Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The parable of the missing cow

It’s hard to know what exactly to make of David Cameron’s new statement [PDF] of Tory “aims and values”. It’s largely bland and unobjectionable (and by the same token, not the sort of thing with the power to enthuse). The aim of it is to make sort-of right-wing gestures while sounding nice overall, something that Dave usually pulls off quite well in person.

The document has all the ingredients you’d expect.

The motherhood-and-apple-pie: “Encouraging more eco-conscious use of our resources through energy and water conservation, and recycling.”

The spurious waffle: “Choices that were once beyond the reach of all but the richest are now just the click of a button away for everyone.”

The yes-but-Labour-are-doing-that-already-you-muppets-where-have-you-been: “Promoting international trade agreements and debt relief to benefit poor countries.” Or: “Action on public health that helps everyone to lead healthier lives, reduces health inequalities, and ensures that demands on the NHS are more sustainable.”

The Cameron fantasy that the rich and powerful can be trusted to be nice to everyone, and that legal accountability is so 20th-century: “Encouraging greater corporate responsibility by offering a lighter regulatory regime to companies who make a commitment to responsible business practice.”

The indigestible soundbite: “a responsibility revolution to create an opportunity society – a society in which everybody is a somebody, a doer not a done-for.”

The half-baked idea masquerading as a workable policy: “a new Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act.”

The nudge-nudge-wink-wink-we’re-still-Tories: “fairer, flatter and simpler taxes and deregulation for employers and wealth creators” or “Supporting families and marriage”.

The trying-to-have-it-both-ways: “putting economic stability and fiscal responsibility ahead of promises to cut taxes” and, in the very next line, “Sharing the proceeds of growth between investment in public services and tax reduction.”
Or: “Giving schools greater control over their own affairs” but “through the encouragement of streaming and setting, and of much greater rigour in teaching and exams.”

And the come-off-it-you-are-still-Tories-and-we-know-you-won’t-really-do-this: “giving every individual the skills, the resources, and the confidence to take control of their life”.

It will now be put to a vote of party members, who will approve it overwhelmingly – following the pattern of Blair’s 1990s Labour modernisation.

But the point about Blair’s rewriting Clause IV was not that the new version was so striking that people would rally to the new Labour banner; nobody paid much attention to what the new version said (like Cameron’s, it was largely bland). The point was that getting rid of the old “common ownership” Clause IV showed that the party had changed its heart as well as its face, and indeed Blair had a genuine fight on his hands (if memory serves, the biggest three unions and many MPs lined up in opposition). Winning that fight was what mattered in terms of swaying public opinion.

Cameron’s new statement will inspire nobody; he has learned the wrong lesson from Blair. It’s not about spouting ‘modern’ warm words in the hope that voters will forget the past, it’s about slaughtering an unpopular sacred cow, and being seen to be having a real fight in doing so. There’s no sign that he knows what that Tory sacred cow might be, or that he has the courage to pick such a fight.

(Cross-posted at FC.)

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