Original post: http://www.dashtory.org/2013/02/is-cameronian-conservatism-under-threat.html
I make no bones about it; I’m not a David Cameron fan. I question his values, his background and at times, even his competence. So therefore, in some ways, I should be relishing the series of disasters which have befallen the parliamentary party over the past six months (and particularly over the past week), for they each undermine his position as party leader. But quite simply, I don’t, for the worst thing this party could face right now is a leadership crisis.
So what are these disasters?
Well, for this week alone, we’ve obviously lost our AAA rating from Moody’s, we’re behind in the polls in Eastleigh, and Lord Ashcroft has chosen to withdraw his funding from the party. Pile this on top of the farce of gay-marriage, growing concern over our position in the EU, our long lasting slump in the polls (recent Labour lead of 15, according to YouGov), the ‘Pleb-gate scandal’, the questionable relationship of our leaders with the media, a generally worsening economic outlook, and you don’t get a very pretty picture at all.
It’s very true that each of these issues has a well formulated rebuttal (usually involving a complex collection of statistics and petty jabs at Labour and the Lib Dems), but rebuttals don’t make headlines. Four word long sentences on political disasters do. An unfortunately, those are often what inform voters.
What begins to emerge is a rather simple question: Can David Cameron (and his vision of the party) win us a majority in 2015? We must remember we’re talking two years ahead, no party is very strong at the moment, and all manner of events could emerge over the next twenty seven months which could turn our fortunes around. There are numerous uncertainties. But one thing is certain. David Cameron and his vision of the party did not win us a majority in 2010.
I’m now going to take off my Guardian, hang David Cameron from the nearest tree, along with most of the cabinet hat, and put on my pragmatic, keep Labour and the Lib Dems out hat.
Why must we avoid a leadership crisis?
Before I answer that, let’s ask yet another question: Is there any chance of a leadership challenge against Cameron? After all, nobody in the cabinet appears popular/strong enough to mount a coup, and even if this hypothetical new leader did emerge, what exactly could he offer that was different from Cameron?
According to Philip Blonde on Monday’s Newsnight,(the author of Red Tory: How Left and Right have Broken Britain and How we can Fix It, and a man who implicitly supported the Big Society concept back in 2010) there at least ‘four, separate leadership challenges that have been putting together the funding’ to remove Cameron as party leader. I have little idea who exactly these conspirators are (my guess is from backbenchers associated with particular factions of the party), but I do not find it hard to believe that possible careerists with the party are smelling blood, nor that those who genuinely wish to wrestle the controls of the Conservative movement from Cameronian hands for the good of the country are willing to act.
So if I’m so anti-Cameron, why I am also against the idea of a new leader?
Truth be told, I’m not against the idea of a new party leader, but I believe the benefit of any new leader would be greatly outweighed by the cost of an internal party conflict. There are a number of reasons I hold this view.
Firstly, there isn’t one clear faction who opposes Cameron. The party isn’t so cleanly divided as it was in the 80’s, with ‘Wets’ and ‘Drys’, nor as Labour was with Blairites and Brownites. This means that considerable party disunity lurks below the surface, and the victory of one faction may agitate the others. Furthermore, no faction has a member in the cabinet strong or willing to challenge Cameron; for example, while it may be far say Chris Grayling and IDS represent the right of the party, IDS would likely be unwilling to assume the leadership again, and Grayling is just that bit too far away from the top job. Therefore, any faction wishing to slip into power will likely lack ministerial calibre members, and it could be expected that a number would be needed, as most of the current batch are Cameronians. On top of this, the boundaries of political factions can be hard enough to determine, with Cameron specifically attempting to dodge issues (such as, until recently, Europe) which would allow for clearer definitions.
Secondly, while are opposition has so far been weak, it is strengthening. Whereas two years ago you could happily joke that Ed Miliband was our ‘secret weapon’, today he presents himself in a far more professional and credible manner. While obviously he has yet to produce a manifesto and his party carries considerable baggage, it would be wrong to continue to casually write him off as a ‘no-hoper’.
In the home team, we’ve also got issues. UKIP is seeing its position improve too, and has continued to grow in popularity over the past three years. Question marks exist over its ability to play with the big boys, especially in terms of funding and procedure, but it now provides a new dynamic not yet experienced by the British right; a second party. Therefore, while the enemy is strengthening, the last thing we need is to weaken. Especially when the electorate have enough reasons to question our abilities as it is.
Finally, we’re running up to, what I at least believe, will we one of the most important elections in British history, and potentially pivotal in determining the future of our country. We’re turning our deficit around (admittedly, not at the pace I would like to see), and heading broadly in the right direction. We’re at least attempting to defuse the so-called ‘debt-timebomb’ that could have serious repercussions by the 2030s. Another five years of Labour could worsen the situation considerably, and the damage that the (albeit quietly hinted) populistic neo-Keynesian policies of Ed Balls could wreck is barely worth considering. Three years of Brown has likely give us a disaster it will take a decade or more to rectify.
In this sense, we have a degree of duty to keep Labour out of power. And to this end, we must endeavour to do prepare our party to fight 2015. While I, like many others, feel Cameron’s leadership is poor, I acknowledge that the act of removing him may indeed inflict more harm than retaining him.
We never know; he may even improve.