This is a column I never thought I’d have to write. I’d assumed that the conclusions to be drawn from the general election were so bleeding obvious that I could leave all the post-match analysis to the experts, while I distracted you with something more cheerful like, say, a piece about Fergal Keane’s brilliant new book on the battle of Kohima.
Apparently not, though. It seems that my job today is to point out an awkward fact that seems to have eluded about 98 per cent of political commentators in the mainstream media and 99.99 per cent of those Conservatives who invested their faith in Project Cameron: Dave blew it.
No, really. He did. Never mind that nonsense about the biggest swing since 1931, making the party electable again, tremendous achievement, best he could have hoped for and all the other desperate apologiae we’ve been hearing of late. Dave had an open goal — or at least one manned only by a cackhanded, decrepid, one-eyed nutcase, viscerally loathed not just by the opposition but by half his own team — and the best he could manage was to hit the post.
Normally when the star striker fluffs his team’s first serious chance of winning a major championship in over a decade, it is customary for opprobrium to be poured on his tactics and abilities and for a transfer to be considered by the team’s owners. What isn’t at all usual is for the commentators to say, ‘Well, of course, if the goal posts had been a foot further apart, as they should have been, the Boy Dave would have been laughing.’ Nor is it usual for the players on the team to say: ‘We’re really happy with the result. We never actually intended to win outright. It was always our plan to end up in a victory-share arrangement with Crapville Arthritic, whereby we get to borrow each other’s players, training facilities and tactics for our mutual benefit and in football’s interest.’
Yet this is the reaction I’m getting from lots of Conservatives right now. Like the Irishman who lost £10 on the race then another £50 on the action replay, they’re so determined not to accept that what happened did actually happen, that they’re stuck in a kind of pre-election Groundhog Day. ‘No, you don’t understand,’ they tell me. ‘It would be suicide for Cameron to talk about a referendum on Europe. He can’t talk about a cut to the 50 per cent tax rate. And of course he has to spout all that green stuff. He needs to win over all those Lib Dem swing voters, see?’
Now this was never an analysis I found personally persuasive. But I was quite prepared to have my nose rubbed in my wrongness by the gleaming magnificence of the new Cameron regime and its vast working majority of Tatler-endorsed, multiracial, omnisexual young Tories.
What I cannot stomach or forgive, however, is this nonsensical idea currently being put about by the Cameroon spinmeisters and the Kool-Aid-drinking faithful that the election result they actually got (rather than fantasised over) is in any way whatsoever a vindication of David Cameron’s touchy-feely, hopey-changey, vegan-treehugging, Alinsky-and-Toynbee-worshipping faux Conservatism.
Well, not unless the game plan all along was to fail to gain a working majority and end up scrambling for a coalition with a party whose core values are so antithetical to Conservatism that Dave might just as well have formed an alliance with the Socialist Workers.
If that was the secret game plan, fine: they have succeeded brilliantly. But if it wasn’t, then I think we natural Conservatives have a right to expect a slightly more rigorous process of self-analysis than appears currently to be troubling the Tory high command. At the moment their attitude is the rough equivalent of Lt Gen Mutaguchi saying after losing the battles of Kohima and Imphal (hey, see how effortlessly I worked that reference in): ‘You think I lost badly, do you? Well, let me tell you, I didn’t lose nearly so badly as I would have done if my tactics had been different.’
Here’s a fact to consider: there were 21 seats which the Conservatives would have won, but didn’t because the vote was split by Ukip. One of them was Morley and Outwood, the one Ed Balls should have lost. With those 21 seats Cameron would have had his working majority.
Yes, of course, there is a counter-argument that says Cameron might have lost still more marginal seats had he frightened off the wishy-washy swing-voters by sounding too red-bloodedly Conservative. It’s a ‘what if?’ which will never be answered to anyone’s satisfaction. But it’s worth bearing in mind that the national swing from Lib Dems to Conservatives that Cameron managed to effect with all his principle-jettisoning was a modest 1 per cent. And that those few Conservatives bold enough to ignore party HQ and campaign on an anti-EU ticket — Philip Davies, Philip Hollobone, Mark Reckless, Douglas Carswell — were, as Dan Hannan has noted, rewarded with vast swings.
Quite the most absurd piece of recrimination I’ve heard so far from the Cameroons, though, is the notion that the real people to blame for all this are those 900,000 or so folk who voted Ukip, as well as all those rabid head-banging types like James Delingpole who were so unhelpful in pointing out the flaws in Project Cameron’s splendid policies. If only we’d held our noses and accepted that the Cameroons, for all their flaws, were our last hope of restoring Conservatism to power in Britain, then Dave might be in position right now to effect Real Change.
This is what I call the Dog Shit Yoghurt Fallacy. Suppose the manufacturer of your preferred brand of fruit yoghurt has been losing sales of late and has decided, after doing a bit of market research, that it may be necessary to alter the formula slightly. What at least some of the punters are clamouring for these days, it seems, is not chunks of fruit in their yoghurt but bits of dog poo instead.
‘But that’s revolting!’ you tell the manager of your preferred yoghurt brand. ‘Fruit goes way better in yoghurt than dog poo does.’ ‘Look, you know that I know that, but trust me, we’ve crunched the numbers, done the research and it’s the only way. If we don’t put some dog poo in our yoghurt, then people will say we haven’t moved with the times. We’ll be forever stuck in the boring, fuddy-duddy age of strawberry, raspberry and apricot. But under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the public have acquired a real taste for excrement. If we don’t give it to them — we’ll only need a little bit, I promise — then we’ll probably go out of business.’
‘No, you won’t!’ you reply. ‘There are loads of us who still like fruit yoghurt. And still loads more who’d buy it if you made it even fruitier. Your analysis is barmy.’ ‘Well I’m sorry, sir, but our marketing expert Mister Hilton assures us there’s no other way. Surely, you won’t object to the inclusion of a tiny hint of merde de chien to save our brand from total ruin?’
Call me weird, call me stubborn. But I prefer my yoghurt to taste of fruit, real fruit and nothing but fruit.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated May 15, 2010