Mark Steel: New image, same old party

The Shadow Cabinet should canvas for votes in the mosh pit at a Foo Fighters gig
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The Independent Online

What a state the country's in when David Cameron can be presented as a refreshing modern alternative. He's related to Henry VII and slid effortlessly from Eton to become leader of the Conservatives, which means he was out of date in 1860.

No wonder his policy review is taking so long. He probably started by reappraising how we defend the Crimea, and whether to support a ban on bear-baiting.

One of the only policies he's stated for definite is to repeal the ban on fox-hunting, so there seems to be a confusion between modern and young. As it's just the style that's modern, he should explain his stance by saying, "Listen up bruv, me gonna mash up da fox but not wiv dem beagles ya know, me gonna blast 'em in a drive-by. Me no need bugles, me 'ave MC to sample dat shit, den boom wiv ma piece and dat fox is well cooked init blood."

To attract the female vote, Ann Widdecombe will announce "The European Union is like so going to fail 'cos we're England and it's all unaccountable and everything and anyway France is gay and they want a new constitution and I'm 'don't even go there' but I didn't hear Romano Prodi's proposal 'cos I went to the Arctic Monkeys and got right slaughtered."

But even the image is not youthful, as Cameron's Tories say the sort of thing that people in their forties think sounds youthful. They proclaim their affection for the Scissor Sisters and Coldplay, and bands that are current but could easily play a Royal Variety Show. To be more convincing, the Shadow Cabinet should canvas for votes in the mosh pit at a Foo Fighters gig.

The plan will be that someone will grab David Willetts round the neck and shout, "How ya doin, man?", allowing Willetts to reply, "Not bad, but I'd be doing much better if business wasn't hampered by unnecessary red tape introduced by a government that's failing enterprise and failing the country, man."

There have been a few announcements to suggest a friendlier Conservative Party, along the lines of: "We shall initiate a network of Dislike Poverty Zones, in which a panel of eminent figures within a locality shall meet once a month to dislike poverty. In particular, businessmen who pay their staff on or below the minimum wage will be encouraged to say, 'It must be awful at Christmas', though this will be voluntary."

Even this upsets some Conservatives. For example, one supporter, questioning Cameron's Tory instincts, wrote that the way to tell a true Tory was, "He should feel a tingle when he hears the national anthem, or watches the Household Cavalry riding down the Mall."

And you expect it to continue: "To be a Conservative is to regard the Royal Fusiliers in their majesty, and to experience an unstoppable buzzing in the loins, so that one's thoughts turn to them standing only in their garters, exposing their firm patriotic milky thighs, prepared to thrust and parry in their rapacious and noble British mission, sweat dripping like jewels as they encircle the wily dirty foreign foe. That is what it means to be a Conservative."

But they shouldn't worry about the new strategy, as it's only the image that's changed. It's like Madonna, every couple of years she has to change her look to maintain a sense of being modern, while throughout remaining essentially the same. The Tories' problem is they've been so in thrall to Thatcher they've forgotten to update their look.

They'd have done better if their image was franchised out to fashion designers. Then, instead of a dull conference, each year they could have the launch of their new spring season. In place of predictable interviews, Paxman would gasp: "And here comes Oliver Letwin and David Davis in a silk sarong, the colours, according to Alexander McQueen, emphasising 'the radiance of hard-working families along with the strength of core traditional values such as tax cuts'."

The Conservative Party has had many images, but retains an unchanging purpose, which is to represent the minority of wealthy people who control society. That's why they opposed the abolition of slavery, opposed the Factory Acts, and everything that helped the poor at the slight expense of the rich up to the minimum wage. And whereas Blair was able to transform his party by fracturing the links with the labour movement, Cameron is clearly not going to break his party's connections to big business.

But he's astute enough to know that to get elected, the image must change, so he carries out stunts such as associating the party with Bob Geldof.

Soon Labour and the Tories will be like rival chat shows, desperately pleading for celebrities to appear with them and not the others. Party organisers will run round with clipboards yelling, "Scarlett Johansson says she'll come with us one morning on the county council election battlebus, but only if she can use the megaphone to plug her line of skin cream."

With so many people searching for an alternative to New Labour, Cameron may attract some disillusioned voters, but the Liberal Democrats are making a much braver attempt to look different. Alcoholics, rent boys, within weeks it will turn out Menzies Campbell spends Friday nights selling Es and poppers at Heaven nightclub.

They shouldn't be embarrassed, they should declare it a stand for traditional values in a modern setting.

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