Friday, October 14, 2005

This little Tory hobbit

House Points returns to Liberal Democrat News for its 94th season. Here is today's column.

Conservative Conspiracies

There’s nothing so much fun as a Tory leadership contest. In recent years the Conservative Party has shown a reliable instinct for choosing the wrong candidate. And these elections are one of the few places where you still come across open class warfare.

In 1990 the victim was Douglas Hurd. His Eton and Trinity background was used against him by John Major’s campaign team. Hurd was mystified: “I was brought up on a farm. I don’t know how we got into all this. This is inverted snobbery. I thought I was running for leader of the Conservative Party, not some demented Marxist sect.”

Today David Davis is fighting back against David Cameron, another Old Etonian, with the same tactic. “I was born into Britain's largest class – those who rely on public services,” he told the Telegraph on Tuesday.

Some of Davis’s more fanciful supporters even detect a Brideshead conspiracy behind Cameron’s rapid ascent. You see, David Cameron was given a huge boost by a Newsnight focus group organised by an American called Frank Luntz. And Luntz was once a big noise at the Oxford Union alongside three of Cameron’s leading supporters: Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Ed Vaizey.

It gets worse. The BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson, who enthused about Cameron’s conference speech and rubbished Davis’s, was President of the Oxford University Conservative Association in those days.

But David Cameron comes over as more likely to be the victim of a dark conspiracy. His complexion is so unblemished that, like Elijah Wood in the Lord of the Rings films, he appears to have had his face covered with a thin layer of plastic film.

It’s a long way to the top of Mount Doom and you wonder if this little Tory hobbit will make it.

Still, the outline of the agenda that will replace New Labour is becoming clear. It supports public spending but knows micromanagement from the centre does not work. It is suspicious of Dubya’s foreign adventures. It values human rights and is wary of ceding more areas of private life to state control.

We Liberal Democrats still have the time to seize this agenda as our own. But we should not rely upon the Tories choosing the wrong leader for ever.

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