The news that ten MPs who’d supported Liam Fox are now backing David Cameron is important not just because it gives David the backing a majority of MPs but also because it signals the breadth of the emerging alliance for change across the party.
During the earlier stages of the leadership campaign some observers tried to pigeonhole the candidates into boxes marked Left and Right. Not only was the exercise unfair to the complexity and depth of all the candidates’ positions, it also glossed over what I considered to be one of the most interesting dynamics in the race – the overlap between the Fox and Cameron positions and the coincidence in the agenda of many of their supporters.
I write as a Cameron supporter from the beginning of this race who also admires people who’ve been in all the leadership campaigns (indeed I am a particular fan of Nick Herbert, David Willetts, Greg Clark and Paul Goodman to name just a few of DD’s impressive supporters).
But nevertheless I found myself increasingly admiring, and agreeing with, many of the arguments put forward by Liam and his supporters throughout this race. Readers of this blog will know that I was delighted to be able to support the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s drive to put human rights at the heart of Conservative Foreign Policy [see PS to this post]. But in my view there is a broader convergence, beyond simply my views, which marks out the Cameron view and the Fox approach as closely aligned. Both candidates have been particularly energetic in arguing for a changed approach to the way in which the Conservative party responds to the new challenges of the 21st century. And I’d like to list just a few below.
(1) Foreign Policy should be Idealist not Realist.
LF’s position here is clear, brave and admirable. DC has also made the need to engage ethically with the rest of the world central to his foreign affairs vision, supporting the Fox view that Tory foreign policy should embrace a commitment to tackling terror, tyranny and the lack of freedom across the globe, not just in those nations where the UK has an “historic” interest. This view of Foreign Policy, which treats Darfur as a more urgent issue even than Zimbabwe, both speaks to a new generation of idealists and is true to the party’s best traditions.
2. Let’s not wobble on the war.
LF deserves great credit for his robust defence of the liberation of Iraq in his party conference speech. It was brave and right. DC has made the case for staying the course in his speech to the FPC and emphasised the folly of opportunistically sniping at the Government when it runs into trouble, but is basically trying to do the right thing. Of course Blair has made many mistakes in Foreign Policy but both LF and DC see the danger in giving any quarter to those who wish the worst on the West.
3. We need a more meritocratic Britain. But that still isn’t enough to heal our broken society.
Both LF and DC have emphasised that our society needs to be more open to talent. But both have also shown they understand that there are many in our society whose needs go beyond just an extension of opportunity. LF’s focus on the mentally ill, and DC’s emphasis on special needs education, are just two examples of their campaigns’ focus on the requirement to help those whose vulnerabilities hold them back from full participation in our society. LF has won support from charities and voluntary bodies for his championing of those left behind. And DC has a long track record of supporting those organisations dedicated to helping the marginalised live with dignity. Some Tories have, in the past, given the impression that all we need to do is remove the barriers to success for “the hard-working” or “strivers” to do our duty by society. LF and DC recognise that social justice demands a commitment to provide support for those who are genuinely disadvantaged.
4. Don’t be afraid of the market.
Both LF and DC recognise that the younger voters have grown up knowing how market mechanisms work, and accepting the role they can play in improving our lives. DC, unlike DD, recognises that resources in higher education will only be allocated rationally if we accept a more market-based system building on top-up fees. Its an insight most younger conservatives instinctively grasp. DD’s opposition to tuition fees, like Michael Howard’s own scepticism, reflects a generational gap. LF is on the same side as that gap as DC. During his time as party chairman he identified a huge potential reservoir of support for the party among those younger voters who had grown up knowing, understanding, and appreciating the liberating power of markets. But these Britons’ experience of the Tory party over the last few years has left them with the impression that we are opportunistic and crusty rather than dynamic and open. Both DC and LF have tried, in their approach, to directly address this problem.
5. Modernising doesn’t mean going soft – it means recognising how the world has changed.
Of all the leadership contenders only LF and DC wanted to properly modernise our European policy. Both recognised that the historic link we had with the EPP was just that – historic. We need to be able to make the case for pro-market, pro-nation state, Atlanticist policies clearly in Europe as well as at home. The challenges of the next century – from global competition to international fundamentalist terror – will not be faced effectively if we defer to positions adopted by continental politicians who are trying to defend an outdated settlement. Modernising our party means modernising our relationships in Europe – something both LF and DC instinctively understood.
Of course there are many people who were attracted to Liam’s candidacy who won’t vote for David Cameron. Their platforms overlap, they’re not identical. But the nature of the overlap is instructive. Both the Fox and Cameron candidacies have been attempts to move the party out of traditional trenches into a closer engagement with the modern world. They’ve both combined a compassionate approach towards the most vulnerable in our society, and across the globe, with tough-mindedness about international challenges. And I believe that a party which makes effective use of both their talents will have forged a powerful alliance for change.