Thursday, August 25, 2005

Does he know what he is doing?

David Cameron, the front runner du jour in the Conservative Party leadership election, has been setting out his wares to the right of the party, according to the Daily Telegraph. Why he should choose to do so at the Foreign Policy Centre, a Labour think-tank, first set up by Robin Cook, whose recently appointed new director is former Labour MP Stephen Twigg, is anybody’s guess. In fact, it raises the interesting question of whether Mr Cameron actually knows what he is doing, who he is speaking to and what day of the week it is.

According to the same article, penned by no less a person than Toby Helm, the Chief Political Correspondent:
“His supporters, however, argue that Mr Cameron is the man to modernise the Tory party with his blend of centre-Right thinking and compassion, as effectively as Tony Blair reformed Labour in the 1990s.”
Well, now. One or two questions seem to me to be begged here. First of all, if David Cameron, hitherto known as a moderniser, if of the centre-Right persuasion, why does he have to set out his wares for the right of the party. Why do they not know that Mr Cameron is one of them? Could it be because Mr Cameron has not so far been particularly vocal on the subjects that the right of the party is interested in?

His stand on education (reminiscent of Ken Clarke’s, incidentally, in the days of that jolly chap’s position as Education Secretary) is that vouchers, generally acknowledged as the only possible solution to the catastrophic situation in our schools and colleges, is “not what the electorate wants”. What it wants, apparently, is better control, discipline and curriculum, all set by the government. Just as we have had for decades. What a success, eh? Hardly right-wing policy, though.

Incidentally, it seems quite extraordinary how many Tory MPs, from Mr Cameron to Mr Bercow know exactly what the electorate wants. Why don’t they put this knowledge into action? For sure as eggs is eggs, what the electorate does not want is the Conservative Party. Have they forgotten those 1 million voters they lost since 1997 and have not recovered?

The second problem with that description of Mr Cameron is the compassion. Who on earth needs the “compassion” of a thirty-something year old Etonian with no experience in anything except politics?

The use of the word “compassion” indicates that Mr Cameron and his supporters consider the bulk of this country’s population to be somehow inferior to him and in need of help and guidance. Big government, in other words.

Or maybe, most people would just like Mr Cameron and others of that ilk get out of their lives.

What of the famous speech, then?

To start with, Mr Cameron comes up with his own definition of what Britishness is all about: “Freedom under the rule of law”.
“This simple, yet profound expression explains almost everything you need to know about our country, our institutions, our history, our culture – even our economy.

It is why British citizens are free men and women, able to do what they like unless it harms others or is explicitly forbidden.

And why no-one and nothing is above the law.

These shared values, enshrined in our constitution and institutions over centuries, are the foundation of our civilised society.

They are democratic, progressive and protect our human rights.”
What none of that explains is how it is that a large proportion of our legislation comes from the European Union that our Parliament, one of those institutions enshrined in our constitution, cannot throw out.

Nor does it explain how it is that the ECJ can routinely over-rule legislation and legal decisions decided on by our institutions or why international law, promulgated by the tranzis seems to have become superior to British law and British institutions. But then, Mr Cameron may have had his immediate audience in mind. The FPC is greatly in favour of transnational organizations.

Then we have the usual blarney about the horrors of the July bombs in London and Britain joining the long list of those that have been victims of “extremist Islamist terror”. Mr Cameron is one up on the Prime Minister who, in his list, back in July, omitted both Iraq and Israel. Mr Cameron remembered Israel but not Iraq. Clearly there have been no terrorist bombs in that country. Or, maybe, as someone said about Mr Blair, Iraq is in a different folder on Mr Cameron’s speechwriters’ computer.

To be fair to Mr Cameron, he did touch the rather difficult subject of so many of those terrorist being British born and bred and, even, compared Islamic terrorism with Nazism and Communism. All to the good, though his knowledge of either seems limited. Just to be on the safe side there are various references to well-known aspects of the rise of Nazism in the thirties but nothing at all about Communism. Wrong folder again, I expect.

