Monday, June 11, 2007

Every Prime Minister needs a Willie Johnny

The education debate within the Tory Party does not bode well for the further conflicts ahead over policy. By itself, it was a slight squall in a cappucino cup and nothing more, but Cameron has been wounded by it - by no means fatally, but it has been a little scarring. In a deviation from the Tony Blair 'How to Reform Your Party' book, Cameron backed down in the face of his parliamentary party, despite the resignation (before he was sacked) of a junior shadow minister. Even then, other front benchers - Dominic Grieve, for example - were allowed to modify what seemed a clear-cut policy on the fly, without any sanction being imposed. The only message that can be drawn from this is that Cameron lacks the muscle to deliver on the controversial issues. When the opportunity came to demonstrate that the changes in the party were root and branch, he flunked the test.

In conversation with a friend of mine this week, he pointed out the real reason for the Tory education crisis - that Cameron doesn't have a Prescott to act as his wingman. Now before the Tory visitors get all caught up in abuse from the Tory commentators over secretaries and croquet and other items of fluff and frivolity, hear this out.

You see, Prescott has been a vital part of the government for the past decade. Not only has he mediated between Brown and Blair when that relationship was somewhat strained - to be be delicate about it - but Prescott has also acted as the outrider for the Blair/Brown political operation. Whenever things looked difficult, it was Prescott who had the clout and the background to keep the other Labour stakeholders - chiefly the unions, but also the party itself - broadly in line. It is wrong to portray him as some sort of enforcer, but he has the credibility with those players that made the difference. The real problems for Cameron occurred when he was on holiday, when party discipline seemed to fall apart. When Cameron's around, things seem solid enough, but the press will leap on any dissent and it seems likely that there will be more - the failure of Cameron to deal effectively with his dissenters may make it more likely.

Without a credible Cameron loyalist holding the ring for him - someone who has the ability to work with the right wingers and can convince them of the need to back the leadership. It also has to be someone that the Cameroons can trust - somebody who has no desire to replace Dave. Liam Fox or David Davies should probably stepping forward to do the job for the sake of their party, as they are probably the men best-qualified for the role, but have either of them surrendered their leadership ambitions?

As the Cameroon revolution spins onwards, we can expect to see real policies emerge and some of those won't necessarily follow traditional Tory principles. I understand that we can expect to see the first fruits of this policy process as soon as the autumn. The party in the country and in the House won't always buy them at first opportunity, but Cameron knows that he needs to keep the image going to ensure that all those middle-ground swing voters buy the campaign and bring their lovely, lovely votes across to the Tory Party. The events of the past couple of weeks suggest that this process might not be as smooth as might be expected.


snowflake5 said...

Very good post. It was John Prescott who got the Clause 4 abolition through during that Labour conference.

Of course, I suppose we ought to apply the same "outrider" test to the deputy leadership candidates. What are your thoughts on this?

Praguetory said...

Nice post, but I really don't think that DC needs to be that controversial. By the way I've tagged you to give a Lefties' view on what you'd like from the Brown premiership.