Not even Paine could make Cameron a progressive

David Marquand is wrong to suggest that reading Thomas Paine could transform the Tory leader into a

I blogged last week about Thomas Paine's influence on Barack Obama, noting that the man once dismissed by Theodore Roosevelt as a "filthy little atheist" had been quoted several times by the US president.

In today's Guardian, David Marquand appears to suggest that Paine's revolutionary works could inspire David Cameron to undertake a thorough overhaul of Britain's archaic constitution.

Would a close reading of Common Sense or Rights of Man motivate the Tory leader to become a "true progressive" as Marquand hopes?

Cameron has previously cited Tony Benn's Arguments for Democracy as one of the books that triggered his interest in politics, so there's no reason why Paine couldn't make it on to his next summer reading list.

But less promisingly, Benn's text, which advances a number of Paine-type arguments for the abolition of the monarchy and hereditary peers as well as the disestablishment of the Church of England, seems to have had remarkably little influence on Cameron's politics.

I'm rather less optimistic than Marquand that Paine -- who famously declared that hereditary rule was "as absurd as a hereditary mathematician, or a hereditary wise man" -- could succeed where Benn failed.

Cameron has repeatedly made it clear that the removal of the remaining hereditary peers from the House of Lords is very much a second-order issue for his party.

As for Marquand's suggestion that Cameron could capture the "spirit of Milton and Paine", is he really suggesting that the Tory leader could take up the "good old cause"?

At a time when the Conservative Party has aligned itself with some of the most reactionary forces in Europe and Cameron has adopted the arguments of deficit hysterics, Marquand's contribution is sadly misguided.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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