20 April 2010

Papered-over cracks are still cracks

Gerald Warner's broadside in today's Telegraph about the 'Potemkin Village of Vichy Toryism' (lovely mixed metaphor!) created by the Cameron clique is a great rant, but ignores the political realities.

Cameron took over a party baffled by repeated defeats at the hands of a transparently mendacious shyster, and seemingly doomed to being the regional party of southern and rural England. It was, and still is, a party deeply riven by the issue of the EU, further poisoned by the Europhile coup d'état against its most successful leader of modern times. The whole business of changing its image as 'the nasty party' was always code for finding an alternative to the principled bluntness of Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher dragged the British horse to water, but the nag hated being forced to look at its true reflection and refused to drink. Since it is the business of political parties to get elected, Cameron had to devise some means of getting back on the horse without asking it to change in any meaningful way. Hence the 'Big Society' theme, an anemic echo of the robust challenge thrown down by Thatcher, to which the society as a whole resolutely refused to rise. 

Cameron's support in the country began its sharp decline from the time he went back on his 'cast iron' guarantee of a plebiscite on the Lisbon Treaty, revealing that it had never been more than posturing in the expectation that ratification would give him a way out. It was frivolous to have given that hostage to fortune in the first place - if he had ever carried it out, it would have split his party.

So: how do you, 'nicely', overcome the enormous electoral hurdle erected by Labour gerrymandering, bribery and fraud? You can't. How do you tap into the well of anti-EU sentiment in the country without splitting your party? You can't. How do you oppose mass immigration without alienating big business donors? You can't. How do you embrace a 'progressive' social agenda and retain the loyalty of traditionalists? You can't. How, finally, can you persuade a sluttish nation that hard work, thrift and self-restraint are desirable? You can't. 

In sum, Warner is right: Cameron has erected a Potemkin Village, and it seems to be collapsing. But Prince Potemkin's subterfuge was designed to show development where there was none. In Cameron's case, it has been an attempt to conceal structural flaws in his party that would have caused it to crumble anyway under the weight of office.

Oddly, therefore, the principal casualty - after the nation - of the most politically dishonest, personally corrupt and economically disastrous government in British history may be the credibility of the main opposition party, whose internal contradictions make it incapable of offering a convincing alternative.

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