Monday, December 05, 2005

Musings On David Cameron and the Shadow Cabinet

I'm expecting, like just about everyone else, that David Cameron will be officially installed as the Leader of the Opposition tomorrow. As far as I'm concerned, that's when the fun begins. For starters, we will see just how much of a bastard Cameron really is by how he treats Davis. Wat Tyler is arguing that the Defence job rumour is a product of Liam Fox's camp; personally I think it is more likely, if Cameron wants to rub Davis's nose in the victory, that he will be offered education. Turning down a reforming portfolio will be hard for Davis, but it's a pretty clear snub, and there will be little wiggle room for Davis, because Cameron seems determined to be "Blair lite" when it comes to education.

This would, ultimately, be a mistake, as Davis is by no means a marginal figure. The dinosaurs of the Tory Party may well have been the biggest factor in their electoral problems, but in 2001 at least, the image of heavy divisions over Europe prevented the party from being taken seriously. If Labour can successfully portray the Tories as riven with internal divisions (despite the obvious irony), Cameron's job will be very difficult indeed. The first six months will be crucial for him; if he is able to successfully portray the image of a genuine reformer, then he will be able to attack the reactionaries for refusing to move with the times. If he doesn't, though, the knives will be at his back quickly.

The other point of interest is who makes the Shadow Cabinet. It seems pretty likely that Michael Gove and Ed Vaizey would be placed on the fast track to high positions, possibly making the lower positions of the Shadow Cabinet this time round despite barely having been in Parliament. If this happens, it would worry me somewhat - it would truly be the political class taking root. For their apprenticeship to government would not have been served learning the machinery of Parliament, or by being directly accountable to a constituency, but instead by working for a think-tank or a newspaper. That's not something I would approve of. Thinking of rareified ideas on their own doesn't work in the slightest - they need to be debated in the cauldron of public opinion first.

My fear is that a network that has developed around right-wing think tanks that might be helpful in creating a right-wing consensus but not necessarily helpful in explaining how these ideas can actually be sold to, or benefit the public. This, of course, links back in with the other problem Cameron faces. He's too connected with one wing of the party - the "Notting Hill Set" - that pursuing a line based on rewarding his young supporters may be costly indeed.