative foreign policy? – a known unknown.
What is to be done about increasing rates of crime? – a known unknown.
How will he mend Britain’s ‘broken society’? – a known unknown.
How will he address the crisis in the health service? – a known unknown.
How will he tackle the dire failures of education provision? – a known unknown.
What will be his policy on the Lisbon Treaty? – an unknown unknown.
Will there be a referendum? – an unknown unknown.
But doubtless he will talk about his ‘vision’ and promise to bring about ‘change’. And he shall bring his wife onstage, and the standing ovation shall be rapturous.
And the faithful shall feel good.