Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Scraps to the Right, Scraps to the Left – But What Does Cameron Actually Stand For?

So David Cameron has delivered a speech on immigration, and the Right of the party will be in approval. Yet there is one question that sooner or later he will have to answer: does he mean it?

Only on Monday, he castigated Oxford University for not allowing in enough black students. He got his figures wrong, as it turned out, but nonetheless he was clearly making a pitch towards the liberal-left (though for now I won’t go into the many ways in which he was wrong). Today’s speech, though, does smack of a process of throwing just enough scraps to the Right to stop too many going off the reservation. (Vince Cable’s subsequent reaction might please the strategists at CCHQ). Keeping “The Right” on side will be an increasing concern of Number 10 as the coalition – specifically the Lib Dems – goes through the inevitable torture of the local elections and thus drawing ever more of Cameron’s political resources towards keeping the Lib Dem coxswain on the team.

I know that politics is more complex than the lazy Right/Left pigeon-holing that helps to fill column inches and airtime. I appreciate that there is more than one “right wing” and even the Lib Dems are a blend of classical and modern liberals. I’m sure that it is possible to be liberal on social equality but still bullish on reducing immigration. However, the jarring mix of liberal-left and traditional right-wing noises emanating from the same Prime Minister do leave one wondering how much of what he says is borne of genuine conviction – or rather, which instances are – instead of political expedience.

The worry among the Right will be reinforced by even a cursory review of the issues that David Cameron has publicly embraced: man-made climate change, grammar schools, progressive measures to tackle the deficit, and now social mobility are all pet causes of the liberal-left. More to the point, the particular ideas emerging of how to deal with these issues are anything but Conservative. One can’t help but ponder to what extent he is displaying any sort of genuine belief in a cause that is apparently divergent from that set of views, rather than falling back on a PR man’s instincts to broaden market appeal.

Even the Big Society, which more than anything one would suggest is the epitome of “Cameronism”, remains too vague a concept for the ordinary voter – or indeed party activist – to get a real handle on. Any given definition leaves too much wriggle room for any given political camp to draw either comfort or concern from. It can be read both as a path to a smaller state, or as a commitment by the state to financially support the voluntary sector. There has never been a clear, concise message from the coalition which it is to be.

So while many would like to believe that today’s speech is that of a Conservative prime minister allowing us a glimpse of where his true blue heart lies, in fact it only allows one question to niggle even more: what does David Cameron actually believe in? If he doesn’t answer it, others will.


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