By Tim Montgomerie
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I don't know quite what he meant by it but Tory MP and climate change minister Greg Barker is quoted in today's Telegraph warning the party against adopting UKIP's “swivel-eyed rhetoric”. Perhaps he meant some of the rude speeches made by Nigel Farage? Anyhow, I agree with Iain Dale that it's not a sensible way of winning back Tory-to-UKIP defectors. I made clear in my Times piece last Wednesday that I'm no fan of UKIP but because "kindness effects more than severity" I prefer Aesop's sun to wind in winning UKIP's voters back to the Conservative fold.
"Swivel-eyed" or "foaming-at-the-mouth" are often terms thrown at Eurosceptics – usually by people on the Left. Anyhow, this morning, I thought I'd briefly examine some of the common arguments that Tory über-modernisers throw at their internal critics when they want to insist that their path is the only path…
- Eurosceptics and the Tory Right are swivel-eyed. Getting this one out of the way first. Eurosceptics have largely been vindicated about the EU. Do we really think the Common Agricultural or Fisheries Policies are triumphs? That the red tape and welfare spending of the European model has nothing to do with the continent's relative and relentless decline? If anyone is swivel-eyed it's the €uro enthusiasts who have condemned much of the currency area to high unemployment and impossible debts. The "swivel-eyed" Right have actually been vindicated on many of the big issues of our times – including immigration, debt and, I predict, Mr Barker, climate change.
- Right-wing policies failed at the 2001 and 2005 elections. Did they really? Defeats in 2001 and 2005 had nothing to do with the ascendancy of the Left across nearly all of Europe? Or the skills of our generation's most gifted politician*, Tony Blair? Or the boom in the UK economy? It's silly to blame Right-wing policies for defeats in 01 and 05 and, in any case, five years ago Andrew Lilico did a good job at wondering how 'Conservative' and reforming the party really was at those two elections.
- Don't lurch to the Right. Is it a lurch to the Right to adopt traditional policies on Europe, crime, tax, immigration and welfare? Because, if it is, 60% to 75% of the British people are Right-wing lurchers because they agree with repatriating powers from Europe… sending more repeat offenders to jail… cutting the taxes of the low-paid… restricting immigration… reducing welfare bills… etc etc.
- Mainstream Conservatives want to abandon the centre ground and aren't interested in appealing to Lib Dem and Labour voters. Apparently you can't talk about immigration and international development or family values and respect gay people or worry about the EU and worry about poverty. I reject that. If we are to be a successful party we need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Our aim shouldn't be a narrow understanding of the centre ground but a big vision of the common ground. It's not simple but it's what makes the difference between a good leader and a great one. This is what I wrote in the Mail on Sunday, earlier this year:
"The Conservative Party needs to be tough on crime, determined to cut tax for ordinary families and control immigration – but it also has to be so much more. It needs to guard the NHS as one of Britain’s greatest and most-loved institutions. It needs to look after pensioners and ensure the wealthy pay a full share. This isn’t Right-wing or Left-wing. It’s a determination to occupy not a part of the political stage, but all of it."
One of the great weaknesses of the Liberal Conservative project is that it worries too much about the opinion of the commentariat and not enough about opinion beyond the 'beltway' ofthe Westminster village. The No2AV campaign – universally derided by the pundits – triumphed and proved yet again that market research and not Big Society-style hunches should lead Tory strategy. This precoocupation with elite opinion led Project Cameron to focus too much on the gender and ethnicity of candidates and not enough on their regional identity and social class. Too much about climate change and not enough about electricity bills. Too much about civil liberties and not enough about public safety. In recent years Mainstream or Right-wing Tories (Michael Gove on schooling, IDS on social justice, John Redwood on practical environmentalism, Bill Cash on third world debt, Mark Pritchard on animal welfare etc etc) have done much of the modernising. When the Liberal Conservatives stop misrepresenting all of these things (attacking, for example, the caricatured Tea Party Tories) the real argument about winning the next election could take off.
* Please note that I wrote "gifted politician" not "gifted PM".