To read the breathless commentary of moderate pundits as David Cameron delivered his speech to Conservative Party Conference today, you would be forgiven for thinking that Cameron had announced a reversal of tax credit cuts, a real living wage, the abandonment of his ridiculous net migration target, and the implementation of a land value tax, all while wrapped in a red flag and doing that thing Tony Blair used to do with his hands.
(You know the one: when he used to make a fist and then stick his thumb out, creating an effect both dominant and approachable at once. Clinton used to do it, too.)
What we actually saw, of course, was nothing more than a good PR man playing to type. Cameron and Osborne have both quickly realised the opportunity offered to the Conservative Party by the election of Jeremy Corbyn: namely, power almost in perpetuity, provided the Tories don’t tip too far to the right in the eyes of typical voters.
Anchoring the party to the perceived “centre ground” has been both men’s transparent aim at this party conference, even if Theresa May seems to think now is the time to veer off into the xenophobic weeds in an attempt to bolster her leadership credentials. It is a simple continuation of the strategy already employed by the Chancellor at the Budget. As I wrote then, a bit angrily:
Aided and abetted by a supine media and an opposition that isn’t there, he is using the Conservatives’ new political capital to carry forward at a far greater speed his vision for Britain.
If anything, since then the nation’s media has become even more supine; in fact, today they were simply prostrate. Damningly, this is particularly true of centre-left commentators who, far from praising Cameron for his rhetoric, should be pointing out at every opportunity the lies he is spinning. Instead, they were busy saying things like:
David Cameron is now the leader of the British left.—
Dan Hodges (@DPJHodges) October 07, 2015
All sorts of holes, the biggest being tax credits cuts, but hugely effective One Nation speech consigning Labour to irrelevance.—
John Rentoul (@JohnRentoul) October 07, 2015
The worst example of this was Ian Dunt’s unusually ill-judged article on Politics.co.uk, in which he argued that Cameron’s speech was proof of the positive impact of Jeremy Corbyn on British politics. He went so far as to compare Corbyn’s success in dragging Cameron to the left to Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement, New Labour.
Every time this happens, it simply gives the Conservatives more breathing space to implement even more right wing policies. The natural consequence of this fawning media reaction will manifest itself in policies that are not just distant from the greater Britain Cameron claimed to dream of today, but that actively undermine the possibility of a more moderate, compassionate society ever coming into being.
Come November 25th, the Spending Review and the Autumn Statement will reveal just how far from reality Cameron’s fantastical rhetoric took everyone today. It won’t be breathless or exciting; it won’t be surprising or brilliant. Instead, it will be presented as an inevitability: “tough decisions none of us came into politics to make”. But that will be a lie.
Cameron’s Greater Britain won’t be moderate. It won’t be compassionate. It won’t increase equality or reduce poverty. As I wrote after the Budget:
It is a country gripped by greed, selfishness and suspicion. It is a country where the poorest are expected to fend for themselves and where the wealthiest are enabled and encouraged to hoard their riches.
If people as smart and influential as those I’ve mentioned in this article are genuinely being taken in, there is little hope for the rest of us.