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David Cameron: not Tory enough?

What David Cameron has achieved in just two years in office should be getting the free market right more excited than Ken Livingstone’s doctor. Instead, substantial sections of his own party are subjecting him to sustained assault for the alleged insufficiency of his attachment to their dogma.

So crazed are his assailants that they seemingly accord no weight to such achievements as the completion of the necessary spadework for the privatisation of the NHS, the end of universal child benefit and the implementation of the deepest cuts in public spending since the early 1920s.

Were I a frothing at the mouth Friedmanite, I would sign off his school report with ’10 out of 10 for effort’, and gleefully look forward to the Coalition sealing the various aforementioned deals. What I would not be doing is start plotting a palace coup over the question of gay marriage.

Cameron told last year’s party conference that he supports gay marriage not despite being a Conservative, but because he is a Conservative. I rather suspect he does not particularly care about the matrimonial standing on same sex couples, either way. His purported stance gives every appearance of being driven by perceived electoral advantage rather than principle.

The prime minister’s words were rather designed as progressive window dressing for the serious game plan the Coalition is on the cusp of delivering, and rightwingers seeking to rock the boat at this moment are being ‘unhelpful’, in the full-on Alastair Campbell sense of the word.

But as anyone who has picked up a rightwing newspaper in recent days will be aware, the boatrocking season is in full swing: the front page splash in last Friday’s Daily Mail – ‘Now stand up for Tory values’ – may yet prove one of the most politically significant tabloid headlines for many years.

The proposition that the electorate is crying out for a greater degree of rightist radicalism does not look as obvious to me as it does to numerous serious rightist commentators, or even Nadine Dorries. It is, after all, Labour that is the primary beneficiary of disaffection with this administration.

But such is the degree of disconnect between Westminster and the rest of Britain that the argument that the Tory core vote is revolting through abstention is not logically impossible. Conservative Poujadists are clearly concerned that UKIP is salami slicing the base from the rightmost end of the sausage.

Unfortunately, the best critique they can offer is incoherent at an intellectual level. The reality is that the Conservative Party stopped being Conservative – at least in the sense that term was previously employed in British political thought – at some point in the late 1970s. Its policies since that point have born no more recognisable a resemblance to Burke than New Labour policies bear towards the social democratic tradition.

In truth, Cameron is probably the closest approximation to a proper Tory leader since the last time an Old Etonian stood at the helm. The thing is, ‘proper Toryism’ is the last thing this fight is about.

Motivating factors are dominated by unreasoning impatience, with perhaps just a little admixture of personal ambition thrown into what is looking like an increasingly poisonous mix. Cometh the hour, cometh the Boris.

Although it hardly becomes me to proffer tactical advice to the other side, the words of Tammy Wynette’s most famous ditty come irresistibly to mind at this juncture. Then again, if the right wants to rip itself to shreds in the run up to the next election, politeness alone dictates that the left should be the last people to object.

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