Cameron’s success will be judged by his successor

February 28, 2013 11:09 am

Today’s Eastleigh by election could be the beginning of the end for David Cameron. Even if he manages to scrape a win, his feral backbenchers – to whom Maria Hutchings would be a natural addition – will not be quieted. Nothing less than an extremely unexpected rout of all comers will give the Tories the renewed boost of confidence Cameron’s Party seem to need from him in more regular doses than ever.

That’s not to say he’ll be gone by the next election if the Tories lose in Eastleigh. The lack of a realistic alternative (or at least one who is actually in Parliament) has led to a situation where any old numpty who can get a couple of mates to write a letter talked up as a challenger. But in reality, there aren’t many who could do better than Cameron, however poorly he is doing.

Cameron doesn’t seem to believe in much besides his own right to rule. But the one thing he did seem to believe in was the need for the Tory Party to change; to stop being the “nasty party”. He’s struggled to retain that sense as he has allowed those with a stronger ideological bent than him – not least George Osborne, Andrew Lansley and Iain Duncan Smith – to use the financial crisis to implement a readjustment away from the state and away from the support by that state of the most vulnerable. Issues like the appalling Bedroom Tax have ensured the Tories retain their nasty tag.

But many in Cameron’s Party don’t see it that way. They focus on issues like equal marriage and the occasional bone thrown to otherwise starving Lib Dems and feel nothing but resentment. This wasn’t what they suffered through 13 years of Labour rule for. They want Cameron to let Tories be Tories – by which they mean bastards. And if Cameron won’t, they’ll find themselves someone who will.

Cameron promised to change his Party, but he never properly challenged them. And while his modernisation programme has a few true believers but having failed to seal the deal with the electorate, few Tory members trust him or it.

I don’t believe Cameron has changed his Party enough. I think we’ll find when the time comes – be it now, 2015 or 2020 – for the Tories to seek Cameron’s replacement, they will not go for another so-called moderniser. They will choose one of them – one less at home in Notting Hill and more at home in Hampshire. And having failed to properly lay the ground work for real change or to prove the effectiveness of the changes they have wrought, Cameronites will be powerless to stop them.

David Cameron had a remarkably long run of positive and soft-scrutiny press. As a press who had fallen decisively out of love with Labour were loudly convincing themselves that the New Compassionate Conservatives were real, It allowed Cameron  and his supporters to convince themselves they were doing the heavy lifting without actually making the kind of top to bottom change to the organisation that was needed to truly develop.

His failure to do so could have catastrophic consequences for the Tories for some time to come (excuse me as I dig out my world’s smallest violin). Modernisation was the right path to electoral success for the Tories, but a botched modernisation is possibly the worst possible outcome for them. They have failed to convince the electorate they have changed and failed to convince the party that change is essential. It is extremely likely that whoever comes after Cameron will define themselves against the modernisation era. Some will be and will remain convinced that this is the only thing that will bring electoral success – that one more heave of the low tax, small state, strivers and skivers, hang-em and flog ‘em brigade is what it will take to win the day.

I hope so. I hope it takes the Tory Party a really long time to work out that what is going wrong for them is not too much modernisation, but too little – too brittle a façade of modernisation that failed to hide the dark heart of the Tory party. I want Labour to win the next election, and the one after that (and the one after that – ad infintum). The last thing I want is the Tories getting a clue. Luckily they are showing few signs of doing so.

When the dust settles and we can look back on Cameron’s impact on the Tory Party it will not be simply his own time as leader by which we will judge him. The proof that Cameron is anything more than an aberration born of electoral desperation will be in who the Tories choose as his successor. As it stands, Cameron’s legacy looks as ephemeral as the Big Society.

  • AlanGiles

    “They want Cameron to let Tories be Tories – by which they mean bastards. ”

    Perhaps not quite the term I would have used, but if you mean an arrogant greedy bully they tried that with Duncan-Smith, could see that in the world outside the Colonel Blimp cul-de-sac, he wouldn’t be acceptable and moved on. Apart from which he was God-awful as a leader, even with the “spontaneous” standing ovations at his final Conference speech as leader 2 weeks before they threw him out)

    I think, frankly, the Conservatives have exactly the same problem that Labour has – there doesn’t seem anybody better, (perhaps Mrs. May might resonate better with women? and she is at least quite well known) and they will probably think it better to stick with the devil they know There is always the danger you could pick somebody even worse, which was one of the reasons I didn’t want Ed Miliband to go early in 2012, as many Labour loyalists did (I bet they choose to forget that now, but there were even some on LL). You could have ended up with his ghastly brother!

