Published by Daily Mail
Much has been said and many column inches have been written on David Cameron’s first Cabinet reshuffle. The questions are profound: did it represent a tilt to the right? How many bright young things were promoted? How many women now sit around the table? How many gays? How many black or brown faces? It is as though quotas have supplanted ideas, and power-play were more important than policy.
David Cameron has only 2½ years of his premiership remaining: the reality has dawned that he might be a single-term prime minister, so by this reshuffle he had to send out a few strong messages. When you appoint a climate-sceptic to Environment, a Euro-sceptic to Justice, and an anti-equality homo-sceptic to Equalities, you’re drawing some future battle lines in terms of political direction and the tone of debate, doubtless with an eye on the fractious backbenches. But Owen Paterson, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller will soon find that their hands are tied and briefs meticulously prescribed by our overlords in Brussels: there’s little room for manoeuvre, however it’s spun.
Was it a reshuffle for growth? Quite possibly. Was it a reshuffle for a Conservative victory in 2015? I’d very much like to say that the jury is out, but the evidence points quite persuasively to a more definite ‘no’: with the exception of Michael Gove at Education and Iain Duncan Smith at the DWP, I’m struggling to find either evidence or realistic hope of mainstream Conservative thinking around the top table.
Where is the radical and popular conservatism that connects with the Conservative Party’s grassroots and reflects the aspirations of those who vote for it? Where are the radical policies to inspire the next generation? How will any of this win back former Conservatives who have abandoned the party either to apathy or for UKIP, which is deemed by them to reflect a more authentic conservatism based on small government, academic selection, low taxes, traditional marriage, controlled immigration, national defence and a sovereign legislature?
The moment the Conservative Party centralised its operations, neutered its local associations and abandoned all democratic debate at Conference, it ceased being accountable to its most loyal supporters. The distance between the ordinary member and the ruling metropolitan élite has now become too wide a gulf to be workable: the arthritic voluntary wing flaps about while the athletic professionals determine direction and dictate what’s best. It is not a recipe for electoral success, and it cannot produce a manifesto of popular, radical, mainstream conservatism.
Unless and until the Conservative Party is prepared to give its members a greater say in policy formulation, all fund-raising, door-knocking, canvassing and leaflet-delivering will be in vain. And I’m not talking about a patronising, top-down initiative from CCHQ which chooses the topics and sets the parameters of debate: the party must return to vibrant, contentious and transparent debate about its core values, ideals and principles.
When the bottom-up clashes with the top-down, the middle is inevitably squeezed out. The Conservative Party must choose either to return to being the party of individual aspiration, meritocracy and social mobility, built on a foundation of small-state, family-friendly, free-market national sovereignty, or risk perpetual electoral oblivion with occasional bursts of ineffectual coalition.