From George Osborne’s peculiar stance to Boris Johnson’s humour laden speech, this week’s Conservative party conference has undoubtedly had many memorable moments. Most importantly, and also most fascinating of all was David Cameron’s speech. One of his passages went as such:
And today, that means entering those no-go zones, where politicians often don’t dare to venture. It means taking on our big social problems…entrenched poverty, blocked opportunity, the extremism that blights our communities…that is what fires me up. Not pounds and pence, plans and policies, but people.
For a PM often derided as being a ‘neoliberal’, this speech almost appeared to suggest otherwise. In my eyes this speech was one that oozed of social liberalism, which is what the Labour and Liberal Democratic parties are traditionally renowned for championing in the UK. I must confess I’m not the only one who made this observation. Andrew Grice, Helen Warrell and perhaps most controversially Dan Hodges pointed out that Cameron made an effort to satisfy voters outside of his own base.
He was making a pitch to the centre ground.
However, he leads a party which is cutting child tax credits and has redefined what the word poverty even means, so it is both bemusing and perhaps premature to label the Conservatives as a moderate party. They are anything but. The Times today described Cameron’s speech as:
Pulling another Blair trick: get the party to stand for things it doesn’t love…Labour has left the space and Mr. Cameron has said “thank you, I’ll have that.
So what has made this realignment possible? Two things:
Firstly, the progressive decline of Liberal Democrats has created a void in the supposed “centre ground” of politics. The party which prided itself on “giving Labour a head and the Tories a heart” without saying anything themselves might never reach its former glory again. If the Conservatives can keep their (emphasis on the word keep) promises on increasing housing and reducing (real) poverty, then it is hard to envisage an election defeat.
More importantly, the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s new leader has left many in the Parliamentary Labour Party and a small yet vocal amount of past voters disenchanted with him and the direction the party is going in. Let me start by mentioning that I applaud this “old” Labour resurgence because at least with Jeremy Corbyn’s election there are no longer any mixed messages. There is a clear distinction between his party and the Tories. This however, has come at the cost of inflaming some in the Labour party who look back more fondly upon their time in Government. Unfortunately for them Labour is now far different from the party it used to be. This is the demographic Cameron may have succeeded in winning over with his speech.
What often makes a party leader not just a leader and a Prime Minister is to extend your appeal to beyond your own party. Often this means compromising and changing your party’s core values. Tony Blair did that by rescinding Clause IV (which was essentially an endorsement of socialism) and subsequently wooed Conservatives to vote for him. The result? 418 seats and 2 million more votes. Ever since then Labour has continued to lose seats, (although one must note that this most recent election saw increase in votes for the party).
David Cameron did not use the word “centre ground”, rather he chose to use “common ground”, a semantic difference but one that made his speech sound more inclusive. Him and his party now have an opportunity; to extend his hand to Blairite wing of Labour and to tighten his party’s grip on Britain in 2020. I think if Blair had made this very same speech a decade ago no-one would have batted an eyelid, and that says a lot.
Agree, disagree? Drop a comment below.