Sean O'Grady: Don't be fooled by this hardline Tory


So, happy birthday David Cameron. In case you hadn't noticed, Mr Cameron celebrates his first anniversary as Conservative Party leader tomorrow. It would be churlish to deny him a moment of satisfaction. Young as he is (40 last October), he outshines most of his recent predecessors. Admittedly, comparing Cameron with William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith isn't placing the bar high, but at least Cameron has avoided their errors. And just imagine a parallel world where David Davis is celebrating his first year in office. I can't help feeling he wouldn't have generated the same interest. "Leadership crisis" might be the story this morning.

His critics say Mr Cameron lacks bottom and that he's too close to Blair politically, that he's "Blue Labour". My fear is that he's actually much more substantial and ideological than anyone thinks. If he ever made it to Number 10 he'd prove very right wing, would mess up our relations with Europe and would, surreptitiously but surely, dismantle what's left of the welfare state.

You see, there's a facile sort of analysis around that suggests that the Tory reformers are, more or less, running a mirrored version of the Labour modernisers' "project" of the 1990s. So Cameron snubs business like Blair snubbed the unions; Cameron climbs on to natural enemy territory such as the NHS just as Blair wrested law and order from the Tories, and they pick fights they know they can win with internal party critics. We even, heaven help us, had a Cameron-Osborne rivalry story to mirror the Blair-Brown saga.

There is a big difference though. While Tony Blair had always been "moderate" and right wing (in Labour terms), there is insufficient evidence to say similar of Cameron. Indeed, Cameron's radical right credentials are well known: he worked for Norman Lamont and Michael Howard, rightist "bastards" of the Major era, and Howard did everything to ensure that Mr Cameron succeeded him. The only concrete policy Cameron has had, to pull his party out of the centre-right group in the European Parliament, was plain, old-fashioned Euro-bashing (though he's failed to deliver).

The fact he went to Eton you can't hold against him, but I do wonder why he chose to become a member of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, an "elite dining club" with a reputation for arrogance, destruction and debauchery. (Blair got into Christian Socialism when he was at Oxford.) That's all history, I suppose.

What's more suspicious is that everything the Tory leader has said contains acres of wriggle room quietly to implement the sort of Thatcherite agenda some of us worry about. "Sharing the growth dividend" could easily mean spending the bulk of it on reducing tax: shifting the burden from personal taxes to green taxes could translate into, say, reducing stamp duty for the rich and imposing VAT on home fuel bills; reforming the NHS will mean a massive extension of the private sector. Declaring that "there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state", doesn't amount to much. Remember: George Bush sincerely calls himself as a "compassionate conservative".

Labour derides Cameron as a posh estate agent type who doesn't believe in anything. I guess Cameron is quite pleased with that: it was the sort of criticism that was levelled at Blair, and it helps to project the idea that he's a pragmatist. It also means his enemies underestimate him. Many happy returns, Mr Cameron.

Dolly gets her just desert

Dolly Parton, the first lady of country music, has been honoured by the Kennedy Center, roughly the equivalent of being made a dame. Her fellow winners were Stephen Spielberg, Smokey Robinson, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Zubin Mehta. All worthy, but it's Parton, left, whose achievements merit the most attention. She has seven Grammy awards and has been close to a couple of Oscars and two Golden Globes (don't snigger), but she was raised in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, romantic sounding but, according to Dolly, "dirt poor". I am now careless enough of my reputation to confess a weakness for her songs, especially "Jolene"and even "9 to 5", which I now can't get out of my mind. Dolly looks great too. As she says "it takes a lot of money to look this cheap."

* "Welcome to the future of television," you're told when you log onto the website for BT's new video on demand service, BT Vision. Seems very exciting. For a couple of quid a time plus the price of your broadband internet subscription and a special box, fitted by a BT technician (say £100), you can see the movie you want at the time you want and even in the place you want. The odd thing, though, is that this brave new world is still so small. On the BBC website, for example, you can, as I have, catch missed episodes of The Apprentice or Extras for nothing. An excellent service, but why can't we access their vast, fabulous BBC archives? Some of us want to revisit Triangle, the K9 and Company Dr Who spin-off and the Eldorado back catalogue. We want that video. In fact, we demand it.


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