Friday, January 06, 2006

Is this the moment of New Labour’s victory?

Philip Gould, in a letter to The Guardian, offers an interesting analysis of the current political situation. Cameron’s ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ is not so much the reinvigoration of the Tories, Gould says, it is an admission of defeat: “What has happened to the Conservative party in recent weeks is the political equivalent of the collapse of the Berlin wall. New Labour has pushed and they have capitulated….. proving that in the long march of British politics, we were right and they were wrong.”

In a sense, I think Gould is right. Cameron’s anxiety to distance the Conservative Party from policies they have fought elections on, not just in the last year but for generations, is an attempt to drive the stake deep into the heart of Thatcherism. It is an acceptance by the Party leadership that the great ‘She-Devil’ that they have revered and worshipped, is a reviled and hated figure throughout most of the country. In coming to that realisation, the Conservative Party have accepted New Labour has won the battle for the centre ground of British politics.

The consequences of this realignment in British politics could prove catastrophic for our democracy. What it says is that all future elections will be a fight for the votes of a few hundred thousand people in middle-England. The political parties don’t have to give a fig for the voters in their traditional heartlands. New Labour doesn’t need to tailor their policies to win the votes of whippet breeders in Barnsley, welders in Wolverhampton, or building workers in Bootle. The same is true of the Tories in the Shires. They know that even if they put up a monkey in Buckingham the Tory faithful would still turn out in droves to vote for it (you could say that John Bercow was living proof of that). No…. neither party has to fight for those votes, what they are both after are the votes of those people in the middle-ground of politics.

What we are now seeing is the Tory spin doctors spinning the message their focus groups tell them these people want to hear. The middle ground doesn’t want a privatised NHS for their granny; they do want selection in schools so that their little Samantha doesn’t have to mix with rough kids from the council houses; they don’t like the idea of the Euro, but they are not anti-European. As Kinnock said in his infamous 'redundancy notices delivered by taxis' speech, you can have all the principles in the World, but without power they count for nowt (The flip side of this coin wasn't mentioned; you can have all the power in the World, but if you've sacrificed your principles to get it, it equally counts for nowt).

So, what does all this mean? Have the Tories finally capitulated and accepted New Labour was right all along? Or is this just smoke and mirrors and after the election, Cameron will rip off the mask and Norman Lamont’s adviser and Michael Howard’s script writer will step out of the shadows and restore the Thatcher heritage. I suspect Tories wishing and hoping for the latter will be seriously disappointed. In the same way that the Labour left thought Blair was just ‘putting it all on’ and would stop all that New Labour nonsense when he got into power, the sad reality for the retired Field Marshals and blue-rinsed battalions could be that Cameron means what he says.

Then, like elections in the US, we can all go out and choose between tweedle-dum and tweedle dumber.