Friday, April 23, 2010

Hark! The sharpening of knives

“He may not do a Hague and resign the day after the election but the knives will be out for David Cameron if he doesn’t deliver a victory on May 6.”

That was the considered opinion of a staunch Conservative supporter I spoke to the other day as we discussed the Lib-Dem surge and Cameron’s weak showing in the first TV debate.

Though he improved in the second, it was only to draw level with Nick Clegg. And that’s not good enough to deliver a majority Conservative Government.

Time is running out for a Tory revival. Many Conservatives gritted their teeth and went along with the new model party with its centrally-imposed shortlists, its favoured candidates, its dubious economic policies and its abandonment of grammar schools.

They even swallowed the abandonment of the “cast iron guarantee” of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

They were willing to change and compromise because they felt it was a price worth paying for the promise of a Conservative Government. Half a loaf is better than no bread.

A watered-down, pale-blue, Blairite Conservatism was, in the eyes of most of the party’s long-term supporters, an attractive proposition compared with the alternative of another five years of Old Labour with added Harperson political correctness.

Now there is a serious danger we will be lumbered with the worst of all worlds – Old Labour, Herpersonism and added Lib-Dem lunacy on Europe, nuclear weapons and immigration.

Worse still, a Lib-Lab coalition would undoubtedly press ahead with electoral reform landing Britain with smokeless smoke-filled rooms and horse-trading, unstable Government for ever more.

It’s not too late for the voters to see sense and reject the telegenic Mr Clegg’s blandishments. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

The people who voted for “dancing pig” John Sergeant or the hopeless Jedward twins are not likely to be deterred from enjoying this opportunity to go for the political underdog.

They are especially likely to back the Lib-Dems on the grounds that by doing so they deliver a slap in the face to both the mainstream parties.

Before the TV debates, it seemed disillusion and discontent with the whole political class was only likely to find expression in votes for fringe parties and maverick independents.

It wouldn’t have been a mass movement or made much difference to the outcome of the election.

Now, however, the voters have a focus for all that unhappiness.

Nick Clegg may be a posh public schoolboy whose entire career has been in and around politics. But, for many, he is still the outsider and that, alone, is why they will vote for him. He may be a novelty act with no serious track record – but that’s what David Cameron was relying on to propel him into Number Ten.

Suddenly Cameron is being seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

He has been badly let down by many of his MPs. The Tories were no worse than Labour in the Great Expenses Scandal except that they chose to claim for more baronial items – duck houses, moat-cleaning, tennis-court maintenance, wisteria-cutting and so on.

There is now a real prospect of the Conservatives losing a fourth General Election in a row. The blame for such a terrible outcome will be spread widely but in the end it comes down to leadership.

If David Cameron does not win, his followers will not only feel he has betrayed them, they will feel they have betrayed themselves and their own political instincts.

Politics may be the art of compromise but all the concessions Cameron has demanded from his loyal party members were part of a deal.

Members reluctantly accepted the abandonment of some of their principles because, they were persuaded, only then could the party win back power.

Now it looks as if Cameron won’t be able to deliver his side of the bargain.

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