Jackie Ashley – wrtiting in this morning’s Guardian – thinks that "the centre-left has finally achieved what New Labour used to talk about, and become dominant – not just in one party but in all three of them":
"Parties may be congregating on the centre ground but the right in Britain has virtually collapsed. That truth has been hidden by the spectacular media love-in for David Cameron, and the (modest) revival in Tory fortunes now that the party is led by an affable young moderate. But I cannot be the only one beginning to wonder whether Cameron knows what he is doing – and what he has already, in part, achieved. He may be slightly more of an electoral threat to Labour. But he is no ideological threat of any kind, not now.
Blair had to face, in the Tory party of Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard, an opponent making much of immigration, Europe, the evil of higher taxes – and Labour flinched time and again in response. Now we have Cameron, promising that the real test is how much Tory policies "help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich", and asserting "it is our moral obligation to make poverty history". He has shut up about immigration. He has shut up about Europe. He has shut up about cutting taxes."
There is, of course, much truth to Ms Ashley’s words. Even before David Cameron became Tory leader, the Conservative Party had already accepted much of New Labour’s reforms: the minimum wage, devolution to Edinburgh, Bank of England independence and much greater public spending. David Cameron has accepted more changes – most notably a cautious approach to tax. During the same period the Tories have also had an impact on New Labour, however. Governing by proxy the Tories have forced the government to become more Eurosceptic, tougher on crime and tougher on immigration – all for fear of allowing the Conservatives to have a monopoly on those core issues.
It is also a bit of a stretch for Ms Ashley to maintain that the very fact that the Tories are talking about social justice and international poverty is a victory for the centre left. It will only become a victory if Team Cameron end up with policies that mimic the centre left. That hopefully won’t happen. IDS – chairing David Cameron’s social justice policy group – is likely to emphasise support for marriage, welfare reform and a much bigger role for community-based social enterprise. Peter Lilley – chairing the globalisation policy group – is an instinctive free marketeer and will probably emphasise trade as the best hope for the world’s poorest and hungriest people.
The commitment to police reform is also a sign that David Cameron is willing to tackle vested interests and some see his support for tuition fees as more in tune with an authentic conservative belief that users should co-pay for the services they consume.
It is true, however, that David Cameron appears reluctant to invest his political capital in persuading the public of the need to, for example, reduce the burden of tax on British business or reverse the transfer of more and more powers to Brussels. That work will need to be done by groups outside of the Conservative Party. It is one of the great weaknesses of the British political scene that the conservative infrastructure is so weak compared to that which nourishes America’s Republican Party. The conservative infrastructure of think tanks, campaigning groups, blogs and other new media can play a vital role in preparing public acceptance of difficult, but necessary, reforms. In the face of hostility from the current liberal-left establishment the Tory Party can’t be expected to do all of the work itself.