This is Michael Gove MP’s latest blog from the Cameron Camp. Paul Goodman MP is posting from the Davis campaign.
In every Tory leadership election since 1990 its been the candidates’
relationship to Margaret Thatcher which has been decisive. But this contest has been different. The frame of reference against which the candidates are now judged is Tony Blair. It may seem ironic that just as Blair’s hegemony over Labour is crumbling, he should be exercising an influence over our leadership election. But how the two candidates have reacted to the Blair factor has been revealing.
From the moment he expressed an interest in standing for the leadership, David Cameron has been compared to Blair by some commentators. The frequency with which the comparison was made at the beginning really revealed only two things. Firstly, the limited historical horizons within which contemporary commentators work. And second, the fact that David Cameron is almost the same age now as Tony Blair was when he became Leader of the Opposition.
On the first point, it is a feature of current political journalism that historical comparisons now don’t reach much further back than 1979. The path the Conservatives have to take back to power is only ever compared with Labour’s journey in the eighties and nineties. So any new Conservative leader is automatically compared only to Foot, Kinnock, Smith or Blair And Blair’s own travails now are only ever really compared to Thatcher’s or Major’s.
I myself reject the superficiality of comparisons between what modern Conservatives have to do, and what new Labour did. At the risk of superficiality myself, Labour’s problems lay in the failure of social democratic ideas in the Seventies, whereas we suffer from some of the consequences of too long a period of success.
If we are to look to history for lessons, then I think we would be better employed looking at how the Conservative party recovered after its defeats in 1905/6, and 1945. And I would commend to all readers of this blog David Willetts’s pamphlet for the CPS, published a good four years ago now, on the party’s differing responses to those challenges.
But if we are to consider recent history the most telling lesson is how much new Labour are prisoners of their on past. Both Blair and Brown are politicians framed by the struggles of Labour in the Seventies and Eighties. That’s one of the reasons for their attachment to European integration. Support for the European cause was the defining mark of moderation for any Labour politician during the party’s Bennite days and even as the European argument has changed, to vindicate scepticism, the Labour leadership still clings to an out-dated model of European development.
The Conservative Party should learn from the dangers of adopting positions struck during different times, when we faced a very different set of challenges. We need to show we have the answers for the emerging problems of the twenty-first century. And that is where I think David Cameron has shown his mettle, in identifying as issues for the next Government, social fracture and family breakdown, environmental degradation and urban regeneration, the need for a pro-growth economic policy to counter global competition, the requirement for an energy policy insulated from short-term shocks and the pressing need for a security policy which apprecaites the scale of the Islamist terror threat.
David Cameron’s emphasis on the long-term is a key point of difference between him and Blair. It’s not the only one, as his speech on Thursday night and article in Sunday’s Telegraph make clear. DC is a natural emancipator whereas TB is an instinctive controller, DC is temperamentally allergic to making policy just to catch headlines, TB loves eye-catching initiatives with which he can be personally associated. DC is a Tory in his DNA. TB has always had an uncomfortable relationship with his party.
But while DC is a wholly different political animal from Blair I want to declare a particular interest. I am happy to concede, personally, that I still see some things to admire in the Prime Minister. And I must stress these are Gove views, not Cameron’s not Osborne’s, and, so far as I know, no-one else’s.
As I wrote in the Times during the run-up to the Iraq War, I think Blair’s role in the War on Terror deserves much more praise than condemnation, I think his instincts on the need to reform the public sector are not ignoble and I believe the impact his private faith has on his political outlook is likely to be a force for good, not a reason for mockery.
I also think Blair has a talent for communicating complex ideas in language which resonates outside the Westminster village. And I sympathise with him in his efforts to do the best by his family in a prurient age.
Of course there are aspects of Blairism, not least its sententious nannying and its disdain for our history, which profoundly irritate me. But I think politics is better when we are honest about both difference, and agreement.
You don’t need to believe your opponent is wrong in every particular to want to defeat him, and indeed if we continually exaggerate the Government’s faults we only end up making ourselves look less impressive.
The best thing we as a party can do towards Blair is do what the country is doing, move on, recognising he’s part of the past. Our task is to show that Conservative ideas respond best to the challenges our people will face in the next ten years. Using market mechanisms to liberating individuals to do good, freeing countries from outdated trans-national structures to improve our world, respecting the dignity of all by resisting the itch to control and regiment, restoring politics to a human scale, these are our values.
It’s time we put them to work on shaping our future.