David Cameron said "we are all Thatcherites now". Apart from him, it would seem

The PM contradicts himself - is he a Thatcherite or not?

David Cameron has done a big interview with the Sunday Times (£) this weekend, and it's confused me quite a bit.

The morning of Margaret Thatcher's funeral, David Cameron gave an interview to the Today programme, in which he said:

I think in a way we’re all Thatcherites now because – I mean – I think one of the things about her legacy is some of those big arguments that she had had, you know, everyone now accepts. No-one wants to go back to trade unions that are undemocratic or one-sided nuclear disarmament or having great private sector businesses in the public sector.

You can listen to it here, just in case you missed it at the time:

 

Clear enough, you'd think. He's a Thatcherite, and he thinks the rest of us are too. But talking to Eleanor Mills for the Sunday Times, the Prime Minister changed his tune. She asked him again, and he said:

No... other people might call me that. I think the label’s now… it’s slightly become… labels now don’t quite mean what they did then.

When reminded that others in his party do call themselves Thatcherites, he responded "each to his own".

It turns out, he's moved on. Rather quickly, though, it would seem:

I was a tremendous Thatcher supporter... but there are now other challenges that need to be dealt with. I have problems with some of the Thatcher legacy — I’ve been more socially liberal.

Aside from Cameron's muddle over Thatcher the interview is worth reading in full if you can get your hands on a copy or breach the paywall, not least because it's a rare sit-down with a journalist who isn't in the lobby. In practice, this means that it doesn't contain much of the political doublespeak and Westminster code you so often get in these things. For instance, Mills writes:

I see what they mean about changing gears. I suddenly visualise him as a robot with four modes: 1. TV mode. 2. Public speaking. 3. Chummy to his aides. 4. Dispatch box. Adding to this cyborg persona is his almost artificially smooth, sleek skin — so peachy that he could be wearing foundation, though I don’t think he is. There’s definitely a whiff of the ham actor, or Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, about him. Cameron is a polished performer, but perhaps we might warm to him more if he made the odd Boris-style howler.

 

Jo Johnson and David Cameron. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.