Out on the campaign trail yesterday, the prime minister gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph. During the course of it, he made a plea to those thinking of voting UKIP to “come home” to the Conservative Party. This is actually what he said specifically:
“They can see the tougher approach we’ve taken to immigration. They can see the changes we’ve made. And I think it’s the time for Conservative voters who went off to Ukip – it’s the time to come home. On the basis that the real choice in this election is economic mayhem and chaos under Ed Miliband, possibly backed up by Nicola Sturgeon, or the certainty of continued competence and growth under the Conservatives.”
There are two things about this quote that bother me. One, the arrogance of the Conservative Party on display: UKIP voters are “their” voters clearly, ones who should stop messing about and “come home”. For a party that knows it has an image problem in this regard, they certainly don’t do a lot to counterbalance it, the Tories. Two, it demonstrates how in their heart of hearts, while the Tories like to pay lip service to certain aspects of liberalism even Cameron feels a certain adherence to the type of conservatism espoused by Nigel Farage and his gang.
Back in May 2010, in the shadow of the Rose Garden, Orange Book liberals like me thought that perhaps the Tories were going to become at least partially the liberal party some in their ranks clearly wanted them to become. The Con-Lib coalition seemed to provide the perfect starting point for this to take place. Gone would be the obsessions with Europe, immigration, and human rights removal. Yes, the Tories would still be more ideologically committed to a shrinking of the state than we were, but at least there would be some basis for the partnership to proceed, particularly on things like protection of civil liberties.
Not even this last item was safe in Tory hands. The coalition became a matter of Lib Dems fire fighting to stop the Tories from rolling back on liberalism as opposed to the two parties working together to achieve any vision imaginable of liberalism together. I feel genuinely sad about this, feeling that it was a wasted opportunity – one that was the Tories fault. Looking again at Cameron’s interview yesterday, we see him griping about the Lib Dems as a “minor party” and behind the scenes certain Tories talking about “destroying” their coalition partners. It becomes clearer than ever that this was always part of the plan.
Tony Blair once said something to the effect that if you are a centrist and you want to change the country, the only way to do so is via the Labour Party. I used to scoff at this sentiment as being daft – now, I’m not so sure old Tone didn’t have at least half a point there. That’s not something I would have ever thought I might be saying in April 2015 from the vantage point of May 2010.