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  1. Politics
10 May 2010

Cameron’s biggest test

David Cameron never had his “Clause Four” moment. He now has the chance of one, by forcing his party

By James Macintyre

David Cameron never did have his “Clause Four” moment during the four and a half years of his supposedly “modernising” leadership, which is one of the reasons why the Tories did not win the election. Now, at the very last minute, he has the opportunity for one.

It is clear that the Tory party is trying hard to stop Cameron offering electoral reform to the Liberal Democrats (just as the Lib Dems are doubtless trying hard to prevent Nick Clegg from abandoning it). Even that celebrated “Tory wet”, Michael Heseltine has said:

I don’t think for a minute that David Cameron will concede change to the voting system and I don’t think that he needs to. His position is much stronger than I think the commentators give credit for.

Hmm. I actually suspect that the Tory-Liberal talks are much more perilous and tricky than many commentators, mainly on the right, are making out, as a sense of inevitably is spun to propel Cameron into No 10. The reason for my suspicion is the proportional representation question.

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It would be dishonest of me to pretend not to think that a “progressive alliance” between Labour, the Lib Dems and others would be better for Britain than a Tory-Liberal one. But if the Lib Dems really are going to hook up with the Tories — and I believe it is still an “if” — then Cameron will finally have had his Clause Four moment by forcing his party to adapt to a new reality, of which he seems keenly aware.

Two caveats, however. First, if the Tories campaign against electoral reform, having delivered a referendum, that would not only undermine the whole concept, but also show the Lib Dems to have sold themselves hopelessly short. Second, Cameron has shown impressive adaptability in the past few days, but all the signs from the past suggest that he will be unable to take on the right of the parliamentary party he meets this evening.

The question Cameron will be putting to his party is: does it want power, or purity? Time will tell.

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