You may have listened to a friend describing why he intends to end a marriage, and realised in the course of doing so that his account, while cogent in itself, does not tell the entire story – because the whole of his decision is greater than the sum of the parts.
So it is for me with Tim Montgomerie’s article in the Times (£) today, in which he explains why he is leaving the Conservative Party. He runs through a list of ills that the Government has failed to cure and in some cases worsened (the unconquered deficit, uncontrolled immigration, smaller armed forces, inter-generational injustice) before touching a central issue: the contrast between Margaret Thatcher’s strategic purpose and David Cameron’s tactical manoeuvering – the way in which so much is done to get through today rather than plan for tomorrow, and rushed out for the short-term rather than consistently crafted for the long.
Tim is scarcely isolated in believing that there is a fundamental lack of seriousness about the Cameron project. Party membership has halved since the latter became leader, and not all of the losses are deaths and defections. Tim once wrote on this site about Ruth Lea’s decision to quit the Party, made because she believed that the leadership simply didn’t care about people like her. She and he are far from alone.
A casual reading of Tim’s article might lead one to conclude that because he admired Thatcher and doesn’t admire Cameron he wants a more right-wing party. But this is not the case as that term is usually understood. He is a consistent critic of UKIP and a campaigner for social justice. And it is here that I think a deeper reason for his leaving is to be found. Tim is a bit of a visionary: anyone who set up from scratch first the Conservative Christian Fellowship, then the Renewing One Nation project, then the Centre for Social Justice, and then this site deserves that description. But visionaries are not always comfortable people, since the vision tends to come first, last and always.
Less than a month ago, Tim was instrumental in helping to form a new lobby for social justice within the Conservative Parliamentary Party. Today, he is quitting the Party altogether. I suspect that what reconciles these apparent irreconcilables has been a slowly growing realisation that, even with a leadership election round the corner, the Conservatives will not become the party he wants them to be – what he once called the National Party.
He did so in a Times article about realignment. It may well be that, in his intuitive way, he senses that the EU referendum will mark a sea-change in British politics, leading to party rupture and regrouping. My take may be more blinkered, but I find his reasoning about Cameron’s renegotiation and referendum, a central part of his case for quitting, deeply puzzling. The former certainly has no substance, but the latter is real enough. Without the Prime Minister, we wouldn’t be having this referendum at all. If the British people vote to Remain – which I infer from Tim’s piece he believes that they will – that will be their decision (and fault) not Cameron’s.
Above all, I can’t help but read Tim’s exit as one of the many consequences of Lynton Crosby having scraped that majority for the Prime Minister last May. And while I agree with parts of his critique – which is about to be given further force by the power-grab from the centre being prepared for the Feldman Review – other parts of it seem harsh. I would place much more stress on the Government’s public service reforms (which he rightly praises).
Indeed, I suspect that historians will take a much more benign view of parts of Cameron’s record, seeing his premiership as opening up an extraordinary flowering of renewal: Michael Gove’s academies, Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare overhaul, Theresa May’s policing changes, Francis Maude’s streamlining of Whitehall, Chris Grayling’s work on rehabilitation (a point of continuity with his successor). For parts of this mission of change, Tim should take a bow himself. Have a look back at his Building a Majority series on this site, for example, and see how many of his ideas the leadership borrowed – from more political firepower for Ministers to making more use of MPs.
Ending a marriage doesn’t usually mean leaving one’s family altogether, and so it will be in this case. Tim will still be around to think, write, speak, and campaign. But he will know well that divorce is a big step to take, and is very seldom followed by shacking up with the same person all over again. I owe him a lasting debt: he created the timepiece that is ConservativeHome; his successor must merely strive to keep it in good condition. It is striking and somehow ominous that first the proprietor and now the founder of this site are estranged from the Conservative Party.