Cameron: a different class

There’s also an interesting comment piece in the Mail (sorry!) by Tim Montgomerie from Conservative Home.

I usually find all the navel-gazing from unelected wonks and self-appointed ‘experts’ rather tedious, and often highly inaccurate. I don’t have a clue what the dynamics are around the Shadow Cabinet table, and I know every single one of its members personally, and talk to most of them frequently, but that doesn’t seem to stop people far removed from the corridors of power expressing with great confidence their ‘inside’ take on what’s going on.

Tim Montgomerie, however, is far better-connected than most and probably does have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. His analysis today is that Cameron misjudged it when he tried to rebrand the Tories. He thought the problem was that the party was too right-wing, too male, too white, and took action to remedy this. But he was wrong. Here’s what TM has to say:

“Cameron’s experience led him to the conclusion that there was something wrong with the Tory brand. But it was at this point  he took the wrong turn. He misdiagnosed the brand problem.

His error is encapsulated in how he set about changing the make-up of the party’s list of candidates.  Out went white men in pinstripe suits.  In came black women in outfits that would have looked good on Milan’s catwalks. I exaggerate and simplify, but you get the idea. 

The under-representation of women and ethnic minorities was a real problem, but the excessive emphasis on these dimensions of the Conservative Party’s lack of diversity was revealing of how Cameron and his advisers thought. 

Swapping a white lawyer for a black lawyer, or a rich City banker in a tie for a rich City banker in a skirt, wasn’t real change. Real change would have seen the party recruit gritty Northern candidates; people from outside the world of politics who had come up through grammar and comprehensive schools; people who couldn’t afford an outfit that would  look good on the cover of Tatler or GQ. 

In other words, the Tory problem was class.

Cameron thought people looked at the Conservative Party and saw a party that was too Right-wing, too male, too white. 

Many did, but that wasn’t the core problem. The core problem was that voters looked at the Conservative Party and saw  people who didn’t understand what it was like to worry about running out of money before pay day arrived.

Many things that Cameron then did reinforced that perception. His enthusiasm for renewable energy increased all of our electricity bills. 

His disdain for things such as CCTV cut him off from families on crime-ridden estates for whom such cameras are not a restriction on freedom but an essential protection. 

Cameron promised to focus more on happiness and less on economic growth. A fine sentiment if you are already comfortably off. Not very attractive if you can’t afford to replace the broken boiler.”

It strikes me that this is spot on. And actually, the Tories do have some genuine MPs from working-class backgrounds in Parliament, who loathe the Cameroons. You could call it chip-on-your-shoulder Conservatism, but there are definitely some who feel that they’re excluded from the inner circle because they’re not rich enough, not posh enough, not sophisticated enough. But it’s more than that. They feel the policies are wrong too. Andrew Percy rebelling on tuition fees and EMA is a good example. Philip Davies is another. The Cameroons would not doubt point to the existence of Eric Pickles and Baroness Warsi in the Cabinet as ‘proof’ that this isn’t true, but the fact remains, the top of the Party is overwhelmingly extremely wealthy, expensively-educated and well-connected.

And now I’m starting to sound just like one of those people I decry at the beginning of this post, so I will desist. I will just point people to yet another piece in today’s Mail on Sunday, describing in glorious detail a Tory party fundraising ball which has just taken place. Auction prizes included a day shooting game birds (£55,000) and frankly hideous 19″ bronze statue of Margaret Thatcher (£120,000). At Labour ‘posh’ fundraisers we auction Manchester Utd shirts signed by Sir Alex Ferguson, and books signed by Alastair Campbell. Signed copies of the Minimum Wage Act also go down well too.

If all goes to plan in the next few months I’m bulk-ordering copies of the Health and Social Care Bill, to be signed by Andy Burnham, John Healey et al… The Minimum Wage Bill, brought in by Labour. The Health and Social Care Bill, brought down by Labour. We hope.

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  • Stephen  On February 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Meanwhile Labour in Westminster gets more and more Oxbridge – and more and more privately educated with every new intake… the Tories might well have a problem with class – but they are hardly unique…

  • kerrymccarthy  On February 12, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    People say that but is it true? Maybe on the frontbench, but it if you look at the 2010 intake it includes people like Steve Rotheram, Chris Williamson, Ian Lavery, Michael McCann, Graeme Morrice, Graham Morris, John Cryer… that’s just off the top of my head, there are plenty more.

    Yes, there will be more that are uni-educated as more people go to uni these days, and Oxbridge is definitely a fast route to getting to the top (and I don’t think it should be) but I don’t think there are that many who are privately-educated. I think there have always been posh people in the Labour Party – Tony Benn was pretty posh, and his sidekick in the 1980s, Michael Meacher – but I think there is still a sizeable working class element. I just think people don’t see it because we don’t have the likes of John Prescott and Alan Johnson in top positions right now.

  • Quietzaple  On February 12, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Cameron is tempering a Tory version of the Blair/Brown Project with his vision of what his Tory JP mother thinks best.

    Thus his take on the riots when he returned on their third day from one of his six spring/Sumer holidays last year.

    Ware cannon to disperse street gangs about as naive a Dully Maul view as one could find.

    And gays, women and ethnic minorities must be promoted, rather as Lord Longford used to give up his seat on the tube to “black men” in the 1960s.

    Tis cynical too, but very Islington for the obvious reason: he and Osborne are N London folk.

  • Mark Worgan  On February 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Another point to make is that even if Labour MPs are posh, Oxbridge educated and have come up the SpAd route, they will still have to attend constiuency events and mix with people who may have many different experiences in life.

    Now of course Tories in marginals will likely do the same, although not quite to the extent of Labour ones, but if like Cameron you went Eton, Oxford, Conservative Research Dept, PR man, MP for Witley, you’re unlikely to have had to deal with a room of people who think you’re a posh carpetbagger and convince them that you understand them. Instead with Cameron you get a pained expression and lack of understanding how anyone could dislike him when he’s so ‘modern’ and nice.

    That’s not to say that they don’t try, or that there aren’t working class Tories, but that it’s not in an MPs job requirement until you try and win broader support and so understanding is less instinctive. Cameron showed this by unimaginitively copying Blair’s actions rather than addressing his own problems.

  • Stephen  On February 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    “People say that but is it true?” Errrr yes. 15% of Labour MPs elected in 2010 were privately educated. 20% were educated at Oxbridge. Given the pool of applicants admitted to Oxbridge – it’s not a wild speculation that there will be a fair overlap there.

    “Maybe on the frontbench” – I find the idea that it’s merely the front bench who are drawn from a class based elite as (possibly more) unsettling than their increasing density in the PLP as a whole.

    Delighted that you don’t think Oxbridge should be a fast route to the top. Would be v interested in hearing any ideas you have about how that could be achieved.

  • Paul Bemmy Down  On February 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Every candidate for the leadership went to Oxbridge. How many in the party trained as lawyers or worked in the media, or worked in the offices of other MP’s. My perseption is quite a few. How wrong am I?

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