I watched Dispatches on Channel 4 on Monday night. Entitled Toff at the Top, Peter Hitchens, who describes himself as a "moral and cultural conservative", presented a withering critique of the Tory leader David Cameron. Basically it's a story of the extinction of choice in British politics, where the main opposition party has been hijacked by an elitist club of political careerists and PR men. Far from wishing to fight New Labour, Hitchens believes that Cameron has sought to copy New Labour's methods and adopt most of its beliefs. The adversarial tradition of British politics is dead and Parliament has become the private property of conformist social, cultural and moral liberals. As a result, Hitchens believes our political system is being degraded and the very foundations of our democratic system are under threat.
To his great credit Hitchens manages to remain a model of calm and not practically pass out with apoplexy and rage like the way most reactionary commentators do when dealing with the perfidies of permissiveness and social liberalism. I must say, as someone rooted in the culture of the left and a one time enthusiast of the insurgent Bennites of the early 1980s, I have some sympathy for Hitchens - probably because it's a mirror image of what many of us feel about Blairism.
Hitchens searches in vain for the intellectual roots of the Cameron revolution, discovering a politician who, until very recently, presented himself as a thoroughly conventional rural Tory, hardline on law and order and with mainstream Tory views on homosexuality. It was only half-way through a leadership contest, when facing defeat by the more traditionalist David Davis, that Cameron began to push for a modernising agenda. The rebranding of the Conservative Party has slavishly copied the New Labour template. For Hitchens, this has robbed the British political system of any real element of contest and it leaves him politically homeless.
There's a curious thing happening with Tory foreign policy as well. Writing in last week's Guardian, Geoffrey Wheatcroft talked about what he terms the "Anglo-neocons", an influential group of MPs who are fanatical adherents of the creed with its three prongs: ardent support for the Iraq war, for the US and for Israel. Wheatcroft remarks that in most European countries there is a party of the right whose basic definition is its attachment to the national interest of that country. "Only here is there a Conservative party, and Tory press, largely in the hands of people whose basic commitment is to the national interest of another country, or countries". Fealty to Washington seems to have largely extinguished a once robust Tory tradition of independence in relation to the United States.
Will a Brown premiership restore a greater degree of partisan difference that is based on policy rather than spin? I suspect that it might and I think William Keegan, writing in today's Observer is correct when he says that "at least Brown knows that slogans are never a substitute for policies". When Brown eventually takes up the reigns of power, after this absurdly long interregnum, he will want to reinvent a Labour government and style and substance will change. I think that this will revive the party's fortunes in the polls and lead to another term in office. The Tories, despite the poll figures, are still untrusted. Cameron, notwithstanding the aforementioned similarities, is not comparable to Blair. He is more like Neil Kinnock - trying to rid the party of all manner of self-imposed obstacles to becoming electable again.