Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cameron wins Tory leadership

David Cameron has just been elected new leader of the Conservative Party, with a comfortable 68%-32% margin over his competitor, and one-time favourite, David Davies. Cameron may seem surprisingly young at the age of 39 (and contrasts of that sort have already been drawn with the man viewed as his real opponent, Gordon Brown); however, since Blair's victory in 1997 - indeed, since John Major took over from Margaret Thatcher in 1990, the Conservative Party has suffered from a succession of fairly bland, unremarkable, and mostly old-school right-wingers at its head. John Major was unable to keep his government together in the face of Blair's onslaught; and subsequent leaders such as William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard have spectacularly failed to make any real impression (even Blairs much reduced majority is more down to his actions in Iraq than any real resurgence in the Tories). At the same time, there have been contenders who many felt could make the Tories a force again, and who had the necessary charisma to make the party appealing beyond its core vote - Heseltine, Clarke and (the later) Portillo fall under this category. Often, it has been the Conservative's odd policy of allowing grass-roots volunteers the final say in a run-off between two candidates that has led to these results, and has meant that the party has remained confined to its aging, right-wing base. It is interesting to note that the party attempted, and failed, to change this system this time around.

No matter. This time, the Party has made the more courageous choice. Davies was far more in the Hague/Duncan Smith/Howard mould than his competitor. The Tory volunteers have seen the success that Blair has had, and have gone for someone more obviously in his image. Cameron's first speech ended a few minutes ago with a plea for compassionate and inclusive conservatism; and an invitation for all those who believe in honest, dynamic politics, individual choice and social justice to join him and his party.

We have, of course, heard all of this before. About four times since 1990. Cameron does, however, feel a bit different. He might just manage to revitalise the party, and broaden its core support. On the other hand, he is a significant risk; he has rocketed to power almost from nowhere (he has only been an MP since 2001), and he has now to face some formidable, and experienced, politicians in Blair and, presumably, Brown. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to hold his own in these circumstance, or whether he has just been handed the classic hospital pass. And will he seek to minimise this by surrounding himself with the Tory "old guard", or will he begin his reformation of the Party immediately, from the top down?

The next major point of interest, then, will be to see who he appoints to his shadow cabinet, and where...

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