Good news is not always as good as it seems. A couple of days ago, there was an opinion poll which I found convincing, because it chimed with my prejudices. According to its findings, David Cameron is much more popular than his party and has achieved an ascendancy over British politics. People respect him and trust him. They think that he is strong.
People are right. That poll does suggest that the British electorate has a sound bottom of common sense. But there is a danger (there usually is, in politics). All current Tory politics comes down to a debate about a Mickawberite margin: a net five percent of the electorate. 38 percent, and the Tories will not have an overall majority. 43 percent: rejoicing. Francis Maude, a masochist masquerading as a moderniser, has his own focus group. He believes that the missing five percent are solely concerned with social liberalism. He thinks that we can only win by apologising to racial and sexual minorities for our past cruelties. There is a problem with that. In politics, if you put out your backside to be kicked, it is certain that someone will oblige. It does not follow that they will then vote for you.
Let us start with a different assumption and a different focus group. Let us work on the hypothesis that whatever their colour, class, faith or sexual orientation, most decent people in this country share many of the same political values. They want good schools, good hospitals and safe neighbourhoods. A sizeable majority are in favour of immigration controls: that is also true of many of the offspring of decent immigrants. They are happy to pay taxes to help those in need. They hate paying taxes to subsidise idleness. They might disagree about top tax rates, but they will agree that people who roll up their sleeves and take risks deserve to be well-rewarded. It should not be impossible for Tories to persuade them that lower tax rates all round could create a stronger economy.
The decent majority also believe that David Cameron is a man with generous instincts, wholly at ease with racial and sexual minories, who would never discriminate against anyone, even old Harrovians. Indeed, most voters probably think that the Tory leader is more liberal than they are.
Switch to the focus group, which consists of one man, waiting on a commuter platform: could be outer London suburbs, could be the Midlands. He is fed up, because the train is late for the second time that week. Does this mean that he will have to get up even earlier to be in the office on time? Office: he is worried about his job, which is old-fashioned white-collar paper-processing: pen-pushing, some would call it. He is not great at IT; there is the constant worry that someone in Bangalore would be at least as good, and a lot cheaper. Meanwhile his kids are learning nothing at school. His own comprehensive still had some grammar-school ethos; that is long gone and he could not dream of affording to go private. The Gove academies sound interesting, but too late for his brats. In the past six months, there have been two burglaries in his road: the police seem useless. As he waits and fumes, he is reading the Daily Mail, which tells him a). that the country is going to the dogs b). that he is paying for it.
What else does he read? He learns that the Government's main priority is House of Lords reform and that David Cameron believes in homosexual marriage. Gosh, that cheers him up. It really puts a smile on his face and a spring in his step as he prepares for the challenges of the day.
A Tory Party worthy of the name must be on the side of the decent people. This year, when the country is blessed by the Monarch's Diamond Jubilee, is an occasion for celebration, for pride, for thanksgiving, for veneration; for that patriotism which we British do so well, which is none the less heart-felt for being embarrassedly laconic and bumblingly understated. As we pay homage to the secular transcendence of Monarchy, there will also be moments to move beyond understatement: to draw on all the riches of a majestic language in order to pay tribute to Majesty; to find magniloquence to express a simple message: gratitude to our Sovereign Lady and our Great Queen, This is a year to draw together.
It is absolutely not a year for partisanship. but a Tory Party led by a powerful leader who is also a paid-up member of the human race could not fail to benefit – as long as that Tory Party was seen to march in step with the decent people. If my one-man focus group concludes that the party which he was supported, albeit with regular grumbles, has now been hijacked by a clique of forty-somethings who all live within a mile of Marble Arch, who are all well-off, and none of whom understand the life real people like him lead, there will be trouble.