Has Red Toryism peaked already?

Cameron's flirtation with Red Toryism, like Blair's with stakeholding capitalism, was entirely super

The self-styled 'Red Tory' Phillip Blond appeared to be in the ascendancy earlier this year as David Cameron appeared alongside him at the launch of Demos's Progressive Conservatism project. Speculation that Cameron was prepared to embrace significant elements of Red Toryism intensified when his speech on "moral capitalism" to the World Economic Forum in Davos drew heavily on Blond's work. He even poached Blond's smart line on "recapitalising the poor".

Yet nearly six months on, Blond has little to show for his consistent attempts to woo the Tory leader. He has argued that the Conservatives should abandon their support for the part-privatisation of Royal Mail and outline a plan to extend the Post Office's retail banking function. But even after Lord Mandelson's policy retreat the Tories remain committed to privatisation. Cameron also shows no sign of support for a genuinely progressive tax system.

The Guardian's Tom Clark thinks he has an explanation. Noting the party's failure to support the tighter competition laws advocated by Blond, he writes:

While this policy is attractive, a Tory government would struggle to implement it, because it clashes with the big Conservative business interests. We arrive at the nub of the argument for ingesting Red Toryism with a shovel-load of salt. Clever people, of whom Blond is indubitably one, are prone to over-intellectualising politics - failing to grasp that it is a game where interests trump ideas. In the Tory party, the weightiest interest is property - not the abstract notion, but the real security of those who happen to own it.

It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Cameron's flirtation with Red Toryism was no more substantial than Tony Blair's fleeting support for Will Hutton's brand of stakeholder capitalism in his 1996 Singapore speech.

Hutton, briefly touted as the philosopher-king of New Labour, soon found himself sidelined in favour of Anthony Giddens as it became clear that his ideas would require a degree of state intervention intolerable for Blair. Just as social democrats speak longingly of Blair's Singapore speech, expect the Red Tories to soon wistfully reminisce about Cameron's Davos speech.

For all the seductiveness of Blond's analysis, it's increasingly clear that Conservative policy will continue to owe more to Arthur Laffer than to the Red Tories.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.