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Tuesday, September 11, 2012 

Liam Fox steps in front of the Boris bandwagon.

The threat to David Cameron is serious. The threat to Cameron isn't serious. There is no threat to Cameron. Of these statements, after today only the latter can possibly true. Away from dubious reports concerning two Tory MPs approaching Colonel Bob Stewart about standing as a "stalking horse" candidate, apparently unaware that the rules on challenging the leader in the Conservative party changed long ago, dubious reports which it should be noted came from the man himself, indisputable is that there is no serious challenger to Cameron as leader who is currently a Tory member of parliament. It's not impossible that George Osborne could recover from his current difficulties but at the moment he's unemployable, and anyone who seriously suggests either Jeremy Hunt or Michael Gove could step up if Cameron went under a bus is, to put it politely, off their trolley. There could well be a leader in waiting on the backbenches, but ready to take over now? Clearly not.

Which leaves us with Boris Johnson, who like Cameron, although in a slightly more amusing and likeable way, believes that he was born to rule. The two main obstacles to Johnson coming to the rescue of the Tories are that he's, err, Mayor of London till 2016, and second, that, err, that means he needs to become an MP again. Even if Cameron and friends go back on their pledge not to support a third runway at Heathrow this parliament, the issue plucked out of the air for Johnson to make a stand on, despite the difference of opinion only relating to where the runway is and how many should be built, resulting in Zac Goldsmith resigning his seat to give Boris a leg-up, all this relies on the notion that the Tories remain as fratricidal as they've been in the past.

Boris clearly has the ambition and the killer instinct, but that's not enough when he needs the wider support of the parliamentary party. There might be murmurings against Cameron, but at the moment that's all they really are. And why would they replace one posh boy with a slightly less posh boy who's based his entire public persona around being a bumbling toff when he's nothing of the sort? On actual policy, with those supposedly starting to take soundings against Cameron decidedly on the right of the party, there's very little real difference between the two.

A death knell has duly been sounded for now in any case, thanks to two very usual suspects. We'll gloss over Nadine Dorries' latest utterance in her personal jihad against Cameron, and instead focus on the quite incredible comments from Liam Fox. The launch of Conservative Voice might not have been his brainchild, but his remarks on the need for a "broad 'internal' coalition of competing views" were both a rewriting of history and a laughable call for the party to shift to the right.

According to Fox, "[A]fter Thatcher's first win we did have our widest coalition. That is what the Conservative party needs to understand". This is only true up to a point: while Thatcher's first cabinet did lean towards the one nation wing of the party, she swiftly purged most of the "wets" in September of 81 when they came out against further cuts. From then on, Thatcher's first question on someone's reliability was whether they were "one of us". If as Fox seems to be claiming it was this broad church that won the Tories power in 79, it couldn't have been in 83 and from then on till 97. The implication from Fox that the Tories failed to win a majority this time as they weren't appealing to aspirational voters is a nonsense: we were left with a hung parliament because the Tories failed to win over the voters in the north and Scotland that Thatcher lost, perhaps permanently. Politics has changed.

Besides, if Fox meant what he said then he would presumably be pushing for the few remaining one nation Tories (are there any besides Ken Clarke?) to be promoted to ministerial positions; instead, he and his allies in practice want the opposite. The fundamental reason why the Tories look unlikely to retain power come 2015 is down to how their economic plan has failed, and should that continue to be the case then neither targeting the "aspirational" or changing leader is likely to alter the result.

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