May 4, 2013

David Cameron’s ‘modernising’ agenda has been a disaster. It’s time for the Tories to return to Thatcherism

Margaret Thatcher knew how to win elections
The stunning success of Ukip in yesterday’s local elections should be a wake-up call for David Cameron and the “modernising” wing of the Conservative Party leadership. It is a demonstration of just how far removed the Tories have become from the concerns of Middle England, and an emphatic rejection of Cameron’s attempt to reinvent the most successful political party in history by moving it to the political centre and even to the Left on issues such as gay marriage, foreign aid and climate change. Ukip’s success, undercutting not only the Conservatives but also Labour and the Liberal Democrats shows that at heart Britain remains a conservative nation. The idea that conservatism is in decline or is too outdated for the 21st Century is pure fiction. As is the case in the United States, conservative ideology remains deeply ingrained in British society.

David Cameron proudly proclaims that he isn’t a Thatcherite. Just two weeks after Lady Thatcher’s death, when asked whether he was a Thatcherite, Cameron declared: “No. Other people might call me that. I think the label’s now… its slightly become … labels don’t quite mean what they did then.” It’s time for the prime minister to eat a bit of humble pie and admit that Thatcherism, not “modernisation,” is what his party needs right now. Thatcherism’s message of limited government, reduced public spending, tax cuts, strong defence, robust immigration and law and order policies, are just as relevant today as they were in the 1980s.

In addition, Cameron needs to toughen his message on Europe and project clarity instead of weak-kneed mixed messaging. It’s no good pledging a referendum while promising to campaign to keep Britain inside the European Union, which is a supranational yoke around the necks of the British people. The prime minister’s promise to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Brussels and reform the EU is a pipe dream, one that merely placates the diminishing Left of his own party.

The “modernising” experiment in the Conservative Party has been an unmitigated disaster. The Iron Lady herself warned against “the oldest temptation that conservative parties face – that is the desire to be what we are not – in search of expressions of approval from those who are our sworn ideological adversaries, while showing a reluctance to listen to our proven friends.” David Cameron has made precisely this mistake. Unless the Conservatives return to the very principles and ideals that have ensured their success in past elections they are doomed to failure. As Margaret Thatcher demonstrated in three election victories in a row, two of them landslide wins, conservative ideas work, and have broad appeal. This should be a moment for humility and reflection in Downing Street, and time for the Tory modernisers to admit that their entire strategy has been a huge error of judgment.