Nick Palmer wonders whether “Compassionate Conservatism” can ever win

Nick Palmer wonders whether “Compassionate Conservatism” can ever win

The fundamentals that the by-election raises

The outcome in the early hours of Friday morning prompts a reflection which should cause some discomfort across most of the political spectrum. Is it actually a feasible project for what Cameron has called “compassionate Conservatism” to win a majority?

To discuss this, we don’t need to get into the debate whether Cameron is sincere or merely posing to attract centrist votes. Let’s assume he is entirely sincere – that he really worries about global warming, favour rising development aid, likes wind farms, cares about huskies, is enthusiastic about gay marriage, and so on.

All this goes a fair way to detoxing the Tories for people like me – I don’t dislike Cameron and might give him the benefit of the doubt on at least some of these issues. But i wouldn’t dream of voting Tory.

And therein lies the problem. There is a substantial opinion poll majority for all the things mentioned (except the huskies, who I don’t think have had their own poll question), and a UKIP-style rejection of the list is a formula for winning a fervent minority vote. But among the majority who agree with it, perhaps half are unwaveringly allergic to the whole idea of voting Conservative, either because they don’t like other parts of the agenda or in some cases just knee-jerk hostility indelibly etched in the 80s and 90s.

From the betting viewpoint it does suggest that betting against a Tory majority in 2010 is a pretty sure thing. But is the underlying trend good news for us in Labour? Not entirely. It will make it easier to win if UKIP is chewing up Tory votes. But what if the Kipper wing of the Tories ends up on top? Sometimes we are going to lose elections. Sometimes – and perhaps 2010 was one – we will actually need to have a refreshing break. And if those periods are filled with raucous right-wing populism, we will see much of the quiet liberal consensus that has developed evaporate. Some here and elsewhere will celebrate. But do we really need US-style culture wars on top of our other difficulties?

Nick Palmer was LAB MP for Broxtowe until GE2010 and has been posting on PB for more than 8 years

  • Mike Smithson is away on family business and will be back on Monday evening
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