Wednesday, 24 June 2009

If the Tory party was progressive, it would hardly be so worked up about Bercow

Steve Richards has a good column in Wednesday's Independent setting out several revealing myths about the election of the Speaker.

I remain impressed that the contest for this not especially powerful and ultra-insider role has generated so much attention. I think Richards is right that a partisan Labour approach would have seen the election of Sir George Young: the issue of how many Etonians to we want at the top of politics does worry the Conservative frontbench, however much they affect insouciance about this.

But the most interesting points are what Tory loathing for Bercow says about the shiny, new, brand decontaminated progressive Conservative Party.

As Richards writes:

Anyone watching the anger on the faces of Tory MPs when the result was announced might assume that Bercow was a raving leftie. In fact he has made a stand on a number of limited issues including his support for gay adoption and for the abolition of the anti-gay Section 28 ....

Bercow's reward for being genuinely progressive on a limited number of issues was the loathing disdain of virtually the entire parliamentary Conservative party.

The second myth leads on to the third. There seems to be a fairly widespread assumption the Conservatives have modernised under the leadership of David Cameron. Evidently they have not modernised enough if they can get so worked up about Bercow's modestly progressive views.

As Speaker, Bercow has to be politically impartial. This enabled David Cameron to offer this wry aside in his well judged congratulatory speech to the new Speaker.

"I also noted, as all colleagues did, what you said about casting away your past political views, and I think that on the Conservative Benches we would say, “Let’s hope that includes all of them".

That will certainly strike a strong chord with his own backbenches. But has Cameron not forgotten that he believes that "it is the Conservative Party that is the champion of progressive ideals in Britain today".

No doubt, such a party must be stuffed to the rafters with progressive politicians.

So, who takes up Bercow's position as the primary champion of progressive arguments in the Conservative Parliamentary Party?

Who on the backbenches will now act as an 'outrider' - arguing that Cameronism ought to go further and faster in staking a claim to progressive territory.

Just about nobody.

Tim Montgomerie has estimated that only six powerful Tories are fully signed up to project progressive Cameron. If the progressive Conservatism were to become a reality, it is hard to escape the conclusion that it would have to be one of the most elitist and top-down political projects ever seen in British politics.

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