The apparent recovery of Tory fortunes as New Labour’s poll popularity plunges offers much food for thought. Support for New Labour is now at its lowest level since polling began in 1943. There are those who, fixated on the mood-swings expressed through parliamentary politics, see these trends as indicators of a general shift to the right.
But are the rising fortunes of Cameron really an indicator of such a mass enthusiasm for the right? Well, actually, no. They have a lot more to do with disaffection with New Labour than a born-again faith in the Conservative Party. Cameron’s image as the nice guy of Tory politics is about as wafer thin as that of Blair’s persona as a man of the people back in the 1990s, when he was dubbed Bambi. The fact is that the Conservative Party’s new image (and by implication, its popularity) is no deeper than the advertising for breakfast cereals.
Media experts like Matt Beaumont, quoted in The Sunday Telegraph’s analysis of the rebranding of Tory politics, are acutely aware of this: “The huge Conservative lead in the opinion polls suggests they are doing something right, though I suspect this has more to do with public ennui after a decade of Labour, combined with distaste for Gordon Brown.”
The “power-couple” behind Cameron’s throne are Steve Hilton and Rachel Whetstone, advertising experts whose relationship to Cameron is comparable to that of Peter Mandelson’s and Alistair Campbell’s with Blair and New Labour. Media mogul Maurice Saatchi, who helped Margaret Thatcher come to power, sees Hilton as his heir. He became Cameron’s director of strategy in December 2005 at a salary of between £180,000 to £276,000.
Hilton’s political philosophy (if it can be graced with that name) is of a socially responsible capitalism. His book, Good Business, ends with a paraphrase of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto: “Capitalists and anti-capitalists of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your guilt”. The new Tory outlook – which is essentially a freshened-up version of New Labour's - crafted by Hilton focuses especially on a green agenda, and indeed Conservatives have taken this seriously. Boris Johnson claims to oppose the third runway at Heathrow and there were some leading Tories on Saturday’s march against airport expansion. Zac Goldsmith, the archetypal Tory son of billionaire James Goldsmith, and editor of The Ecologist magazine, was selected as the party’s candidate for Richmond Park in March 2007.
But Hilton and others’ notion of a socially-responsible form of globalised capital is about as realistic as the Camerons leaving their Notting Hill home and moving into a council flat. And of course, these cuddly new Tories have no solutions to the problems, which their media gurus are able to identify, even while they pander to the many anxieties of the middle classes and the sections of the working class abandoned by New Labour
Just like Brown, Cameron and his ilk stand helpless in the face of the massive economic crisis now ripping through the advanced capitalist countries. The near-collapse of Bradford & Bingley today is only a taste of what is to come. A quarter of a million UK homeowners are already in negative equity with a million forecast by the end of 2009. Rising mortgage, fuel and food costs are eating into incomes and fuelling the economic recession as retail sales slow.
We are witnessing an historic disenfranchisement of wide swathes of the population who cannot relate either to the new smooth Tory Party or to Brown’s New Labour and who feel they have no power to influence events. This is accompanied by a deepening social and economic malaise for which there are no conventional answers. Behind Cameron’s superficial Tories stand sinister forces within the state who are preparing to intervene if and when things get out of hand. Seeking solutions solely at the level of parliamentary politics and parties is a futile and doomed activity. The circumstances call, above all, for boldness in advocating a revolutionary, new direction for society to sweep both New Labour and the Tories aside.