Monday 29 September 2008

Who are these New Tories and what do they think?

Meet the Shadow Cabinet, is the enticing offer on a gizmo on the flash new Conservative website.

It is a chance to see if you can do better than the general public, who can recognise only David Cameron and William Hague.

The Sunday Telegraph spot poll of forty voters found one in ten could recognise Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, but just as many thought he was David Miliband. That is enough to give Osborne the bronze, as third most famous Shadow Cabinet member. There are more amusing alter egos and possible career changes in the public responses. But, to be fair, even those unusually well informed followers of politics who can spot a Gove or a Willetts at fifty paces may struggle to tell their Jeremy Hunts from their David Lidingtons.

More important than face recognition is what the new Tories think. What, if anything, is different about them? Lesley White's long Sunday Times Magazine group profile tries to dig behind the smooth David Bailey photoshoot and lift this shadow of anonymity.

She concludes:

In my conversations with Cameron’s chosen few, I find myself listening hard for a hint of disavowal of their past, the way one used to hear it from new Labour in the run-up to 1997, admitting that their government had been feeble against the unions, stifled social mobility and enterprise. But I hear no Conservative equivalent.

Nobody I speak to believes Mrs T’s necessary economic reforms went too far, that the deregulated markets and focus on individualism had contributed in some minor way to Cameron’s “broken society”, despite this being what turned millions away from the “natural party of government” in 1997. None of these senior strategists engaged in the “remoralisation” of politics seem to consider that the Lady’s moral agenda of “community care” and frozen child benefits was flawed. I hear only that the party has been misunderstood. That there has been a problem “of perception”. And when Sayeeda Warsi announces that the Tories have always been on the side of the poor because it’s Conservatives you find working in charity shops, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry.

White finds that the party's heart still beats very much on the right. There is a similar message in the ConservativeHome grassroots poll, reported in Saturday's Independent.

But the Shadow Cabinet may find cheer in a glowing accolade in this morning's Times from William Rees-Mogg who finds the 'brightest and the best' to be the most impressive frontbench for fifty years. Former Times editor Rees-Mogg, who has an unparalleled record for making astonishingly inaccurate political predictions, doesn't find time to mention that two of his children are contesting key seats for David Cameron at the next general election.

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