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 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.”
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT EACH OTHER
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”
“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.”
Blair on Cameron “The people who are best placed to continue this process are the people who started it”