In an article for this morning’s Telegraph David Cameron attempts to reassure ‘core voters’ that he is a "true Conservative." He writes at a time when some of the party’s leading Thatcherites are warming to UKIP. The Telegraph reveals that former Tory Treasurer Stanley Kalms is considering voting for Nigel Farage and his out-of-the-EU message. "The option remains open for me, and Tories that I know, to vote UKIP," Lord Kalms told The Telegraph. Stuart Wheeler, the man who gave £5m to Tory coffers in 2001, has held talks with UKIP’s leader and may give the party money.
A lot of David Cameron’s article contains things that any politician could say. Who could disagree with the aspiration for a "stronger economy, well-educated children and lower crime"? But there are a few more specific reassurances that, Mr Cameron believes, put some distance between Tories and Gordon Brown:
- Civil liberties: "Under my leadership, we have opposed ID cards and will replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights that better protects both our security and our freedom."
- Family life: "I have made the strongest commitment to supporting the family and marriage that any Conservative leader has made for a generation."
- Lower taxation: "It is why we are pledged to share the proceeds of economic growth between public services and lower taxes, thereby ensuring that over time the state takes a smaller share of national wealth."
- Defence: "It is why we support the replacement of Britain’s nuclear deterrent and have led the campaign for better conditions for Forces families."
- Euroscepticism: "It is why we will restore Britain’s opt-out from the European Social Chapter, and it is why we have announced our withdrawal from the federalist European People’s Party."
Mr Cameron’s article is at its most interesting in its interpretation of Thatcherism. Accusing UKIP defector Tim Congdon of painting a false picture of what Mrs Thatcher achieved, the Tory leader writes:
"Commentators such as Tim Congdon seem to have forgotten much of what Mrs Thatcher said and did. It was Mrs Thatcher who launched the Scarman inquiry in 1981 in an attempt to understand the alienation of young black men. And it was Mrs Thatcher who launched modern environmental politics with her Royal Society speech in 1988. The reduction of Thatcherism into a sort of laissez-faire libertarianism does not do justice to her record. She was animated by a vision of the good society – a vision obscured by decades of economic dirigisme and cultural relativism. The task she set herself was to restore not only personal liberty in economic matters, but also a sense of duty, respect and moral obligation in social matters. I, too, am animated by a vision of the good society. What I call social responsibility – responsibility to family and community, nation and planet – is as central to my politics as economic liberalism."
It is certainly true that Margaret Thatcher believed in more than capitalism. She was and is a social conservative who, in her autobiography, talked about her unfinished work to renew the family and tackle crime. David Cameron’s vision of social responsibility – to be developed at a special conference in London today – is consistent with Thatcherism. Where David Cameron will need to do more to reassure free market Tories is that he has the steel to reverse the tax and regulatory burdens with which Gordon Brown is slowly undoing the Thatcherite legacy.