Cyclefree reflects on a dramatic week
It was Abba Eban who said of the Palestinians that “they never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” However true this may or may not be of the Palestinians, it is certainly true of Mrs May. One Cabinet resignation does not have to lead to a full-scale reshuffle, of course, particularly if the PM cannot be certain how many of the possible candidates have been guilty of knee touching, knee tremblers or any other variety of sexual activity. But however fearful she may have been of instigating a reshuffle, when presented with the opportunity for one, why the craven timidity? Well, we can all guess why: fear for her job, a loss of confidence ever since her ill-fated General Election gamble, an unwillingness to trust outside a small circle and, probably most important of all, a failure to grasp two important lessons from the election.
They are these: good policies are not enough and who delivers the message is at least as important as what the message is. The Tory manifesto was not an example of good policies. Far from it. But there has been a tendency within the party and some of its supporters to think that merely replacing the ones which were rejected in June with some shiny new ones, a bit more nicely wrapped, will be enough. “Letting Granny keep her house, tweaking student loans here, building some more houses there should do it” seems to be the hope. But it won’t. Few amongst the young or those on the right side of 40 are even willing to give the Tories a hearing.
They just don’t come into consideration at all. Asking those in their 20’s and 30’s to consider voting for a Tory party with people like Davis, Hammond, Fox, May, etc in charge is like asking them to watch a film on a video recorder. Corbyn may look old but he seems fresh. His is a voice that has not been heard for a while. He talks about stuff that matters to people and he seems to have some answers. It is irrelevant – for now – that in reality his political outlook is essentially nostalgic and that his remedies may not work. He has the electorate’s attention.
The Tories are largely talking to themselves. 40% in the polls looks good but how lasting or loyal is it in reality? How much of their vote is a not-Corbyn vote? Or a “Get Brexit done and then goodbye” vote? About the only Tory politician who has cut through is Rees-Mogg and for all his courtly politeness and Ultramontaine Catholicism, appealing to fans of Brideshead Revisited is hardly a winning electoral formula. For Tories to be given a chance to be listened to, people need to look up and notice and see and hear someone different, someone new, younger, someone they have not heard before, talking to them with a different voice, even looking different.
A reshuffle was an opportunity to bring on younger promising Tories, those closer in age and outlook and background to the parts of the electorate they need to reach, those speaking in accents that are not pure Home Counties, those with constituencies far from London, those with experience of the wider world or outside the usual Oxbridge/London/SPAD route, those with some understanding of what it is to worry about unexpected bills. It was an opportunity to start resetting the Tories image, much as Cameron’s election in 2005 from nowhere started to make people look at the Tories again. It was an opportunity to shift a generation and to get that new generation thinking about what a Conservatism for the 2020’s and beyond needs to be if it is to survive.
In seeking to rely only on those she could trust, Mrs May forgot that giving others opportunity and advancement and hope for preferment would both make her own and, more importantly, her party’s position more secure. Those who look for promotion are now reduced to hoping that others’ long-forgotten fumblings will create some more vacancies. Never was the personal more political.