Friday 14 May 2010

Why this isn't David Cameron's clause four moment after all

David Cameron's coalition with the Liberal Democrats has finally given him his clause four moment, as every commentator has said.

Sort of.

Yes, in four days, David Cameron did more to lock-in a substantive modernisation of a centrist Toryism than he had tried to do in the previous four years.

But the point of a Clause Four moment is that the party, challenged by its leader to change significantly, debates and decides to make the leap.

That did not happen with a coalition negotiated after a hung Parliament.

For the Tory party, it is certainly a coalition of circumstance, not choice - and that means that the content of much of the Tory centrism arises from coalitionable circumstance, not choice. The party grassroots do not necesssarily "own" and so will mostly agitate against it.

For Cameron, there is ambiguity as ever. He wanted a majority a week ago. Unlike his party, he may well think he is in a much stronger position having fallen twenty seats short of a majority than if he had a majority of 20.

So perhaps we may finally have a more substantive Cameronism, largely by accident.

How far it is maintained may be largely dependent on circumstance, not choice, too, with a large part of the Tory party itching to campaign for a Tory majority government at the next election. The leadership will say it agrees.

Indeed, I wrote in the Fabian Review election special:

Before the Conservatives decided that they did not need a “Clause Four” moment, they did try to have one. The limits of Tory modernization were set a decade ago, in April 1999, when deputy leader Peter Lilley tried to lay the Thatcherite ghost and failed.

Yet the Conservatives may have had a clause four moment thrust upon them.

So perhaps there is a better argument that the party leader who took his party on a clause four journey this week was Nick Clegg.


Jane Chelliah said...

Cameron had always seemed to me to be a closet moderniser desperately looking to open the Clause 4 gate in every area of Conservative philosophy and policy. I disagree with your conclusion. Nick Clegg may have opened the gate but it was Cameron who rushed through it carrying the Centre Left flag in a Clause 4 moment.

Sunder Katwala said...

It is a centre-right flag.

Yes, I think you could say it is a clause four moment for Cameron's government - but not for his party, because he has neither had nor won that argument in the party.

Jane Chelliah said...

Cameron may not have had the debate within his party but it is interesting to see that the debate is being carried out elsewhere i.e papers, blogs. Clause 4 has two elements to it - the spirit it invokes which is why the term is used loosely now to describe pivotal moments; and the letter of it in the sense of constitutions being rewritten. I think Cameron has pulled off a Clause 4 moment in the fist instance that I describe. I take what you say that the party is yet to make public what it collectively thinks.