Cameron is impressive (although he needs to do something about the hair) but Tuesday’s PMQs left me sort of quietly reassured. Principally, I think, because his ‘consensus’ rhetoric is a gimmick and you can’t reform a political party with a gimmick, no matter how cleverly wired into the zeitgeist that gimmick is.
Cameron can’t dump the ‘ya-boo’ culture of The Commons on his own: reforming Parliament’s adversarial model will require… well… consensus – across party boundaries and across equally bitter internal party divisions. Check back in a year: I’ll bet you a tenner that Cameron’s perfectly reasonable (and very grown-up) consensus idea has been quietly dropped.
Likewise, dragging the Tories back to the political centre and dumping the pensioners who own the party infrastructure and fund its operations is going to be an epic task – equivalent to taking on the left for Blair. Cameron will certainly need his Clause 4 moment, or his Clause 4 issue. My guess: gay marriage. Although – inconveniently – the Labour Government already legalised it, it’s such a potent issue and will so royally wind up the Tory old-timers that I see Cameron and Osborne and the rest of his kitchen cabinet attending lots of gay weddings in the next few months.
I expect a period of explicit and deliberate provocation of the old guard. Cameron can’t achieve his goal without dumping the blue rinse brigade. Item 1 on his ‘reform the party’ to do list is to alienate the hardcore Tory membership so profoundly that they voluntarily leave the party and create a space for the next generation Tories he believes exist. Cameron knows that if, at the end of this parliament, the party looks roughly like it does now (demographically, ethnically), then it’s game over for The Conservatives (which would be interesting, wouldn’t it?).