Tory right resists Cameron bid to take centreground

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Right wing Tory MPs have dismissed David Cameron's attempt to recapture the centre ground from Tony Blair with a new vision of modern "caring" Conservativism, saying the exercise was not the Tory leader's "clause four".

Just as Mr Blair succeeded in making an historic break with Labour's socialist past by ditching clause four of the party constitution on state ownership, Mr Cameron is seeking a break with the Tory past by asking the entire membership to endorse his vision in a ballot.

But one senior member of the Cornerstone group which backed Mr Cameron for the leadership said: "This is not Cameron's clause four. We haven't changed. We are confident that if we get back into power, we will be a low-tax government, tough on crime and immigration. "

Mr Cameron has set his sights on replacing Mr Blair and defeating Gordon Brown for the votes of middle England when the two go head-to-head at the next election by issuing a "statement of values" putting economic stability before tax cuts, making poverty history, and disowning Lady Thatcher's words by saying "there is such a thing as society".

A vote for the document, which is expected to be overwhelming, will also give the green light to the proposal for positive action in the selection of women and ethnic minority candidates through a so-called A list of approved people to fight winnable seats.

"The battle for the hearts and minds of the British people has begun," Mr Cameron told a rally in London. "There will be a clear choice between our approach and Gordon Brown's.

"The party voted for change. Now we have to show what change means. Not just what we're changing from but what we're changing to."

The UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader, Roger Knapman, said Mr Cameron was asking Tory members to vote for the transformation of the party into "blue Labour".

A number of right wingers are worried about the direction of Mr Cameron's leadership, but are reluctant to speak publicly, believing that if Mr Cameron can ape Mr Blair, they may be able to regain power. Eric Forth, a former minister, raised objections to Mr Cameron's declaration that there would be no more grammar schools at a private meeting but was booed by fellow Tory MPs.

Mr Cameron's strategy for an end to selection in schools at the age of 11 will be challenged by Edward Leigh, the chairman of the Cornerstone group and Tory chair of the public accounts committee. Mr Leigh will propose that schools be given the freedom to introduce selection.

Some Tory leadership sources said they had wanted a right-wing backlash from the Tory hardliners to show they were changing. Last night one senior party official said: "This was never intended as our clause four moment. But we are showing that this is not just about the leadership changing. If the party votes for this agenda, it will show that the party has changed."

Lord Tebbit has dismissed Mr Cameron's new initiative as "clever marketing", saying it was difficult to see any differences with Labour. But Stuart Wheeler, another euro-sceptic and major donor to the Tory party, refused to rise to the bait, saying he supported Mr Cameron's leadership and had given him funding, in spite of having doubts about some of his policies.

The presentation of the "values" document was also a propaganda coup for the Tories, with Mr Cameron and his "kitchen cabinet" being shown in a BBC news bulletin, in his hi-tech kitchen at home going over the details. They included his defeated challenger, David Davis, his head of policy Oliver Letwin, and Theresa May, the shadow leader of the House.

Opinion-makers divided

Simon Heffer, associate editor of the Daily Telegraph

I do not think it is significant enough to have a view on, I think it's complete drivel. I am amazed that he hasn't said: "We wish people were more kind to domestic pets, and would like the sun to shine every day."

The only thing that was missing in his reforms was: "We want people to love their mums."

I do not find these reforms worthy of my intellectual engagement, he needs to wake up and smell the coffee - or the lapsang souchong.

Matthew D'Ancona, political columnist for the Sunday Telegraph (Takes over as editor of The Spectator this week)

I think that there's nothing in the statement that wasn't implicit or explicit in his leadership campaign. One of the strengths of Cameron's leadership is his consistency. People have formed an opinion on whether they like him, and they do. But they don't know what he stands for because his principles are so unexpected. To say "Make poverty history" is a distinct shift, and he needs to repeat his aims.

Roger Scruton, philosopher

It is about time that the Tories woke up to the green agenda, because conservation is implied in their name. But I do not believe that this compassionate approach to politics is truly compassionate.

The old Conservative way gave the poor opportunities, rather than using taxpayers' money to keep them poor. After years of New Labour, David Cameron is bound to be nervous about seeming radically different. But it is still necessary to have principles, which New Labour do not seem to have any more.