Where were you when David Cameron became the leader of the British left?
I was at a desk in west London, wondering if I was watching the end of the Labour Party. Not because I believe Cameron will be taking up an office in Brewer’s Green any time soon, but because when he’s done I’m not sure there will be anyone left to vote Labour.
Cast your mind back a few years. Since 2010 David Cameron and George Osbourne have presided over some of the most draconian and austere law making in recent British history. Everyone on the left knows this and watched on in horror as it happened. They also failed on a number of the goals they set themselves (such as debt reduction) and went into the last election perceived as in real danger of losing.
So how have we ended up with David Cameron as the new face of compassionate Britain and George Osbourne his anointed successor? When did He Who Loves Pigs become a fist clenching leftie?
Well, of course, that hasn’t actually happened. The speech David Cameron gave today wasn’t left wing and and politics nerd know it. It was however quite extraordinary, showing an ideological openness and pragmatism that few on the left like to believe the Tories possess. To listen to it was amazing and terrifying in equal measure.
What the last five years have done is to move the notional ‘centre’ of politics a considerable distance to the right. Dark anti-immigration rhetoric, attacks on Trade Unions, tax cuts for high earners and assaults on welfare have become normal and, as the result in May shows, a majority of voters accept, if not approve, of these measures. This is why a fairly middle of the road, centrist speech like Cameron’s can appear so radical.
I’ll let you in on a secret. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a bit of a nerd. You’ve got an interest in politics that a lot of people don’t possess but you might not know it yet. If that is the case, take a moment and look at the whole board.
Was David Cameron’s speech ‘left wing’? No.
Were all the promises he made achievable considering the scale of cuts still to come? No.
Does he, or his successor, intend to keep every promise made today? Probably not.
Does any of this matter? No.
Today’s centre ground land grab wasn’t aimed and me or you. It wasn’t designed to convince Labour members to burn their membership cards or Greens to buy a Hummer and hunt foxes in the environs of Brighton. It was aimed at ordinary, apolitical voters who are sick to the back teeth of the nuances of party politics and were completely ignored by Jeremy Corbyn in his speech to the Labour Conference. They probably don’t like the idea of spitting as a political protest as well. Call them what you will, floating voters, moderates or even shy Tories (because if you’re not for us, you’re a Tory these days), they are the people you need on side to win an election.
So stop worrying about what Cameron’s speech should be labeled as and get terrified over what it was meant to do. Sure it was full of lies, double standards and spin but it was still a piece of genius. It positions the Tories on Labour’s front lawn while also keeping them firmly rooted in their conservative heartland and, unless Labour find some way to kick them off our grass, they’re doomed to repeat the misery of the past.