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Hugo Rifkind

Cameron is quite conservative enough, thank you

12 May 2012

2:00 PM

12 May 2012

2:00 PM

Find me a person who stopped voting Conservative last week because of David Cameron’s vague, half-arsed, lacklustre stance on gay marriage. Go on. I dare you. Or because of the even vaguer, totally-not-going-to-happen proposals to reform the House of Lords. I’ll settle for one of them instead. Just one, and then I’ll shut up and leave you alone. Anyone? Anyone?

Oh, look, there’s probably one. Maybe there are even as many as eight. And I don’t really want to meet them. They’re representative of nothing. ‘But the Ukip vote soared!’ I hear you cry. ‘Their share of the vote is five points higher than a year ago!’ Yes, indeed. But my hunch — liberal, urban, deluded moron that I doubtless am — would be that people voted for the party defined by its hostility to the European Union because they are hostile to the European Union. No?

Sure, Ukip is against gay marriage, but only in the way that they’re against basically everything. But they’re actively in favour of House of Lords reform (a by-product of being actively against House of Lords not reform). Why, then, is there this emerging belief that the Tory hierarchy’s great problem is that they’re always harping on about such things? Especially when they aren’t, even. Actually, it’s more that the Tory rightwing fringes are always harping on about them harping on. Enough harping, already. It’s nuts.

What planet are you on, when you think that David Cameron’s big problem is that he isn’t enough of a traditional Conservative? Whom do you speak to? Are you drunk? For most of the country, it’s a constant surprise not to see him with a shotgun under his arm. Ask a classroom of toddlers to paint a Conservative and they’ll paint David Cameron, in a top hat and a rosette, hurling a beagle at a fox. Wants to cut taxes? Check. Anti-BBC? Check. Hostile to Europe? You betcha. Pro-business, anti-welfare, hellbent on privatising great chunks of the NHS whether it’s a good idea or not, instinctively Atlanticist. What more do you want? Back-combing?

Yes, he rides a bike. Once or twice, indeed, he has mentioned windfarms. The only people who care are Tories, and the wonderful thing about Tories is the way they’re Tories, and vote Tory. Sure, they might rather he was farther to the right, and that’s a reasonable opinion to hold if you don’t mind being wrong about everything, but by what logic is this going to enable him to pick up more votes?


Euroscepticism, yes, I can see there might be some mileage in that. But more social conservatism? (Whatever the hell that means.) People don’t not vote Conservative because the Conservatives aren’t conservative enough. Quite the reverse. I mean, you’ve met people who aren’t Conservatives, right? And you’ve asked them why? Well, do. It’s not difficult.

Look, I know the Tory right is unhappy. I don’t really understand why, given that House of Lords reform won’t happen, windfarms are a very minor issue, and no chap who doesn’t want to marry another chap is going to have to. But I accept that it’s happening. It’s one thing, in this context, to try to exploit the turmoil to shift the government more in the sort of direction that makes you comfortable. It’s quite another, though, to pretend it’s an electoral strategy. Stop it.

•••

A strange awakening last Sunday. In the wee hours of the morning, I learned, Tom Watson MP had been contacting Rupert Murdoch on Twitter to complain that I was being rude to him.

Weird thing for the deputy chair of the Labour party to do. Particularly as I wasn’t. I’ve never spoken to the man. And yet there he was, dobbing me in to the boss.  It being 1 a.m. may have been a factor. I think you see what I’m driving at, here. Yes. But still. I never done it, guv. ‘My sincere apologies,’ Mr Watson eventually tweeted, when I asked him about it, a mere five times, the next day. ‘I got you confused with Giles Coren.’ Which was flattering, given that Giles is one the people who made me want to be a journalist in the first place, but also a whole new mystery, all in itself.

Exactly what was it about the Jewish Giles Coren which led Mr Watson to get us mixed up? Could it be that the Jewish Giles Coren and I both write for the Times, often in a humorous vein? Possible. But so do many other people, including, say, the not-Jewish Robert Crampton, and Mr Watson wasn’t confusing either of us with him.

Could it be that both the Jewish Giles Coren and I are from Scotland, and the sons of prominent Conservative MPs? Wait, no, that’s not right. Or could it be that the Jewish Giles Coren and I both write restaurant reviews and present successful TV food shows, alongside Sue Perkins? Oh, but hold on. I’ve just remembered. I don’t.

It’s terribly puzzling. What could it be that made me and Giles Coren, who, as I may have mentioned, is Jewish, so interchangeable in Mr Watson’s mind? I’ve tweeted him to find out, but he hasn’t replied. So I suppose we’ll never know.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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