A common tactic for politicians and commentators on the left is to assail coalition ministers for their privileged backgrounds. There has been a plethora of references to the Bullingdon Club, Old Etonians, “cabinet of millionaires”, “posh boys” and “Tory toffs” since Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Osborne took office in May 2010. Speaking in the Commons earlier this week, Labour MP Dennis Skinner accused Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt of sacking his “servant” (i.e. special adviser Adam Smith).
Now, you could dismiss such rhetoric as “class war” or the politics of “envy” – in the way that multimillionaire Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has, across the pond, when faced with attacks on his “silver spoon” from Barack Obama and the Democrats.
But, in recent weeks, here in the UK, it is backbench Tories who have queued up to launch assaults on the backgrounds of Cameron et al; attacks which, on the surface, sound very similar to long-standing left-wing complaints about posh, out-of-touch Tories.
Take Nadine Dorries MP:
“There is a very tight, narrow clique of a certain group of people and what they do is act as a barrier and prevent Cameron and Osborne and others from actually really understanding or knowing what is happening in the rest of the country.
“I think that not only are Cameron and Osborne two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, but they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others – and that is their real crime.”
Earlier this year, Ms Dorries told the Financial Times that Government policy was “being run by two public school boys who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunch boxes”.
“What’s worse, they don’t care either,” she added.
Or former shadow home secretary and one-time Tory leadership candidate David Davis MP:
They think we’re toffs.
The truth is, they look at the front bench, they see them all very well dressed, well turned out, well fed, and perhaps feel that they’re in a different world to them.
The “we’re all in this together” phrase is very important – but at the moment it’s not working.
The latest intervention is from Robert Halfon MP, in today’s Independent:
“I’d love more Esther McVeys, people like that who are very clever but sound normal. They are steeped in street-fighting. We need street-fighters who represent the party.”
. . .”Millions of union members vote Tory and the language we are giving out is that we hate trade unionism.
. . .He said: “Everything we say should be judged politically on how it helps strivers, how it helps aspiration. The language needs to change, the logos and slogans need to be improved.”
Perhaps Cameron and Osborne, who have had the worst few weeks of their political careers, should start paying attention to the criticisms of some of their own backbenchers. I hate to say it, but Dorries, Davis and Halfon have a point. And, of course, it’s difficult for the Tory high command to dismiss them as leftie class-warriors.