Thursday, 10 June 2010

Beware the "lessons" of Thatcher

In today's Daily Mail, Paul Goodman has detailed five things that the Prime Minister MUST (his capitalisation, not mine) learn from Baroness Thatcher, following her brief visit to 10 Downing Street yesterday afternoon.

I cannot disagree with his first lesson: "get the pain in early."  David Cameron and his Coalition Government have begun strongly, pleasing the money markets and creditors with their firm and demonstrable commitment to cut the structural budget deficit.

The second lesson, given recent events, is somewhat misguided.  Goodman suggests, "get your enemies before they get you."  It appears that in attempting to neutralise the 1922, Cameron has already followed this advice and to damaging consequences.  The eventual climb-down made him look momentarily weak and it emboldened the right-wingers in the party, who now have the potentially troublesome Graham Brady as their official standard bearer.

Thirdly, "look after your supporters."  At face value, this is hardly objectionable - after all, Conservative (and Liberal Democrat) supporters, put David Cameron in Downing Street because they broadly agreed with the programme presented to them.  The trust in this programme must be honoured and followed.  So we mustn't lose sight of the fight that it is (especially now combined with the Liberal Democrats) an inherently progressive programme of government.  Yet we must also govern for the country in its entirety.  We should not only be looking after "Our People", to use one of Mrs Thatcher's phrases.  Paul Goodman takes the reprehensible view that "Cameron's gaze seems focused on those who aren't Our People - namely, poorer Labour voters."  As One Nation Conservatives were govern for the whole nation.  It so happens that nearly half of the electorate did not vote Conservative or Liberal Democrat.  As a responsible governing party, we need to look after them too.

Fourth, "listen to your party."  I would never suggest that Conservatve leaders should ignore the parliamentary party and grassroots members / supporters.  However, there are occasions when selective listening is preferebale (for the success of the party) to pandering to each and every opinion.  Playing a core vote message like a stuck gramophone in 2001 and 2005 got us nowhere.

At least Mr Goodman finishes on a positive note: fifth, "see your plan through."  I have no doubts that David Cameron and Nick Clegg will be able to take their parties with them in implementing the many important, radical and exciting reforms that they have planned for this parliament.

Goodman also acknowledges, thankfully, that "the Prime Minister can't - and shouldn't try to - travel back to 1981 and re-live the Thatcher years."  Regrettably, there remain many people who cannot accept that.  David Cameron and Nick Clegg are very similar politicians, and both very different to Margaret Thatcher.  They have been successful because we are living in veyr different times with very different challenges.  They must hold firm, the Prime Minister in particular, and resist the call of misplaced nostalgia.

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