After dealing rapidly with all the various aspects of the problem in the Middle East and the Gulf, without going too deeply into what might be Conservative foreign policy on the subject (mindful, perhaps of the fact that there is a common foreign policy to consider) Mr Cameron turned to what is to be done on the home front.

He suggests tightening up border controls and spending more money on the security services, hinting heavily that, perhaps, something will have to be done about the Human Rights Act (amending it, nothing so crass as repealing but, at least, it is better than just having a look at it) and, possibly temporarily withdrawing from the ECHR.

No mention of such interesting developments as the Single Area of Justice and Security, the two Tampere agreements and various other developments within the European Union. Perhaps Mr Cameron knows nothing about them. Perhaps, following his well-trodden path, he would rather not talk about “Europe”.

What of the problems inside the country? Well, Mr Cameron welcomes the oath of allegiance new citizens have to swear (which they have always had to swear but let that pass), the citizenship ceremonies and the required knowledge of the English language and life in this country.

It is not entirely clear to me what aspects of the life in this country will be required knowledge. Will it be cricket or Big Brother; Shakespeare or Coronation Street; Jamie Oliver or Victoria Beckham? As for the knowledge of language, given the complaints we are getting from employers, is it wise to create a system in which new immigrants know English better than the present inhabitants?

In fact, there is no particular need to enforce the knowledge of English at arrival. As long as that is the language of the country, people will learn it. The important thing is not to provide taxpayer-subsidized alternatives. And, again to be fair, Mr Cameron did refer to the problem:
“We need to ask whether Government and other bodies, by allowing other languages to be used in official settings, can almost encourage the belief that learning English is not essential.

Of course, we must make Government services accessible – and that means helping people who have not yet learnt English. But we must always be clear that use of other languages is a means to an end not an end in itself.”
So, Mr Cameron, do you think Councils should produce all their literature in 20-odd languages at great expense to the taxpayer or not? At what stage are people deemed not to need help to get Government services and are expected to speak English?

There is a certain amount about the need to teach in English and teach history in schools and a further need for people to do things together outside schools. And the need to set up a Mosque council led by Muslims (just any old Muslims?) to oversee the various Mosques. Given the rather ambivalent stance leading Muslims in this country have taken on certain important issues, that might be an inadequate answer but, perhaps, Mr Cameron likes to idea of the prefect system: give them responsibility and they will live up to it. Perhaps.

Well, that was that, apart from a few rather general comments along the lines of:
“Our nation is not a blank sheet in which each goes his own way.

It is a shared home with values which make it tolerant and hospitable in the first place.

We need to build that home together.”
And more of the same. Unfortunately, it all reminds me of the mushier kind of sixties pop song rather than of a sensible political statement.

What of that most important question – will he stand together with Ken Clarke on a “dream ticket” (whose dream one would like to know?)? Apparently not, as he does not agree with Mr Clarke’s views on Europe.

Then again, what are Mr Clarke’s views on Europe? He seems to have changed them rather drastically in the last couple of days. As we have never heard Mr Cameron express any views on the subject, it could be that he disagrees with the latest reincarnation of the Clarke persona. Perhaps Mr Cameron thinks the euro is a success and the constitution is a good idea.

According to the Independent, Mr Cameron tried to bolster his eurosceptic credentials:
“He [Mr Clarke] believes we should have an ever closer union of European states and I believe we need a new sort of Europe, much more open and free-trading,more flexible and we should be returning some powers to nation states.”
The trouble with a sudden need to acquire eurosceptic credentials, having always avoided the subject of Europe, beyond explaining to one’s colleagues that one would never want to see Britain outside the EU, is that it one finds oneself mouthing rather meaningless platitudes of the kind Conservative politicians have been saying unsuccessfully for a decade or so.

Faites vos jeux, messieursdames, faites vos jeux.


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