Last week a Liberal Democrat (remember them?) complained about the way the Tories had, during the coalition years, embraced their junior colleagues with the close concern of a boa constrictor. “They destroyed us,” he whined.
What he didn’t seem to understand was that that was the purpose and mission of coalition for the Conservatives – to get their hands on the levers of power and to use them with the absolute determination never to relinquish them again.
This remains their purpose.
The blue veins of ideology run deep in the modern Conservative Party, but for most Tories ideology is less important than power. They feel themselves entitled to rule.
Look at the duo at the top – Cameron and Osborne. Whilst it is indeed a government of the hard right, on many details it is flexible beyond the point of inconsistency. The economic policy of the coalition was essentially Alistair Darling’s plan, but to a slower timetable and executed with bumbling ineptitude. The economic policy now, under a wholly Conservative administration, is pretty much the Ed Balls prescription, though once again without the competence. Osborne’s ‘Long term economic plan’ is a better phrase than Gordon Brown’s ‘neo-classical endogenous growth theory’, but it has less substance.
Because Osborne is not an economist, but a politician. So is his front man, David Cameron. The question is, what sort of politician?
An answer came in the House of Lords last week. It came from a man once known as Michael Forsyth.
In the 1980s Forsyth was a young right-wing Thatcherite. In the 1990s he was an ideologically driven minister on the ‘axe ’em’ wing of the party. Forsyth remains true to his beliefs. And a core belief, for him, is in democracy.
So it was that he lambasted his government for setting out to destroy effective Opposition in Parliament, and further, to wreck the ability of the principal opposition party to contest elections fairly.
Forsyth warned that effective government is kept sharp by keen opposition. That the checks and balances of the democratic system required limits to the extent to which any one party could outspend the others. That all MPs are legitimate and equal.
Thus he denounced changes to the trades union political levy which would hit Labour income to the tune of around six million pounds a year. He opposed cuts to Short Money, the money that funds the Opposition machine in Parliament. He warned about EVEL, boundary changes, and the host of ways by which the present government is trying to crush the ability of other parties, but especially Labour, to contest elections, mount campaigns and hold government to account.
Forsyth, Dominic Grieve, Ken Clarke – they are all from different ideological currents within Conservatism, but what unites them is a profound belief in the democratic system,
Osborne and Cameron, on the other hand, find all that stuff tiresome. They don’t see the point. Watch Cameron at Prime Minister’s Question Time. He answers no questions, is imperiously brusque, coldly rude, frequently sneering. He has the swagger of the leader of a street gang so self-absorbed he fails to understand or even to notice the bigger picture all around him. His self-confidence masks the simple fact that he doesn’t understand democracy, and so, is not up to the job.
There are victor’s spoils in a democracy. They get the limos, the outriders, the weekends at Chequers, the army of SPADs and personal stylists (yes, Cam’s got one of them, too). But they aren’t supposed to grab all the levers of power and fence them off from anyone else forever more.
Many wondered why Cameron took the Tories in the European Parliament out of the group with conventional centre-right parties, such as the German CDU, and joined up with ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists from Hungary and Poland instead. Now it is clear why. Cameron doesn’t identify with the likes of Angela Merkel. He’s more at home with Viktor Orban.
When people like Michael Forsyth think Cameron’s gone too far perhaps the rest of us should wake up and listen, too.