November 22, 2006

The Tory Choice.



OR



This is the choice that Greg Clark, a supremo in David Cameron's policy making team, thinks confronts the Tories. He, according to the Guardian is calling for Mr Cameron to take Toynbee not Churchill as his model. The distance between the Guardian columnist and the Tory icon may not though be as much as it seems- who afterall said this,

You must rank me and my colleagues as strong partisans of national compulsory insurance for all classes for all purposes from the cradle to the grave.


The answer is Winston S. Churchill of course in a broadcast in 1946. Churchill had a long and eminently successful record as a social reformer- from his days as Liberal President of the Board of Trade and ally of Llyold George to his chancellorship in the 20s and forward to his 51-55 Tory governmentt, he was the very definition of a one-nation Conservative or as he might have termed it, taking the phrase from his father, Tory Democracy. Indeed he even switched parties in the 1900s when the conservative position became biased towards protection and the liberal in favour of cheap bread. Churchill's positions on economics changed over the sixty or so years he served as an active politician- but at no point did he oppose the principle that government should be interested in ammeliorating poverty.

I suspect though that Messrs Clark and Cameron need no history lectures from Gracchi- most Tories with any sense are aware of the history of their party. What this is about is dissassociating the Tories not from the particular policy options they have pursued in the past- if so Churchill versus Toynbee is a false dichotomy (if we were to take it that Cameron seriously envisages being on Toynbee's side of that it would mean he rejected one nation Toryism to endorse Swedish social democracy), but from a particular tribal history of the Conservative Party. What Mr Cameron wants to do, and what this shows him doing, is not a dissassociation of the policies from the Tories, but a disassociation of the Tories from the policies. He is seeking to appeal to the presumed compassion of Toynbee as an emotion instead of Churchill's (read old Tory) patrician indifference to the poor. The injustice to Churchill in such an account is an injustice committed in order to relieve the Tories of any past associations and allowing them to present what they beleive to be compassionate policies to the electorate. Nobody seriously beleives that Cameron is a swedish social democrat- he is hoping they won't believe that he is a historical Tory either.

The funny thing is that this has been done before I beleive it might have been attempted in the late forties, picking a period at random- but for the life of me, I can't remember who the Tory leader's name was then...

might it just have been, that old liberal,

Winston S. Churchill

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that of all the people that they should choose to highlight as a modern day oracle on the welfare state it is a fervent Labour support and Tory foe. If the boundaries between the main parties were not already blurred enough for the common voter Cameron's lurch to the centre only makes the differences ever harder to distinguish. As Blair said the days of right and left in British politics are dead. Of course for those with greater political awareness policy detail (where we have it) provides plenty of daylight between the parties on individual issues however the idealogical gap is clearly closing.

Political Umpire said...

Very amusing post. The Toynbee guff is further confirmation that Cameron really has become Blair circa 1997. He is the most cringing populist, who figures the most ground to be gained is from disillusioned Labour supporters so he's pitching for their vote. In the result I don't know if even he has a clue what he actually stands for or what sort of PM he would make.

El Dave. said...

However, Churchill is best remembered for his military adventuring. Is this (or am I on crack again?) a poor attempt at a clause 4 moment by moving away from the 'hard' foreign position (East of Suez?) of that era's Tories.

Anonymous, the days of left and right never existed. To the extent that they did, they constrained politics by making people think along a single line.

Gracchi said...

Ok... apologies for not replying earlier but here goes guys...

Anonymous I agree that this is an attempt to blur boundaries but I don't think its an attempt to blur boundaries about policy. Like Blair had to persuade the public that the Labour party were practical, Cameron has to persuade them that the Tory party are nice hence hugging close people like Toynbee that the public view as nice but silly.

Political Umpire- I agree Cameron is very much in the Blair mould of a 'cringing populist' though what with the current media coverage of politics I don't see quite how you can't do that. One of my hopes about blogging and i think that it is true if you look at blogs like yours and the ones on my blogroll is that it will raise the tone on politics because there will be more higher level commentary. Maybe I'm just a hopeless idealist- actually as the content of this blog reflects- I am a hopeless idealist and proud of it.

El Dave- great name good post. Hadn't thought of it like that- the juxtaposition to Toynbee wouldn't quite work- she isn't that interested in foreign affairs but I see where you are coming from on that. Churchill I suppose is the 'acceptable' face of aggressive foreign policy (Eden I'd have as the unacceptable, Blair might join him) so it could be that move. That might give Mr Clark too much credit for intelligence though.

dreadnought said...

Cameron and Clarke want it to be the Tories’ clause 4 moment, but it has nothing to do with foreign policy or even Churchill for that matter. Are they not trying to admit that their absolutist policies on poverty in the 1980s & 90s were wrong? Just because children have shoes they are not living in poverty. It has been stated frequently over the past day or so, poverty can also be relative and as Polly Toynbee has said, under the Tories the amount of children living in poverty rose from 14% in 1979 to 33% in 1996. A truly shocking indictment.

Gracchi said...

Yes I do think they are trying to say that poverty is relative and understand that figure from the eighties. I'm not sure that Churchill is the conservative to do that with- save as an emblem of 'old Tory'- why not use Thatcher for example or even Heath or Balfour but Churchill given his position is a curious one. My feeling is probably that this reflects the ignorance of the population- how many people know that Churchill was a domestic reformer.

Thinking about it waht most people know about WSC is that he was a war leader and it might be that Cameron is signalling an issue shift in the comparison- so that El Dave might be right but rather than rejecting Churchillian foreign policy, this might be an indication that the Tories aren't as interested in foreign policy tout court.

dreadnought said...

I agree they should have used Thatcher and not Churchill but that would probably be too sensitive for the party rank and file and remind the electorate, again, of the Tories being the “nasty party”.

Churchill may have been a social reformer, of sorts, in his younger days but it is interesting to note that your post includes a quote from 1946, after he had rejected the Beveridge Report and after he had been voted out of office. He is clearly over-shadowed in this role by Attlee and the Labour Government of 1945-51, who accepted Beveridge and introduced real social reform. Churchill will forever be associated with his radio speeches of 1940 and his wartime leadership, not as a reformer, so it is strange why the Tories mention him in this role.

Gracchi said...

I agree with you about Churchill- what I wasn't able to do in the post was give the subtlety of views that he held and the evolution. Having said that I do find it significant that in teh fifties he didn't reverse Labour's policies, in many ways his was the key administration becuase it demonstrated that the NHS say was a bipartisan thing.

As to Thatcher, I'm in complete agreemetn with you on why they don't look to Mrs T to condemn because of sentiment- I also reckon because many of them were Thatcherites they find it hard to condemn her.

dreadnought said...

As coincidence has it, almost, BBC radio has run a story on Churchill being a big fan of HG Wells after he was sent a copy of ‘Anticipations’ in 1901. It is thought that his social beliefs became heavily influenced by Wells’s work ‘A Modern Utopia’ of 1905, even quoting verbatim from Wells in his speeches.

I expect you knew that anyway, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Gracchi said...

No I didn't. Interesting- I'll look into that.