By David Jones.
OK, ‘supporting’ is a relative term; bear with me here…
Entertainingly, after years of crowing about Labour infighting, the Tories have lasted rather less than a single parliament before showing just how divided a house they are. Grassroots members (we’ll stick to the polite terminology, whatever else their senior comrades may have called them) and backbenchers think David Cameron comes from a metropolitan, liberal elite that does not represent them. For its part, the leadership wants to ‘modernise’ a party in which old-fashioned values still run deep. Conservative squabbling over Lords reform, gay marriage and Europe has left the Prime Minister’s position looking increasingly precarious – which is good for Labour, right?
Well, yes, up to a point. I’m very happy to see the PM squirm; long may it continue. But I really don’t want to see him kicked out of office now. Let’s consider his potential replacements: Michael Gove, George Osborne, Theresa May. I’m sure there are other plausible candidates (BoJo of course, although he’s not currently an MP), but for the sake of my blood pressure these will do. So, Michael Gove – here is a man who would vote to leave the EU, whose attitude towards the role of government in society is typified by his free schools policy. George Osborne, currently negotiating another huge round of spending cuts, has used the cover of economic depression to prosecute an ideologically-motivated reduction in the size of the state, thereby compounding the country’s woes. Among the sins of Theresa May, tough on immigrants and police officers alike, is an apparent desire to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. (This is the woman who was equalities minister until last year.)
David Cameron, by contrast, does not seem to believe very strongly in anything, except a vague sense of personal choice, personal responsibility and British decency. The impression given by Teflon Dave is that his cabinet can pretty much get on with whatever they fancy, so long as it does not have too obvious a whiff of bigotry about it, and he’ll support them – until and unless things get so messy that he’s required to let them go (e.g. Liam Fox, Andrew Lansley, Andrew Mitchell). Now, I’m not advocating this style of ministry, and there’s plenty about David Cameron to dislike, but he really is from a liberal elite that does not represent the average Tory, and surely it’s better to have him as PM than to have one of his more zealous colleagues. I shudder to think what a Gove government would look like.
Consider, too, the impact a change of leadership would have on Labour’s electoral prospects. The accession of even Gordon Brown, the least popular Prime Minister in recent years (albeit undeservedly so), gave Labour’s poll numbers a major fillip. A reinvigorated Conservative Party is the last thing we need right now. Less than two years out from a general election is cutting it too fine; there may not be enough time to diagnose and exploit whatever new dynamic emerges.
So Ed Miliband and his merry band should do their best to keep the Tories where they are – arguing amongst themselves, disorganised, directing internecine broadsides against the leadership – while remembering that an anti-Cameron coup likely wouldn’t do them much good. Labour strategists are no doubt gearing up for the election already, and there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic, not least that the Tories couldn’t secure a majority last time around despite thoroughly clement conditions. Conservative strategists too will be making their preparations. But those strategists should remember the party line: David Cameron is the right man to lead the Conservatives into the election.
David Jones is a Young Fabians Member.