. . . Of the three party conferences, the Conservatives’ provided the most fodder for that inevitable litmus test of a political story: splits. This year, they were primarily on the nature and existence of EU membership, and the Human Rights Act. But news stories do not always reflect the broader reality. Aside from the very real differences between Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, and the home secretary Theresa May, the splits are exaggerated.
If MPs on the Conservative right really believe that David Cameron is “betraying” Toryism, they are mistaken. Ever since he became leader in 2005, Cameron has skilfully encouraged the media to portray him as a “moderniser” while quietly refusing to ditch any of the core Tory policies on immigration, Europe, tax, and law and order. But a perceived fight with the right over the presence and supposed influence of the Liberal Democrats in government suits him: he is, after all, pitching for the centre ground.
There is one area, though, on which Cameron is to the left of his party: foreign aid. You could tell from the bemused and bored reception on the conference floor given to the pre-speech films promoting it.
To be fair, Cameron himself had a decent conference. Any critic who saw his commanding performance, for example, at the beleaguered Scottish Conservatives’ reception on Monday night could not help but be impressed at both the authority with which he carried himself and the genuineness of his Unionist message, despite the electoral advantage that some in his party want to exploit by breaking up the UK.
Yet in his speech today, Cameron exposed the myth that in anything other than appearance, he is a centrist, liberal, new kind of Conservative leader, or one that is, in the words of the Mail on Sunday’s Peter Hitchens, “left-wing.” (Read Peter Hitchens’s article on the Conservative party, “A toxic brand,” in this month’s Prospect.)
He began by siding with May over Clarke, adding a rather cruel jibe at the elder statesman, when he joked about making him read a book called “Crime and Punishment—twice.” Cameron claimed his was a “One Nation” party, but that wing of the party, redistributive…