Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Notting Hill Set

I think my previous posts here have probably made it quite clear that the cadre of professional politicians leaves me cold. Today I want to investigate the the Tory "Notting Hill Set" - supposedly the next generation coming to sweep the Conservative Party back to power. In many ways, they are the embodiment of the political class which I spoke of in the linked post. And this is why I really don't think that they will make a significant impact on British politics for a while.

Can anyone tell me what David Cameron's vision for the country is? If anything, he's right alongside Michael Howard, the key ally of the Notting Hill Set in the party - indeed, he was the strategist behind the manifesto. It's through looking at the manifesto that we can see exactly why the modernisers are doomed to fail.

There isn't a coherent vision for Britain in that document. Yes, it promises better management - but that doesn't get people excited in elections. Moreover, it suggests that there is little wrong with Britain, and that we can plug along as we are, just with a few more policemen and hospital cleaners to make sure our services are running along just fine. I beg to differ. Our education system is a mess, and guarantees neither universally high standards nor genuine development of the individual. Our health service is excellent - but only in some areas. Simply living in the wrong area of a county can be, very literally, the difference between life or death. Our police service may have cut certain forms of crime, but appear to be woefully inadequate in stemming the rising tide of violent crime. These are problems that can't just be tackled by "more police", or making hospitals cleaner, or enforcing discipline in schools. And to pretend otherwise is to sell the people of this country short.

The problem the Tories have is that they genuinely don't know which way they want the country to go. This isn't necessarily that surprising - they're a coalition of small-c conservatives and small-l liberals who don't necessarily fit together all that well. A lot of the time the coalition can seem very fractious - for examples, visit Blimpish and read his attacks on "Blue Labour". Yet the Tory "brand" is still discredited, and brings up visceral hatred from the more irrational ends of the political spectrum (I suspect this will subside the more Labour screw up).

Theresa May is right to identify that the Tories are seen as the "nasty party". That image isn't everything, though. If they had a clear, consistent vision for the country they'd be taken a lot more seriously. Instead, they have a habit of becoming highly populist (yes, there's a fine line between leading opinion and bandwagon-jumping, but the Tories always seem to be on the wrong side of it). It's difficult to know exactly what the Tory party stands for at the moment, and that's something that needs to be reversed.

And it isn't reversed by having gay friends (or gay members of the Shadow Cabinet), or not wearing a tie. The Tory problem is only partly a problem of presentation. It doesn't matter what garnish you put on the plate, if there's no substance to the sandwich, people aren't going to be trying it for very long. The last manifesto was a classic example of that. The pared-down, slogan-based approach was superb in terms of communication. In terms of content it was rubbish, no matter how hard any Tory tries to defend it. Presentation can't take you to number 10.