Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tories and the Nasty Party: end of an era?

It's been a long slog for David Cameron, since he became leader, in his attempt to shake off the image of the 'Nasty Party'. He's seized every opportunity he can to be pictured in the media being gay friendly, in touch with his feminine side and being photographed with black people without being visibly sick. Maybe, just maybe they've turned the corner - image wise.

After all when you compare the Tory messaging with that of the Labour government, with the exception of the economy, it does tend to be like comparing jelly babies with anthrax. Whilst Labour Ministers pride themselves on their macho credentials locking up old, sick men or giving those on welfare payments stick Cameron hugs every passing hoodie and cycles in front of all the photographers he can find.

However, whilst there is underlying substance to these impressions they are generally a product of political framing, the process by which parties try to paint simple and clear 'narratives' or stories about themselves that are digestible to the 'ordinary' voter.

I'm all for that method as part of a general political strategy - but as an approach it is dangerous because its advocates often end up only being able to think in slogans. So Labour *are* identical tp the Tories or today's Tories *are* the same old Thatcherite bootboys. That's worrying because without depth or nuance political analysis is tribal, weak and quite simply incorrect, leaving you open to making disastrous miscalculations.

As I argued in the Morning Star today it is worth understanding that all Tories are not identical to each other and that to have an understanding of the shades and disputes inside of that party is not to be on the slippery path to putting up signed photos of Norman Tebbit or combing your hair like Hesseltine. After all "You wouldn't want either leprosy or cholera, but it doesn't mean that they are the same thing. "

The coming Cameron government will not be a repeat of the Thatcher years, nor were those a repeat of Heath's disastrously aimless government. The future Tory regime is unlikely to be significantly split on Europe for example (although some voters will be worried about their coalition partners), nor will Cameron be repeating the miners' strike like some sort of historical reenactment enthusiast.

Plenty of those more traditional Tories, particularly in rural areas, tolerate the new slick Cameronites because they think it will get them elected and they don't really commit them to anything. There's a lot of them about and, no doubt, one day the real internal political clashes will take place for the soul of the Conservative Party. However, that's likely to happen at least several years into a Tory government but until then homophobe will co-exist with moderniser just like the lion that lay down with the lamb.


weggis said...

Greens and the Tree hugging Party: end of an era?

Want to write something on that?

Maybe on Friday?

Jim Jay said...

If you like :)

just writing my election post (coming out Thursday morning) on what a good result would look like

ModernityBlog said...

Jim, you are very conscientious :)

Jim Jay said...

I think it's called avoiding other things I'm putting off.

Tim said...


Peter Cranie said...

The Tories have changed a lot. I was at university with Priti Patel (I used to work as a student bouncer alongside her then boyfriend). She is on Cameron's A-list and contesting a safe Tory seat in Witham - oh, and she is a British Asian.

Priti is smart, assertive, holds pretty strong views (that I'd fundamentally disagree with), but the fact that she'll likely be a junior minister and in the Cabinet within a few years shows this isn't just a makeover.

We can't label the Tories with the old nasty tag any more, and let's be clear that even if Labour was to somehow get re-elected, their cuts would be roughly similar to what we will see from the Tories.

greenman said...

On the other hand.... Cameron is still quite capable of dog whistle politics. Republic sent out an alert today that Cameron has just had an article on Conservative Home, the gist of which was that the Tories were "proud to be British" and wanted to put centre stage "supporting British institutions" that New Labour have supposedly undermined - specifically the Army, the Monarchy and Parliament.
So, monarchism, militarism and support for a "traditional" (i.e unreformed and elitist) Parliament - pretty much the stuff of old fashioned Toryism since time immemorial.
Blairite Cameronism is a very thin layer of polish on top of a very deep pile of shit......

Strategist said...

Well, I've never met Priti Patel and I'm loathe to disagree with the wisdom of Peter Cranie, but it seems to me blatantly obvious that a cosmetic makeover, or transparent PR exercise, is precisely what it is with the "New Tories".

Greenman calls it right that "Blairite Cameronism is a very thin layer of polish on top of a very deep pile of shit..." except he fails to point out that you can't successfully polish a turd, and the makeover is very far from convincing.

The New Tory New Britain is a weak re-tread of 1997, same approach but without any of the real deep popular hope that accompanied Blair's rise to power at that time.

Priti Patel may well be smart but the deal on offer to her to become the Junior Minister she aspires to be will be a simple one: shut the fuck up, do exactly as you're told at all times, and the job is yours.

The Cameronistas have some hard work to do: they've got to take about one year's production from the entire British economy and shovel it into the pockets of their mates and funders in the City and the hedge funds to pay off their gambling losses. They will do this by making all the poor and the working class hurt like fuck. Priti Patel can have her job, on the condition that she shuts her outspoken gob while the heist is on.

I don't know her, but my guess is she'll take that deal, which is why you cannot, must not, ever ever ever trust a Tory.

Jim Jay said...

Let me put it this way. Was the Thatcher government the same as Heath's but with a think vaneer of new spin?

I think not. There were substantive ideological differences between them that went far further than the same party simply responding to new circumstances.

It doesn't mean that we should pick a favourite out of Heath and Thatcher or sing the praises of either but activists fighting Thatcher were a a disadvantage because they did not recognise there was a new broom.

So the question is what has changed.

Now it seems to me that in terms of economics Cameron has no new ideas and where he has attempted to give his party direction (we're going to cut, cut, cut) which he sees as a vote winner (!) I suspect he'll find it difficult once he's in charge.

Much as Thatcher had problems cutting the welfare bill which consistently rose despite their attempts to bring it down by hook and crook.

However, when it comes to social policy we're not going to see back to basics, or Howard's focus on immigrants at least unless there's big shift. It seems to me that we'll have a neoliberal style government who are able to woo the gay community, asian businesses, the black police federation et al.

DC might get his dog whistle out occasionally but certainly the next Tory government is not going to be taking back to those particular ideas.

Strategist said...

I think Cameron's only agenda is to get to the top of the greasy pole, because it is there. To be the man who won the Tories an election after 13 years in opposition.

I don't think he has anything he particularly wants to do, other than generally to look after the interests of the upper class.

Like Brown, he thinks that the only way to keep Britain prosperous is to featherbed the City and circumstances not of his own making will decree that he will have to make deep public spending cuts and increasingly desperate attempts to reinflate the consumer debt and house price bubble.

I think we will be surprised both by how little changes and what a complete economic disaster it will be.