Monday, October 03, 2005

Do They Teach Shadow Boxing In The SAS ?

I've got a feeling I should be offended by David Davis' latest policy announcement, but I just think it's hilarious. Davis has come out against the ‘Religious Right’. Huh ? As even he admits, this isn’t America. However well the religious right serves as a bogeyman in America, few people in Britain fear creeping theocracy. Indeed, the whole thing is absurd. Davis may as well have rejected the use of press gangs.

Actually, on reflection, it’s beautiful. The Liberal media has been just about the only group professing to be scared by the prospect of crazed religious maniacs in No 10. Now, by undertaking to bravely take on this non-existent group, Davis has stolen their clothes without alienating a single voter on the Right.

There’s a wider point here though. Now, even normally sane individuals like Davis are yapping about the need for the Party to ‘change’ – hey, is it just me or do other people think of Saddam’s song in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut when they hear that ? The face cards in the Conservative Party have swallowed whole the meme that the Conservative Party’s problem is that it’s seen as too nasty.

Now, I don’t know for sure, but I’m thinking that some of the reason for that might be the ten mile line of Tory ‘modernisers’ queuing up to go on the BBC and tell everyone how awful the Party is. But the main problem is the way the Left has managed to frame the debate. Melanie Phillips sums it up well:

Before they can claim the centre ground, the Tories need to reclaim the language. They have to point out that terms such as tolerance, fairness, aspiration or social justice have been twisted into their very opposite, and that the people the government claims to champion — the most vulnerable — have been left abandoned as a result.

Exactly. That’s the thing. On issues like the Human Rights Act the problem the Tories have isn’t that they have the wrong instincts, it’s that they have allowed themselves to be brow-beaten into accepting the Liberal consensus. If the public was indeed behind the Human Rights Act, then the Left wouldn’t have needed to pass it. The whole point of the Act was to move a whole range of issues outside the sphere of legitimate debate and into the hands of activist Liberal judges, yet no Tory MP dare say this. Now we find that Blair is talking of repealing part of the HRA – or to put it another way, the Conservative Party has found itself to the Left of Blair – the question needs to be asked: what is the point of the modern Conservative Party ?

This is the Party’s central problem. Even in genuinely outrageous cases, like the Human Rights Act, the Party is incapable of taking a stand. Of course they aren’t trusted. Here we have a piece of legislation that is opposed to everything Conservatives supposedly believe, yet they can’t raise any objection to it. It’s symptomatic of a group of people that don’t actually believe anything. Everything is chosen on grounds of expediency. Maybe that would be alright if it actually worked, but two words: Stephen Norris. Here’s a guy who was a moderniser extraordinaire, but who’s Mayor of London ? If the public wants touchy-feely, ideology-free manager-politicians, why did Ken Livingstone whup Norris twice ?

This is not necessarily an argument for more right-wing policies or, indeed, any particular policies. It’s more fundamental. Obviously, any national party is a broad coalition, but there must be certain fundamental principles at the heart of the party. These are what’s lacking here. With a vacuum at its centre, the way has been cleared for Liberals to define the identity of the Conservative Party. The way to throw off the ‘nasty’ libel isn’t to pander to it, it’s to embrace it.

After all, this is what US Republicans have done. It was the Hildebeast herself who coined the phrase Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Ditto, Al Gore and ‘digital brownshirts’. The Conservative Party needs to simply state its policies clearly and let’s the Left make the running. Let Liberals explain why being opposed to Liberal judges giving known terrorists ‘access all areas’ passes to Britain is ‘nasty’. For that matter, let the Left explain why turning a blind eye to soaring MRSA rates in NHS hospitals is ‘nice’.

There’s another lesson from the US, of course. Here’s the divine Ann on the US situation:

Newsweek reported in 1976 that Republican "party loyalists" thought Reagan would produce "a Goldwater-style debacle." This is why they nominated well-known charismatic vote magnet Jerry Ford instead.

Again in 1980, a majority of Republican committeemen told U.S. News and World Report that future one-termer George "Read My Lips" Bush was more "electable" than Reagan.

The secret to Reagan's greatness was he didn't need a bunch of high-priced Bob Shrums to tell him what Americans thought. He knew because of his work with General Electric, touring the country and meeting real Americans. Two months a year for eight years, Reagan would give up to 25 speeches a day at G.E. plants — a "marination in middle America," as one G.E. man put it. Reagan himself said, "I always thought Hollywood had the wrong idea of the average American, and the G.E. tours proved I was right."

Because of these tours, Reagan knew — as he calmly told fretful advisers after the Grenada invasion — "You can always trust Americans." The G.E. tours completely immunized Reagan from the counsel of people like Karl Rove, who think the average American is a big-business man who just wants his taxes cut and doesn't care about honor, country, marriage or the unborn.

Exactly. Maybe the specifics are different in Britain, but the point remains the same. The problem with the Conservatives reliance on focus groups isn’t that they don’t necessarily provide useful information, but that they need to rely on them in the first place. How did the Conservative Party get so divorced from the country that it wants to lead that its MPs often seem like recent immigrants from a nearby universe ? This is how they let Blair outflank them on issues like the HRA. Conservative MPs are so terrified of losing their invites to chintzy cocktail parties that they swallow whole the idea that the HRA is just the definition of civilized governance. Equally, they are suckers for whatever garbage is being pushed by the Liberal media that week – they have no point of reference to judge it by.

That’s the Conservatives real problem: they’re really, really weird. They have no idea what normal people think, so they’re dependant on ad agencies to tell them what they believe. The public is confronted by a party telling them ‘if you don’t like our policies, just wait a week’. Is it any wonder that faced with that level of cynicism, the public naturally believes that the Tories must really have something to hide ?

What the Conservative Party really needs to do above all else is simply state its case. Sure, the London media won‘t like it. When have they ever ? That’s one more reason to be clear – a simply-expressed policy is harder for someone else to misrepresent. This works even with supposedly soft spots, of which the biggest is the supposed hatred of single mothers. Right about now, Conservative politicians talking about accepting ‘different kinds of families’ sound like the aural equivalent of a dad dancing at his daughter’s wedding. No one seriously believes that Conservatives think families aren’t better with two parents. Let’s not talk about Conservatives hating single mothers, and let’s talk about the Left selling young girls on the myth that having three kids by three fathers by the age of twenty-five is the road to happiness. It’s a cruel, stupid, destructive myth, and the way to beat it is simply to make the Left state it clearly. So it is with most of what the modern Left believes.

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