  • Monkey_Bach

    Success? What success? Eeek.

    • postageincluded

      From Dave’s point of view he’s a great success. That’s the stuff you pay your fees at Eton for.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Graeme-Hancocks/1156294498 Graeme Hancocks

    Good article.

  • postageincluded

    Nice to specuate on his demise – makes me feel all cosy. It’s pretty clear that he’ll be no more than a footnote if Labour win in two years time, and that footnote will refer to him as as the ultimate cause of a 20 year civil war in the Tory party.

    The funny thing is, even if he won an overall majority in 2010 (Avert!) a lot of Tories would believe that it was the iron fist that had won, not the velvet glove. They’d also know that if they kicked him out for someone more jack-booted they’d still be in government (not true at the moment because of the Coalition and despite the “fix-term” fix) – so there would be fewer risks in plotting.

    Enter the utterly unscrupulous fat boy with the mad hair, at which point we’re looking for Cameron in the footnotes again.

  • postageincluded

    Nice to specuate on his demise – makes me feel all cosy. It’s pretty clear that he’ll be no more than a footnote if Labour win in two years time, and that footnote will refer to him as as the ultimate cause of a 20 year civil war in the Tory party.

    The funny thing is, even if he won an overall majority in 2010 (Avert!) a lot of Tories would believe that it was the iron fist that had won, not the velvet glove. They’d also know that if they kicked him out for someone more jack-booted they’d still be in government (not true at the moment because of the Coalition and despite the “fix-term” fix) – so there would be fewer risks in plotting.

    Enter the utterly unscrupulous fat boy with the mad hair, at which point we’re looking for Cameron in the footnotes again.

    • Gabrielle

      Boris’s appeal to the voters is vastly over-rated, although he’s probably who the Tories will make their next leader, out of utter desperation.

      Apparently Theresa May is also quietly positioning herself as next potential leader. She allegedly used to boast, when she was at university, that one day she’d be PM. I hope for our sakes that her powers of prediction are no threat to Mystic Meg. As Home Secretary she’s been pretty hopeless, but that’s partly the fault of Cameron running such a shambolic government.

      Putting my own Mystic Meg hat on, I see a future where Cameron is remembered bitterly for his spectacular screw ups and the hard times caused by him, his best mate Gidiot, his political husband Clegg (before the acrimonious divorce) and all the rest of the sorry crew. The Tories will hate him the most for making them unelectable.

      • postageincluded

        Yes, Theresa May is obviously ambitious, and “on manoeuvres” but then so is the despicable Gove. Tory leadership elections are a plotter’s playground, so my money goes on Boris too as he’s the most Machiavellian of the pack. What the Tories don’t see is that he’s the Tory equivalent of Michael Foot (i.e. a good clear target).

        B

    • Gabrielle

      Boris’s appeal to the voters is vastly over-rated, although he’s probably who the Tories will make their next leader, out of utter desperation.

      Apparently Theresa May is also quietly positioning herself as next potential leader. She allegedly used to boast, when she was at university, that one day she’d be PM. I hope for our sakes that her powers of prediction are no threat to Mystic Meg. As Home Secretary she’s been pretty hopeless, but that’s partly the fault of Cameron running such a shambolic government.

      Putting my own Mystic Meg hat on, I see a future where Cameron is remembered bitterly for his spectacular screw ups and the hard times caused by him, his best mate Gidiot, his political husband Clegg (before the acrimonious divorce) and all the rest of the sorry crew. The Tories will hate him the most for making them unelectable.

  • postageincluded

    Nice to specuate on his demise – makes me feel all cosy. It’s pretty clear that he’ll be no more than a footnote if Labour win in two years time, and that footnote will refer to him as as the ultimate cause of a 20 year civil war in the Tory party.

    The funny thing is, even if he won an overall majority in 2010 (Avert!) a lot of Tories would believe that it was the iron fist that had won, not the velvet glove. They’d also know that if they kicked him out for someone more jack-booted they’d still be in government (not true at the moment because of the Coalition and despite the “fix-term” fix) – so there would be fewer risks in plotting.

    Enter the utterly unscrupulous fat boy with the mad hair, at which point we’re looking for Cameron in the footnotes again.

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