Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Truly The Heir To Blair

At least Peter Hitchens noticed the political story of the year:

This amazing story, a proper political scoop, was stuffed on a left-hand inside page of the 'Daily Telegraph' on Monday, when it ought to have been on the front in letters of fire. David Cameron has publicly wooed several Blairites, including a serving minister. He is clearly hoping to win their defections. I don't recall any party leader ever having acted so brazenly before, and I think the episode goes straight to the heart of modern British politics - the torch of Blairism being passed, over Gordon Brown's head, directly from the grinning one to his designated successor.

The main target for this grotesque love-bombing is Andrew 'Lord' Adonis, an education minister at the heart of the failed Blair strategy for schools, based on Stalinist centralisation, exhortation and pep-talks plus gimmicks and the usual fiddled statistics. Presumably the Tory Education spokesman, Michael Gove (who used to be quite sensible before he was sucked into the Cameroon vortex) approves of his leader's action and shares 'Lord' Adonis's views. Too bad if he doesn't, for Mr Cameron has now declared "I think there is one good education minister and that's Lord Adonis." So Mr Gove will jolly well have to think that too, or face the risk of being sacked by mobile phone.

Mr Cameron went on: "He (Adonis) is being steadily ruined by Ed Balls. I think Lord Adonis has been a force for good in education policy". It really is a bit unfair to blame Mr Balls, who arrived about five minutes ago, for ten whole years of educational fraud and failure - whereas Young Adonis has been loitering at the scene of the crime since 2005, and had been whispering in Anthony Blair's ear from 1998 onwards. During all that time, New Labour has pursued a destructively egalitarian education policy, furiously hostile to the one thing that could save state education - selection by ability.

Baron Adonis is one of Labour's large pull-up-the-ladder-behind-you tendency, having himself gone from a Camden council flat to a boarding school (which now charges £21,000 a year) on a state scholarship. This sort of thing was stamped out in one of the first actions of the Blair government - abolishing the assisted places scheme, something they got on with, with unusual efficiency and briskness, the moment they had the power to do so. Just think. If only his hero Anthony Blair had got into government a few years earlier, and Andrew Adonis had been born a few years later, Andrew Adonis would never have got his scholarship, and we'd probably never have heard of him.

But we have, and I wonder if we're going to hear more. Last summer, during a BBC Question Time in Aldershot, I had an interesting exchange with Boris Johnson, in which I suggested that the Tories were seeking Blairite defectors. Look it up (I think it's still on the web) and see what happened. See, above all, which name Boris Johnson came up with all by himself, after repeatedly and unsuccessfully demanding that I produce one. There was no come-back at the time from anyone.

Some think that the Tory mess over grammar schools last year was caused by a premature attempt to lure Andrew Adonis into his third political party in 20 years.

(I know, I can talk, but then I'm not a minister and nobody could accuse me of rambling round the centre ground, where, if you keep in a tight circle, you can easily belong to three different parties without once changing your opinions, much like the poor people of Sub-Carpathian Ukraine, who lived in several different countries in 60 years without once moving house.)

This attempt happened roughly when the then Tory education spokesman, David Willetts declared his love for the Adonis project of city academies, a point he rubbed in by formally, officially and finally declaring that the Tories would never save or restore the grammar schools. But at that stage, the Brown honeymoon was still on, to the enormous frustration of all those who had assumed there would be an immediate surge of horror at the departure of Mr Blair. Not all of those who thought and hoped this were Tories, or even political journalists anxious to cash in on the lunches they have been buying Tory frontbenchers for the past five years. Some quite senior Labour people at Mr Blair's last conference in Manchester had made it plain in private conversation that they rather hoped Mr Cameron would beat Mr Brown.

Now, after the media frenzy directed at Mr Brown (bought and swallowed by an amazing number of people) it seems quite possible to me that the Tory to New Labour defections of the Blair years will be mirrored by ones in the opposite direction. Mr Cameron clearly thinks so. And it isn't just Andrew Adonis (who has some experience of changing parties if he wishes to do it again, having been a Liberal Democrat councillor in Oxford for three years before 1991).

As the Telegraph 'interview' with Mr Cameron says: "Alan Milburn, the former Health Secretary, is also praised for making some "very sensible" comments on reforming public services."

Mr Cameron adds that the intellectual arguments used by Stephen Byers - another Blair minister - Mr Milburn and others for introducing more choice and private sector involvement in public services are being addressed by the Conservatives."

This 'interview' contains very little text explaining where it took place, or what questions were asked. But I don't get the impression that Mr Cameron was caught off his guard, or will be embarrassed that this message has gone out. He may even be quite pleased that it has been put on an inside page, where it will be spotted by those it is meant for, but where only a few of his tribal voters will see that he is signalling frantically over their heads to the Left he really loves.

For that is the real point here. Mr Cameron really does view himself as the continuation of Blair by other means, just as John Major was the precursor of Blairism. This blog is no enthusiast for Margaret Thatcher, but it is clear that neither Stephen Byers, nor Alan Milburn, nor Andrew Adonis, could have defected to a Tory Party led by Mrs Thatcher.

This was mainly for reasons of economic policy, as it happens, though Tory policies on such subjects as the sexual revolution were also, at that time, passively objectionable to left-liberals. I say passively because the Tories never actually did anything much to pursue those policies, but they at least pretended to hold them.

But since then there has been a colossal revolution in the Tory Party. It was engineered first by the Howard putsch (which elevated the pursuit of the 'centre ground' over any sort of principle or politics, as shown in the Howard Flight sacking) and then by the carefully-orchestrated creation of David Cameron. And it has shifted the Tories firmly and irreversibly into the left-liberal establishment. This explains the (otherwise inexplicable) fair treatment they now get from the BBC, and the genuine possibility of significant New Labour (and perhaps Liberal Democrat) defections in the near future.

No serious social, moral, political or economic conservative could wish for the success of such a strategy. If it does well at the next election (let alone wins it, which I still think highly unlikely), conservative principle will be almost completely squeezed out of parliament for the foreseeable future. And yet so many people think that the big political story at the moment is how Gordon Brown was upstaged by the Pope in New York, is in 'meltdown', scowls too much, isn't as twinkly as T.Blair, etc etc etc etc etc etc. Heaven help us, politics as soap opera. Do we get the leadership and the policies we deserve? Increasingly, I think so.

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