Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bad grammar

For a while last week, I thought that Cameron had found his Clause IV moment - the point where he proved to the swing voters that he was prepared to stand up against the dinosaurs in his own party.

I'm not sure that this was the right issue. Sure, nobody really believes that a Tory government would introduce hundreds of selective schools - just as nobody really believed that a post-1983 Labour government would start a programme of glorious renationalisation of Thatcher's privatised industries. Like Clause IV, this was a policy more honoured in the breach than in the observance, but it was vaguely reassuring to Tory supporters in the same way that many of them liked knowing that One Man and his Dog was on telly, but never actually felt the need to watch it. On the other hand, isn't it possible that offering an expansion of grammar schools might actually appeal to the chattering classes and to the upwardly mobile members of the working class, evoking memories of when the grammar school really did offer mobility within class barriers, rather than the middle-class enclaves that they have now become? The other catch with this policy shift is that there are a fair few Tory heartlands with popular grammar school systems and talking down these local schools does not go down well with local voters.

It hasn't been well-handled though and has simply promoted an image of a divided Tory party. This is by no means fatal and if the perception can be controlled, then Cameron may yet come out strengthened in the public's view, but it is looking shaky at the moment. The resignation of a shadow minister that nobody had ever heard of could have been said to serve the purpose of demonstrating Cameron's resolve, but the promise by another senior spokesman today that, despite promises of no more grammar schools, areas that currently have them may be allowed to open more has made Cameron look as though he is indecisive on the issue.

That indecision is the problem for Cameron. Standing up to his party or just giving in are positions that are more easily defensible. Trying to tough it out and then rolling over just makes him look weak and if that occurs on other issues still to come to the fore, then he run. Allied with the fact that he's just gone off on holiday, with this row still rumbling on and you have to question the unity at the top of the party. If this is what happens over a policy change that has been in place for over a year, what's going to happen when Cameron faces up to the other policy changes to come?

And then, with trumpets, they hire the former editor of the News of the World - the weekly comic for those obssessed with the sex lives of the famous and the not-so-famous - as their director of communications. Labour had Alistair Campbell and the Tories even manage to find someone with the same initials - Andy Coulson. Andy is available after he had to resign his newspaper job following a court case involving the royal correspondent, a dodgy private detective and access to the mobile phone messages of senior royals. What a fine choice for the new Tory party.

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