The Tory leadership fight is the best political entertainment for a decade – and I don’t like saying that because it suggests they’re closer to a come-back than they’ve been for all of that decade. I’m hardly an insider but it’s obvious to me that the party must elect Cameron. They must elect him for the same reason that a business in terminal crisis must pick the oddball for Chief Exec – the third or fourth on the shortlist, not the superstar at the top of the list or the finance guy in second position.
Cameron is young enough and brave enough to tip the Tory party on its head and he’ll either succeed spectacularly and lead the revived party back to power or he’ll decisively demonstrate the party’s final irrelevance on his way to a job running Glaxo or Marks & Spencer or something. I admire his pig-headed resistance to the print media’s phoney-baloney piety and I think he feels the weight of history in a way that Blair must have done in the middle of Labour’s wilderness years. He’s the nearest to a Blair/Messiah figure the Tories have produced since Thatcher herself – and that’s thirty years ago.
The official position of the Labour leadership is relief that the only authentic heavyweight has been knocked out of the race but, if they could be honest (which they can’t right now) they’d acknowledge that Cameron gives them the first shiver of recognition they’ve had since the 1997 victory.
There’s something gripping about this moment in British politics. If things go the Tories’ way (God forbid) this will be remembered as the moment the circuit was closed and the strange convergence of left and right in Britain completed. Say the Conservatives get this one right and say they’re able to convince the electorate of their relevance at the next election (or the one after), in a few years we’ll be hearing things like: ‘I can’t tell the difference between Cameron and Blair. The Tories are just a Labour clone. They’re not the real Tories…’ blah blah.
Labour has unequivocally owned the middle ground for eight years but we may be surprised to learn, once the Tories are back in power (stay with me here…), that, in the long run, the biggest movement on the left-right spectrum will have been from the Tories. To get back to power their social agenda will have to be sharply liberalised, their antipathy to the public sector pragmatically softened and their economics almost totally reversed. Only Cameron can start this process. God I hope they pick Fox.