Commentary (The Times)

Conservatism: "Win centre ground or failure is inevitable, Tories told" (David Cameron Demos speech)

Document type: Press
Source: The Times , 31 Jan 2006
Journalist: Rosemary Bennett
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 689 words
Themes: Conservatism, Labour Party & socialism

Win centre ground or failure is inevitable, Tories told

By Rosemary Bennett, Deputy Political Editor

DAVID CAMERON told his party yesterday that it must accept key parts of Tony Blair’s legacy or risk “irrelevance, defeat and failure”.

In a move mirroring Tony Blair’s momentous decision to accept elements of Thatcherism when he became Labour leader, Mr Cameron said that the Conservatives must acknowledge that many new Labour goals were similar to their own. The party under his leadership would be better placed than Labour under Gordon Brown to deliver on Labour’s pledge of social justice, he said.

Mr Blair dismissed any idea that he saw Mr Cameron as his heir. “The people best placed to continue this process are the people who started it,” he said. Asked if he meant Mr Brown, he said: “Absolutely, yes.”

Mr Cameron’s dash for the centre ground has antagonised rightwingers, who say that he cannot beat Labour by imitating Mr Blair. Lord Tebbit, the former party chairman, sets out his critique tonight in a Bow Group lecture. Mr Cameron risked further angering the Right with his speech to the independent think-tank Demos.

“Tony Blair saw that the task of new Labour was to preserve the fruits of the Thatcher revolution — the open-market economy and the end of the ‘us v them’ mentality — whilst making progress to include the excluded minority”. The Tory response to new Labour had had “serious consequences.

“Instead of focusing on the areas where we now agreed with Labour on our aims, but highlighting the different prescriptions that arose from our different values, we ended up focusing on areas where we didn’t agree — tax cuts, immigration, Europe,” Mr Cameron said.

“Embracing a ‘new politics’ and accepting that in many areas new Labour was closer to the Conservative Party was a difficult thing to do. And make no mistake — I will stick to this path. The alternative to fighting for the centre ground is irrelevance, defeat and failure.”

Some MPs are worried that Mr Cameron is merely copying what Mr Blair did when he became leader. He defended his dropping of Tory policies such as school selection, calling them “easy answers based on one- dimensional thinking”.

Seeking to appease diehards, he set out a revisionist view of the Thatcher legacy: “Margaret Thatcher became increasingly worried that not everyone was participating in her property-owning democracy. She became worried that the open economy was not tackling (social) problems in our inner cities.”

  • Tony Blair suggested last night that he would hand over to Gordon Brown after he has pushed through his health, education and other reforms. He said on the Channel 4 Richard and Judy show that he did not think of how much time he had left at No 10, but more of what he wanted to achieve before he retired. “I just get on with the job. I’m not going to fight the next election. I have already made it clear I’m very supportive of Gordon and all the rest of it. I have got a lot to do and I’m just getting on with it.”


    Cameron on Blair

    “Tony Blair saw that the task of new Labour was to preserve the fruits of the Thatcher revolution — the open market economy and the end of the ‘us vs them’ mentality — whilst making real progress to include the excluded minority”

    Blair on Thatcher

    “A greater emphasis on enterprise. Rewarding, not penalising, success. In that sense, Mrs Thatcher was a radical, not a Tory”
    July 1995

    “He has always admired Mrs Thatcher’s determination and sense of purpose.”
    A spokesman for Mr Blair, May 1995

    Thatcher on Blair “I see a lot of socialism behind (Labour’s) front bench, but not in Mr Blair. I think he genuinely has moved.”
    May 1995

    Blair on Cameron “The people who are best placed to continue this process are the people who started it”