Continuing our series on Britain’s parties of power. Today, the Eamons* take their turn.
7. The Cameroons
About 300 million years ago, the warm-blooded mammals diverged from the cold-blooded reptiles. Rather more recently, the Tory modernisers diverged from the Tory right.
Yes, you read that correctly. If you trace the political evolution of the Cameroons (and related moderniser groups like the Portillistas), you will find their roots on the right, not the left, of the Conservative Party.
Michael Portillo and his close ally Peter Lilley were rightwing ministers in John Major’s centrist government. Oliver Letwin was another early radical – sometimes wrongly identified as the inventor of the Poll Tax, but most certainly the son of the Thatcherite intellectual Shirley Robin Letwin. And let’s not forget that both David Cameron and George Osborne were protégés of Michael Howard. Indeed, it was Howard who put them in the Shadow Cabinet, just in time for the fateful leadership campaign of 2005.
While we’re on the subject of creepy-crawlies, it’s worth noting that the evolution of new forms is associated with a high rate of extinction. For instance, Archaeopteryx, sometimes called the first bird, is not the ancestor of modern avians, but an evolutionary line that died out long before our time. We can see a similar process at work in the political world. Various kinds of Tory moderniser that were happily running around ten or more years ago are no longer with us – most notably the Portillistas mentioned above.
But here’s the thing: the evolution of the modernisers hasn’t stopped. Though the Cameroons are named after David Cameron, one can argue that he represents a soon-to-expire side-branch, while it is George Osborne who represents the future.
The political projects associated with the Prime Minister have failed – think ‘Big Society’ and ‘greenest government ever’ – while the Chancellor’s fortunes have prospered along with his economic policies. Then there’s the people: there’s no such thing as a Cameronite anymore, but the network of Osbornites grows with every reshuffle.
The reason why this doesn’t cause tension at the top is because George Osborne is a patient man. He waited for this economic policies to pay off and he’ll wait for David Cameron to wander off at some point in the future. Of course, before that happens, there’s a general election to be won – and, right now, this doesn’t look likely. As an adviser to Norman Lamont at the time of Black Wednesday, David Cameron ought to remember what happened next – the economy recovered, but Conservative fortunes didn’t.
Should history repeat itself it will be because the modernisers have failed in their original mission – to decontaminate the Conservative ‘brand.’ If Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister next year, then David Cameron will not be forgiven, and neither will George Osborne: as Chancellor he will emerge with some credit, but as the party’s strategic supremo he cannot escape the blame.
Past glories: 1/5
Current position: 5/5
Post 2015: 2/5
Long-term prospects: 1/5
8. The Borisites
Defeat next year ought to mean final extinction for the modernisers. But evolution can throw up surprises – and thus one strange beast may well emerge from the ruins.
Boris Johnson is proof positive of the extreme personalisation of modern politics. In theory, he’s cut from the same cloth as Cameron and Co (i.e. the quality fabrics used to make the uniforms of Eton College and the Bullingdon Club). Yet his celebrity status is such that he constitutes a distinct political faction of his own.
He was elected as an MP on his own terms, as Mayor of London on his own terms and, may still become leader of the Conservative Party on his own terms. That’s just as well – because if the Conservative membership were to see him as just another socially-liberal, pro-immigration public school boy with wavering opinions on everything else, they might not see the point.
As it is, what they see is an unmistakably Tory politician who can get a crowd of ordinary young Londoners cheering his name. Quite how this would translate into the leadership of a major political party is anyone’s guess. The only thing that can be said about his time as Mayor or, for that matter, his back-catalogue of opinion pieces, is that they provide no clue as to what his leadership of the Conservatives or the country would be like.
Is Prime Minister Boris a realistic possibility? As unlikely as it may seem now, you have to remember that the scenario that allows him to become Tory leader – is one that puts Ed Miliband into Downing Street. After five years of that, we’ll be ready just about anything or anyone.
Looking further ahead, there can be no Borisites without Boris himself. He’ll leave an empty stage behind him, but we won’t forget the show.
Past glories: 1/5
Current position: 2/5
Post 2015: 4/5
Long-term prospects: 0/5
*‘Eamon’ – Old Etonian, don’t you know