The Tory Trinity: the ineffable theo-political Three in One
Cameron, Osborne and Johnson.
Or, for those who feel more immanence, Dave, George and Boris.
While Peter Hoskin at The Spectator’s Coffee House muses about the extent to which Ed Vaizey has dropped David Cameron in it (again) with his assertion that the Conservative leader is ‘much more conservative by nature than he acts, or than he is forced to be by political exigency’, there is actually something rather more interesting in the Vanity Fair article which offers much hope for the future.
Michael Wolff writes:
In Conservative shorthand, Osborne, the brilliant tactician, will become the brains of the party; Boris Johnson, the party’s most charismatic figure, its soul; and Cameron, the most media-ready of the new blood, its face.
To which Boris quips:
“The lion lies down with a lamb, calf, and fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”
Of course, Boris is not part of Dave’s inner circle, and he is not likely to be. Yet if he were, there would be an instant change in the popular perception (and, doubtless, working dynamic) of the élite Tory group: it would immediately be perceived as being less arrogant and aloof: it might even become more likeable.
But the Wolff theology is a little trite. Let us not hastily dismiss Cameron’s strategic and tactical ability: he is one with Osborne; let us not ignore Boris’ brains: they surpass those of both Cameron and Osborne; let us not be blind to Cameron’s soul: it is ‘broad church’ Anglican; let us not disregard Boris’ Tory instinct: it surpasses that of both Cameron and Osborne; let us not distrust Osborne’s tactics; they are at one with Cameron’s grasp of postmodernity; let us not reject Cameron’s charisma: it is as televisual as that of Boris; and let us not disbelieve, even in times of extreme doubt, that Cameron, Osborne and Boris are in harmony: the three are hewn from the same Tory rock and fused into one at the deepest politico-philosophical level.
While Cameron and Osborne are superior, it is Boris who presently holds the highest elected office and yields more political power than either.
Rightly, fairly or not, Cameron and Osborne are perceived as being aloof and arrogant. But, like the Holy Spirit, there is something reassuring and comforting about Boris: he is immanent and accessible. He not only invariably speaks and writes manifest common sense, he has that rare gift for a politician – he is lovable. No matter what his faults and failings – and these have been broadcast far and wide - there is something profoundly warming about his personality. In an era where the medium is the message, Boris is a very portly medium indeed, through which the message of Conservatism may be amply expounded.
And everyone has heard of Boris. Like Diana, he has the aura of first-name familiarity about him; not such a one that may breed contempt, but one that endears people to him; one that makes people feel that they somehow know him. There is something cultic about him; to use the vernacular, he has mojo, he creates his own mystery which inevitably yields a loyal following. In that sense, Boris is the people’s politician, and God knows the Conservative Party desperately needs politicians with whom the electorate wants to engage; politicians who can lead and create disciples.
The British electorate seems to teeter now between a logical suspicion of Cameron’s true nature and a desire to be generous and accepting: they appear to want what he seems to be proposing, which is this adaptable, fix-it-if-it’s-broken, don’t-fix-if-it-isn’t — or if it is broken, like the N.H.S., don’t open a can of worms, which will make it worse — approach.
But there is wariness and suspicion. Cameron’s postmodern transmutation risks straying off its careful tonal balance — this is the first British general election in which there will be televised head-to-head debates — and this could result in a rush to the ‘minor’ parties and a hung parliament.
Cameron is basing his campaign and, too, his idea of the Third Way — this further chapter in Clintonian and Blairite politics — on his being the bulwark against the disagreeable and ugly people in his Party’s local associations. And he is counting on the fact that fewer and fewer voters will ask those old-fashioned questions about identity and provenance, which, after all, in the modern world are, for so many people, ever changing and fluid.
Cameron has political antennae every bit as attuned to the mood of the nation as those of Tony Blair. He observes that people are deprived of opportunities to shape the world around them, and at the mercy of powerful elites that preside over them. Yet he knows that rhetoric and spin no longer fool any of the people any of the time. He knows that the traditions of Parliament are perfectly workable because they have stood the test of time. The problem, he knows profoundly, is that of perfidious politicians conspiring with a jesuitical judiciary to diminish democracy and paralyse the people. The solution he has articulated is important for the Conservative Party because it is crucial for the nation. And it has come from his heart.
Optimism, hope, compassion – they are eternal values, timeless expressions, that will forever inspire those listening, especially the needy, the under-privileged, the poor, the abused. When you cease speaking to people hearts, you cease communicating at all. Cameron has shown that he understands the postmodern world in exactly the same way as Boris incarnates modernity. Both have grasped that political debate should move on because context moves on. There is no point reading the old texts through the lens of modernity when they long since ceased to resonate, not because the essential truths changed, but because the context did.
Avoiding the political challenges posed by postmodernity for fear of philosophical relativism, or accusation of inconsistency or (God forbid) spin, is simply to build a wall around Conservative Campaign Headquarters. This may create a monument to a great tradition, but it ceases to be a dynamic movement capable of articulating the nation’s natural conservatism.
The new era demands engagement with the world at all levels and with the British people at theirs. The balance is difficult, but the Cameron-Osborne-Johnson Trinity could ably and eloquently articulate Conservatism for the new era. It might sometimes appear fractured, deregulated, devolved and diverse, but that is the zeitgeist, the essence of the age. These ‘Three in One’ would be forever divided yet unified, perpetually in tension yet in harmony.
The faithful would be exhilarated and the polls would soar.
Tread softly, because you tread on His Grace’s dreams.