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NicholasbolesIn last month’s Prospect Magazine Robin Harris explained why he was unimpressed with David Cameron:

"It was predictable, of course, that Cameron should use his first public speech as leader to distance himself from Margaret Thatcher. New Tory leaders generally do — and then ask for her help in fundraising. But Cameron has gone further than that. He has systematically repositioned the party to the left…"

Cameroonian policies on tax, grammar schools, public service reform and redistribution all concerned Mr Harris, a key aide to Mrs T when she was in Downing Street.  Nicholas Boles – of Policy Exchange and a key ally of David Cameron – has responded this month.  (Unlike for Mr Harris’ article you need a Prospect subscription to access Nicholas Boles’ piece.)

NB believes that Mrs Thatcher was much more pragmatic than her disciples of today give her credit for…

"In
1979, one of the key issues for the Tory right was Rhodesia. Julian
Amery received a foot-stomping ovation at the Conservative party
conference when he demanded the lifting of sanctions on Ian Smith’s
regime and no negotiations with terrorists. The new prime minister
ignored him and did a deal with Mugabe. On issue after issue, from
immigration to Northern Ireland, the right-wing prescription was
ignored. After the Brixton riots in 1981, the right expected a
clampdown. Instead they got the Scarman report.

The main purpose of the Thatcher government was to sort out
Britain’s failing economy. But even here, conviction was tempered by
realism.  Why, after all these years, is letter delivery still in state
hands?  Why did the tax burden not fall to US levels under Thatcher’s
leadership? This was the woman who said, "The NHS is safe in our
hands"—and meant it."

Margaret Thatcher’s
tactical flexibility was, of course, deployed in the service and
context of the Herculean struggles that she was engaged in – reforming
the unions, taming inflation, deploying Trident, retaking the
Falklands.  She compromised on Brixton and the NHS etc because she
couldn’t do everything.  What will David Cameron’s Herculean struggles
be?  Police reform – we must hope – might be one.

If today’s Thatcherites misunderstand Thatcherism as it was practised, Nicholas Boles thinks Mr Harris misinterprets ‘Cameron-ism’:

  • Cameron is not anti-business but concerned that the interests
    of big businesses – that can, for example, absorb Brownian regulation
    levels – do not swamp small businesses.
  • "Harris says that Cameron’s support for the NHS means that he must
    see private provision in health as "morally discreditable." No. He
    simply believes that taxpayers should not subsidise people who go
    private."
  • "Similarly, Harris says that Cameron has "rejected tax cuts as a
    threat to economic stability." No. He has just stated that, like
    Geoffrey Howe, Thatcher’s first chancellor, he recognises that economic
    stability is the overriding priority and that tax cuts should happen
    only when they are consistent with it.""

But back to David Cameron… For Nicholas Boles the key strength of the current Tory leader is "in the zeitgeist:"

"[David
Cameron] understands how Britain has changed. He knows that the
challenge to the Tory party is not ideological but attitudinal. In
1945, as in 1979, there were huge shifts in the zeitgeist. Just as
Attlee’s administration, with its creation of the welfare state, was
followed by a long period of Tory rule, so Thatcher’s transformation of
our society has been softened by Blair with a greater focus on the poor
and social cohesion."

Attitudes to the
Conservative Party are important.  The party does need to get rid of
residual hatefulness to minorities, for example.  We need to shed the
idea that we are only the party of the privileged and strong.  David
Cameron and Nicholas Boles are right to say that ‘it’s hard to get your
ideology heard if people don’t like you’ but people aren’t
necessarily going to like you if they don’t know what you stand for.
At some decisive point in ‘Project Cameron’ we are going to need to
find ways of energising the striving and other voters that Mrs Thatcher won with her council house sales policy and housewife economics (see Iain Murray’s Platform essay).  It’s simply not enough to look nice and cuddly – although it’s certainly a big improvement on being selfish and angry.

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