Alan Watkins: I'll let you into a secret: voters have no interest in policy. Neither do politicians

The issue now is whether the Tories will be a party of freedom
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The Independent Online

In an attempt to remedy this state of affairs, I should like to pay tribute to Bruce Anderson who writes a political column in The Independent and makes his strong views known in a variety of other ways as well. Starting with John Major in 1990, he has not only given his personal support to but correctly predicted the succession of every Tory leader since. It is a remarkable achievement. There is only one thing wrong: none of them has turned out to be any good.

Admittedly a certain case can be made for the early Major, who unexpectedly won the election of 1992, though that was more of a contest which was lost by Labour, by John Smith as Shadow Chancellor rather than by Neil Kinnock. And the young William Hague often conquered Tony Blair at the dispatch box, but that was not much use if people disliked your voice as they disliked Mr Hague's. But neither of them did what he was meant to do.

Mr David Cameron is the latest of Mr Anderson's correct predictions to receive his imprimatur as his predecessors did. But will he turn out to be any different?

The first point to note is that he is well-connected as no Tory leader has been for over 40 years. His maternal grandfather, Sir William Mount, baronet, was the elder brother of Robin Mount, the father of Ferdinand Mount, the writer. Sir William's daughter Mary married Ian Cameron, a City man. This confirms the settled rule of English society: everybody is related to Ferdy Mount. Indeed, even Harold Pinter is related to him, because Mr Pinter married Antonia, the daughter of Lord Longford, a Mount connection likewise.

I do not normally go in for this sort of thing in this column, because both my interest in and my knowledge of the subject are limited, to say the least. But what is significant about the Cameron succession is how little comment his antecedents have aroused. At any time up to the middle, I suppose, of the last century, they would have been seen as an advantage in his party. Indeed, Mr Cameron might have emerged through the customary process of consultation, though the men in suits might have concluded that four years in the House was not quite long enough.

Then there was a change of fashion brought about largely by Harold Wilson, the Tony Blair of his day: the favourite words of approval were "gritty" and "abrasive", and they were thought to be embodied in Edward Heath. By 1990, when Margaret Thatcher took her leave, Douglas Hurd was thought to be disqualified from the succession by reason of his education at Eton. Admittedly people have mentioned Mr Cameron's spell at the same place, but it is no longer thought of as a fatal bar. Similarly, they have raised his membership of White's Club, taking, however, a typically modernist objection: not so much that it is full of reactionary bigots, hangovers from the 1950s (when the club did exercise some political influence) but, instead, that the club does not admit women. There are much worse things to say about White's than that it does not have women as members.

It is being predicted that Mr Cameron will have to deal with Mr Gordon Brown rather than with Mr Blair. But we have only just had an election; Mr Cameron has, presumably, only six weeks to wait; and, after that, we may be in for a long spell of Mr Blair and him across the box. There is something else. We may be in for a long haul in any event.

Certainly Anthony Eden held an election in 1955 within weeks of succeeding Winston Churchill. But on the whole the practice has been the other way about when one politician has succeeded another as prime minister. Thus Lord Home went on to complete a full term after taking over from Harold Macmillan in 1963. James Callaghan did the same after 1976. John Major managed to hang on for a whole seven years. So Mr Brown may be reluctant to surrender the sweets of office when he has had to wait so long for them to fall into his lap.

There has been a lot of talk, not least from Mr Cameron himself, about "Policy". I will now let you into a secret. Not only do most voters not have the slightest knowledge of or interest in policy; the majority of politicians do not possess it either. It used to be asserted, time after time, that the old Liberal party had "no policies". This was demonstrably and flagrantly untrue. The party had policies coming out of its ears, though you may have had to buy up the entire contents of the Liberal Bookshop to discover what they were at any given moment. What the critics really meant was that they could not tell you briefly what the party stood for. The Conservative Party of today is no different. The inchoate issue is whether Mr Cameron is going to turn it into a party that believes in personal freedom. It is this which is behind all the fuss about drugs, the attempt to bully him by the Daily Mail and, indeed, the attitude - at once hostile and perplexed - adopted towards him by the paper in question. Whereas Mr Blair devoutly attended the various funerals and memorial services for the late Lord Rothermere and Sir David English, even though he scarcely knew the deceased personally, and assiduously cultivated journalists such as Mr Simon Heffer and Mr Paul Johnson, Mr Cameron may prove keen to impress.

Mr Stephen Glover, who adroitly combines writing a column in the Mail with writing one on the press in The Independent, believes that Mr Cameron should treat the Mail with a semblance of respect - and that, in particular, he should have bowed down before the paper's hectoring leader of nine days ago demanding to know whether he had taken drugs or not. I am not so sure about that, what I do know is that the terms of trade are changing. There is still a lot of class-resentment around the place - the idea that there is one law for the rich and another for poor - and Mr Cameron may be the victim of it.