Alex Massie

The Conservative Backlash Begins

Text settings

Well this was entirely predictable. The authoritarian right insist that Dave's efforts at making the Tory party electable are in fact what has prevented the party from storming to a landslide victory. We'll be hearing a lot more of this nonsense if the Tories fail to win a majority but Melanie Phillips's most recent post is a decent enough starting place and summary of the argument. Naturally she quotes Norman Tebbit at length and, presumably, it's only a matter of time befre Simon Heffer and the others weigh-in too.

Of course this analysis conveniently ignores the fact that it's the manifest, obvious, failure of the right that has left Cameron in such a difficult position. The failures of 2005 and the years before it left the Tories needing their best result in a century to win a convincing majority. Thanks for that legacy, guys.

It is, I suppose, just about possible that the electorate wishes the Conservatives were more obviusly and stridently right-wing; unfortunately there appears to be little to no compelling, persuasive evidence to support this proposition. Indeed quite the reverse and we know this because we have the results from 2001 and 2005 in front of us. Why would those much-hated tunes suddenly be top of the pops now?

No, this is Tony Benn territory: we under-performed because we weren't extreme enough. In other words, it's an eccentric view of matters that says much more about the pundits' own political preferences than it does about anything even bordering on political reality.

There'll be a long and painful post-mortem is Cameron doesn't win but the reasons for that failure will, I hazard, have very little to do with his failure to be right-wing enough. British elections are won in the centre, these days, not on the extremes and it's puzzling that plenty of people seem blind to this seemingly obvious truth.

That means that parties have to endorse all manner of positions that one might  - nay does! - find distasteful or regrettable oneself but it takes a special sort of bravery to suppose that one's own preferences are shared by the electorate at large and that if only the politicians were wise enough to favour my brand of extremism they'd sweep to victory. It doesn't work like that.

Cameron may - or may not be! - "under-performing" but if so that says as much about the mood and temper of the times (and the legacy of Tory blundering) as it does about his own positioning or mis-steps. Of course there have been mistakes, these being an inescapable part of politics but a failure to regard the centre, as Melanie appears to, as an "extremist" position seems unlikely to be one of them.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articlePoliticstories