Is this Conservatism?
Matthew Parris's experiment with 30 marginal Tories reveals the extent to which Conservatives are willing to compromise for votes - but do they need to?
Matthew Parris's fascinating study (£) into 30 marginal Tory candidates this week reveals what some of us have feared all along, and what a very many have sought to hide: the Conservative Party isn't attracting enough daredevils.
The excuse made on behalf of the 30 candidates in marginal constituencies is that they cannot afford, unlike some of their more democratically well-endowed colleagues, to be more 'right-wing'. Parris writes, "Swashbuckling opinions are not a luxury most of them think they can afford".
But where there are buckles to be swashed (?), there are often good reasons for it. Wikipedia (yeah, I went there) defines a swashbuckler as, "...a protagonist who is heroic and idealistic to the bone and who rescues damsels in distress. His opponent is typically characterised as the dastardly villain."
Tell me the Tory party doesn't need more of these types of people? And you try telling UKIP that buckling swashes doesn't result in gains, taking the fight back to those dastardly villains on the left.
The problem the Tories have with UKIP is that they come across as ordinarily eccentric, like the Tories used to. The virtue of UKIP unto themselves is that they come across as ordinarily eccentric, like the Tories used to.
Sadly, this eccentricism, like Samson's hair, seems to be the source of all political power, bravery and indeed electability on the right.
Let's go through a few of Matthew Parris's findings to understand just where Conservatives are going wrong. And imagine while you read these things, what would happen if these marginal MPs bothered to speak their minds, or even, in the case of taxation, understood the very principles of conservatism and represented them. Why, they might even give UKIP a run for their money in South Shields:
On Immigration, the 30 Tory MPs were asked if David Cameron got it about right? Or whether further “crackdowns” were necessary. Twenty-one said he'd got the balance about right. Nine weren't sure or wanted more crackdowns. Meanwhile, much of the Tory vote slips away to UKIP, and even a lot of the eurospectic Labour vote (it exists), floats down that river. I'm not a great fan of restricting immigration in this country, but I am a great fan of restricting the European Union and its instruments such as Schengen. To me, this seems like selective immigration in and of itself - so while we're in the business of selecting, why don't we actually select people we want and need? I digress...
Euro-referendum: Should the date be brought forward? 25 of the 30 MPs said Cameron should stick to his current timings. This means two things. The way it stands, the referendum would occur (or probably not occur) under a Labour government. Secondly, between now and 2015, the Tories cede more and more ground to an emboldened UKIP who can point to Cameron's electioneering over Europe at every single election until the general. That's right. UKIP can point to Cameron as electioneering over Europe. Without irony. Think about that.
Euro-withdrawal: Would the MPs in question like the Party to get off the fence and recommend a withdrawal from the EU? 28 said not now, but some in this number wouldn't rule it out if the PM couldn't get better terms from Europe. That conservatism should look to be pragmatic in the face of a decline in sovereignty, a forcibly united, German-dominated Europe and the effective financial subordination of smaller European allies is frankly unconscionable. Still, that didn't stop 93 percent of the 30 Tories quizzed, eh?
Human rights: Should we scrap our Human Rights Act, withdraw from the European Convention? Should the likes of Abu Qatada still be in the United Kingdom, one might ask, because we don't feel like our judges can rule on human rights without an overseer like the European Convention on Human Rights?
There were apparently mixed views on this question but Parris reports that, "My respondents’ only (and common) hesitation was that the PM must not promise what cannot be delivered." Great. That'll teach the Jordanian hate-preacher and his buddies. Meanwhile, we'll keep those 'nasty right-wing shock jocks' out of the UK altogether. Solution: instead of lamenting over the deliverables, have a think as to why we can no longer deliver ourselves justice. Why? Why? Why? Now change it. That's why you're an MP.
Taxation: Should Tories, Parris asked, advocate a substantial tax cut before the next election? Well luckily, all MPs quizzed wanted tax cuts. But hold on a second. Only a 'few' thought this could happen without raising taxes in other areas. In layman's terms - redistribute the wealth. Annoyingly, Tim Montgomerie in Conservative Home this morning described cutting taxes without raising others as, "a tax cut that wasn't properly funded". This is the lexicon of the Left.
(I'm thinking of setting up a fund to which people donate, and I'll use the money to post MPs and 'conservative' commentators copies of books they need to read. Or, I could just send them this PDF. What do you think?)
On Welfare: The question was asked whether there should be substantial new spending cuts before the next election? Nineteen said no; eight said yes. This was the anomaly for me because I'm pretty happy with what this government is doing around welfare. Go figure.
NHS: The MPs were asked if further, structural, market-based reform or privatisation should occur before the next election? 23 said no on the basis that "it is toxic for us". P*ssies. Five however, wanted to pick up the fight. Those five are brave, because if there is one fight this government and indeed conservatives of my generation will need to fight - it's the growth of the National Health Service. It's not the pride of Britain. It's not the envy of the world. And in some instances, it's barely functional. I'd say scrap it, less than reform it. But you know... "toxic" and all that.
On Overseas aid, the 30 were asked whether it should be cut this side of an election. Of course, the government made a bizarre spending commitment to send away 0.7 percent of UK GDP in aid, which then also somehow transfigured into defence-related spending. Don't get me wrong, I prefer the latter - but it's pathetic to enshrine such spending commitments in law, especially when half the time the money is being frittered away funding lobbyists or anti-Western incitement. It's true. And 23 of the 30 MPs want to keep it that way.
Gay marriage: Would it be wise to jettison the Bill, they were asked? Well. Wise in what sense? In the sense that this moment in history should have been used to get government out of marriage, then yes. Incredibly wise. Twenty-eight said no, though, believing a U-turn was now too late. They're right. It's been a botched job. A Clinton-esque attempt to win the gay vote. But I'll tell you something - a decently formulated argument about how government has no right to legislate equality would have done the trick, too. Something like, "Who are we to tell you who to marry?" on every billboard in the country.
Finally, the MPs were asked whether in their own constituencies (and whatever their own opinion of the Prime Minister) they found David Cameron to be, on balance, a vote-winner or vote-loser. Here's where I was reduced to tears. On this question, all 30 of Parris's respondents voted the same way: "Every one of them believed that Mr Cameron was an asset for them with the general voter." They pointed to the fact that he was "more popular than the party" - which to my mind says less about Cameron and more about the Tory message. They said he's a "huge plus", a "massive asset" (perhaps you misheard, Mr. Parris?) and "by far and away our strongest card".
Well, dear Conservative Members of Parliament. If David Cameron is your strongest card, then I suggest to you that someone's stacked the deck against you.
Cameron, as far as conservatives (not Conservatives) are concerned, is a caretaker leader of the Tory party. We just hope he'll keep things going before a decent and right-headed leader emerges. Oh, I have a few names in mind, but I think it would be detrimental for them to receive my endorsement right now.
In closing, I think what I'm trying to say is that if these 30 Tory MPs went out to their constituencies and advocated actual conservative positions, rather than 'vote winners', or the steering clear of 'toxic' issues, then they would likely stand a better chance at the next election. Swashbucklers.
If they don't believe this is so - then might I suggest that rather than being a problem with right-wing policy, their problem lies in failing to understand why conservatism is for the majority, what conservatism actually is in many instances, and how to deliver the message. I suppose in the meantime, we just watch and laugh. And maybe cry.
Watch. Laugh. Cry. Sounds like a good name for a book on Cameron's premiership.
Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam
We are wholly dependent on the kindness of our readers for our continued work. We thank you in advance for any support you can offer.