Nelson: Cam must tread with care
Posted by Fraser at 8 40 PM on Saturday, May 22
LAST week, I went along to a party of new Tory MPs – expecting to find them in a mood of air-punching optimism. How wrong I was.
They were fresh out of a meeting with David Cameron. They’d expected an update about how coalition talks were going.
Instead, Cam had come to stage a coup. He wanted to abolish the group of backbench Tory MPs, then junk some Tory pledges. Over freebie glasses of warm wine, the stunned MPs were trying to work out what was going on. Why was Cam doing this? One new MP said: “It’s like he wants to do deals with the LibDems, but go to war with us.”
The new MPs are a modest bunch. Some I met are sleeping on mates’ floors, too scared to claim expenses for hotel stays.
They know concessions have to be made to keep Nick Clegg’s lot happy.
They admire Cam. They badly want the coalition to succeed. But like many Tory voters, they’re wondering: was it really necessary to keep the hated Human Rights Act?
Did he really have to drop his immigration pledge from the coalition document? And the same about longer sentences for knife crime? Many of these new Tory MPs had spent months on the doorsteps, telling people: “Vote for me, and the Tories will end this HRA madness.”
Turns out that, actually, Cameron won’t end it after all.
If Cam feels bad about this, he’s doing a bloody good job hiding it.
He even says that he prefers the Lib-Con coalition (with all the concessions) to a pure Tory government. I’m starting to believe him.
So what’s he up to? Forming a coalition between two parties? Or trying to create a new party - the ‘Liberal Conservatives’?
It could well be that Cam’s audacious moves will reshape British politics forever. His coalition may well last those five years.
Perhaps Cleggover gets so comfortable in the 115-room stately home he’s outrageously given, that he’ll never want to leave.
A while ago, he was proposing a mansion tax. Now those plans have been tossed into the fireplace of his taxpayer- funded mansion.
Cameron has been clever in so many ways – except one. He has neglected his party, and needlessly alienated many of his own MPs.
Tony Blair was even worse in 1997. But there’s a big difference between them: Blair won an election, Cam didn’t.
The Tory MPs are polite. They don’t point out that Cam is the first opposition leader in history to have blown a 28-point poll lead. Nor do they point out that you have to go back to 1885 to find a Tory Prime Minister who won so few seats in a general election.
They just sit, and applaud him like a conquering hero. There is a vast reservoir of goodwill towards him – which he polluted last week. His plan to abolish the committee of backbench MPs was opposed by 118 MPs, a third of his party. Why draw this dividing line?
Old Tory modernisers used to talk doing a ‘nutters-for- moderates’ swap – ditching the Tory right, and moving to the centre.
Some MPs are already asking: is this what’s going on? Is Cameron squaring up to elements of his party, ready for a Blair-style purge?
He wouldn’t be so mad. As he knows, the principles the LibDems hate have mass public support. Cameron can’t focus on Westminster – and lose sight of the voters – because the coalition might fall apart at any moment
Here’s one of the many scenarios. Let’s say Angela Merkel’s Germany gets tired of bailing out the Greeks – and decides to pull out of the Euro.
It is far from impossible. Hard-saving German taxpayers are furious at this, and terrified Spain might be coming down the tracks next.
The whole Euro shebang will be up for renegotiation. The Tories will want out, and the LibDems want to stay in. Game over.
And this is why Cameron should tread carefully. He needs to keep his links: not with any Tory faction, but with target voters.
Cameron is facing a trap here. Moving to the centre ground of Westminster means moving to the fringes of public opinion.
So Cam should treat his Tory MPs, their agenda and the ten million voters who supported it the utmost respect.
He may need them sooner than he’d like to think.