Cameron’s speech: a triumph of right-wing virtue-signalling made possible by Labour’s abdication as a credible opposition

by Stephen Tall on October 8, 2015

I didn’t watch David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative conference in Manchester yesterday. Like much of the country I was at work. But the insta-reaction of journalists was generally positive — here was a Tory leader making an audacious pitch for the centre, even the centre-left, of British politics. Labour and Lib Dems beware!

Yet as the #sorrycommentariat simultaneously acknowledged, Mr Cameron’s speech wasn’t about policy. Which means, as it stands, that the savage cuts to tax-credits awaiting 13 million lower-income families, set to lose an average of £260 a year, will still happen — and with 3 million working families losing an average of £1k a year.

The Prime Minister continues to maintain, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that this assault on the bank accounts of the ‘strivers’ will be offset by a higher minimum wage. (Before we Lib Dems get too shrill, by the way, we should note that our party used to make the same argument that welfare cuts were offset by our commitment to raising the tax threshold: that wasn’t true either.) It is, in any case, unnecessary, driven by the Tories’ macho insistence on getting the country into surplus in double-quick time.

In short, Cameron is talking left while moving right, tactically cross-dressing (just as Jo Grimond used to advocate that liberal leaders dress smart when talking radical). His speech was a triumph of right-wing virtue-signalling. And it may work. Much of the middle-class will, after all, be left untouched by the Conservatives’ welfare cuts.

But it’s hard to see how the Conservatives could, under normal political conditions, hope to prosper politically while needlessly inflicting such pain on the low-income hard-workers Mr Cameron’s warm words were supposed to woo.

Except, of course, Labour has elected a leader chronically incapable to taking the fight to the Tories. I have never, ever voted Conservative, but forced to choose between a Cameron-led Tory government or Corbyn’s Labour I’d have to break that lifetime habit (fortunately there is a sensible third way open to me). And I won’t be alone.

The Tories have a wafer-thin majority masquerading as a landslide thanks to the reckless self-indulgence of Labour’s decision to abdicate its role as a credible party of government for as long as the Bennite Left is in charge. The gap between Cameron’s rhetoric and Conservative reality would be exploited by Her Majesty’s Opposition if it were itself in touch with reality. Sadly, it’s too busy promenading its own rhetorical virtue-signalling on social media.

I watched last night’s excellent BBC2 documentary, Denis Healy: The Best Prime Minister We Never Had? There was a leader who understood the necessity of compromise, of politics as the art of the possible, who hated opposition because it meant not being in power to achieve something for the people who elected you.

My simplistic plea: a lot less virtue-signalling, a lot more virtue-doing.