Benedict Rogers serves as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party
Human Rights Commission and was Conservative Parliamentary Candidate
for the City of Durham in the 2005 General Election. A human
rights activist and journalist, he argues that despite some rough seas David Cameron is on the right course.
There are wallies in all walks of life, and in all political parties –
but the Conservative Party appears to have its fair share of them.
What is it with some Conservatives? Do they not want to win? Do they
not know a good thing when they see it? Or do they just love the
merry-go-round of leadership elections, by-election disasters, General
Election slaughters and Comic Relief-worthy MPs? The jitteriness and
ill-discipline conspire to produce some Conservatives who are a bizarre
mix of Magic Roundabout and Monty Python.
In 2005, we elected a leader who for the first time in a decade gave the Party a real chance of winning the next election. The public like him – and that is a big deal for a party that has been hated for years. But it is not enough to be liked, of course – a leader, and a party, need to be trusted. And David Cameron has begun to win trust. For the first time in my life, a Tory leader was cheered not jeered by junior doctors. For the first time in my life, the Tories have been able to highlight the NHS as a major issue and not be derided for it. For the first time ever, it is the Conservatives who have made the running on the environment. And for the first time in a long time, my friends don’t look at me strangely when they find out I am a Tory.
There is a bizarre impatience on the part of some Tories. In some ways, maybe it is understandable, having been out of office for a decade. But it is immature. It is a bit like a kid on Christmas Day, waking in the early hours and seeing the stocking. Instead of patiently waiting until daybreak, when Mum and Dad allow him to open the stocking with them, he wants to open them all at once. Or, more crudely, it is like a child on a long car journey, who is unable to wait until the next service station – and pees all over the car.
Let me say this to my fellow Conservatives: for goodness sake pull yourselves together. I am utterly bemused by Quentin Davies’ defection. I am even more bemused by talk – admittedly in the more chronic wings of the lunatic asylum – of a change of leadership.
In 2005 I wrote an article, early on in the leadership election, on this site, entitled “If anyone can, Cameron can”. I wrote a previous article about Ken Clarke’s leadership bid, titled “Ken’s Big Idea is … Ken”. My views have not changed since then.
David Cameron has given us the best hope we have had in years. He is not perfect. I do not agree with him on everything. I felt the grammar schools issue was badly handled. I did not feel totally comfortable with the A-list based on race and gender, because I believe candidates should be chosen on merit and that class, race, gender and sexuality should be irrelevant, one way or the other – though I support entirely the need to promote a more diverse base of candidates, and to counter prejudice and discrimination. But despite these differences, Cameron has begun an absolutely crucial endeavour breathing new life into the Party, and getting the Party to address issues we were never previously associated with: social justice and the environment. At last, I do not feel alone in speaking about human rights, poverty and compassion. At last, there are openings for compassionate conservatism to be taken seriously. At last, I do not feel an oddity being a human rights activist and a Tory.
Of course there is a long way to go. But that is precisely the point. People like Quentin Davies claim that Cameron lacks principles, ideas, convictions and policies. But Davies did not wait for the policy groups to report on their recommendations, nor did he wait to hear Cameron’s response to those recommendations, before defecting.
Changing a political party from the inside is not easy. It involves several stages:
- We are only just on stage one – trying to change attitudes, tone, emphasis, image.
- Stage two is setting out a very clear vision.
- Stage three is developing policies based on that vision, those principles, beliefs and attitudes.
- And stage four is communicating the policies in a tone that people relate to, in a way that will win the next election.
And while I am as suspicious of ‘pr’ and spin and as desiring of substance as anyone else, I recognise that in order to be listened to in the country, we have to complete stages one and two. Until recently we were doing very well at this – and we have been on course to move to stages three and four.
So I say to the kids in the party who can’t hold on and want to pee all over the carpet: you’re adults now. You’re no longer delinquents in perpetual opposition. You have some responsibility. Grow up, don’t blow up.
And I say to my friends who are more sensible, but who are itching for substance: be patient. Work behind the scenes. Talk to Cameron’s people. Put forward ideas. Flesh out the vision. But stick with it.
I am confident that our ship is following the right course. It has hit rough seas, and will encounter more storms ahead. We might have to throw some unwanted cargo overboard. Maybe a few of the crew will jump. But, even when I don’t agree with the captain about absolutely everything, in general he has got it right, and I am staying on board. A modern, compassionate Conservatism is not only right for our times – it is right for me, it is what I argued for as far back as 1997 BC (Before Cameron), and it is what I will continue to fight for.