The full implications of what David Cameron might be attempting may only now be dawning on our professional political classes. At 8pm last night John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, was sounding positively bullish, calling on Labour to mobilise for another General Election, confident in the fact that a Tory/LibDem coalition could not possibly last. By 8.30pm I suspect Labour was feeling far less sanguine when news began to leak of a fixed-term Parliament which could be a massive game changer.
Cameron and Clegg are now bound in political marriage, for better or worse. There will be no cutting and running here when times get tough or when the polls show that the Conservatives can get a majority in the House if they call another election.
It is possible that familiarity could lead to contempt, but it could also lead to a new long-standing Centrist coalition which could effectively lock the Labour Party out of power for a generation. Of course, in order to be centrist and moderate the Conservative Party will have to move to the centre which brings me to my second point.
Michael Heseltine on BBC News 24 last night used a term which I have not heard in decades, namely ‘One Nation Conservatism’. I suspect this is where Cameron has wanted to be all along, slightly right of centre, following in the footsteps of Rab Butler, Alec Douglas Home, Ian Macleod and, dare I say it, Ted Heath (pictured above) – a political position which dominated the 1950s and 60s for the Conservatives. It has taken political expediency and a lust for power to convince his party to take its first steps to follow him.
One Nation Conservatism is the left wing of the Conservative Party, standing for fairness and consensus in society which Thatcher famously denied existed (“there’s no such thing as society, only individuals”). She famously labeled them “wets”, the only Prime Minister in living memory to give such a derogatory term to members of her own party.
Cameron is now in position to banish, within his own party and crucially in the minds of the electorate the spectre of Thatcherism, confining it to its rightful place in the history of Conservatism as an aberration fuelled by circumstance and three General Election victories brought on by militant trade unionism (1979), a horrendously split Labour Party and a war (1983) and the combination of all three and an artificial economic boom for her last victory (1987).
In many ways Labour was right, the Conservative Party hasn’t changed. The nightmare for them is that Cameron is about to.