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16 October 2008

If you want to get ahead, hug a Tory

David Cameron and I go back to the sinking of the Belgrano, both being “new bugs” at Eton

By Gideon Donald

I need not go on, you know the rest. It is in truth a somewhat lazy manner in which to open a new column but, on occasion, the Bard is essential if only for the heft and hinterland that he alone conjures up with a few choice words.

The tide is coming in fast and it is a good time to be a Tory. The opinion poll leads remain implacable. Every week we assume a chink must appear in our double-digit lead; every week we are provided with further evidence of our impregnability.

And then the world falls in. One minute, all that was required was for us, in that overused phrase of Jenkins, to transport the Ming vase across the hall; the next, to move from Sir Roy to Del Boy, we are diving for cover as the chandeliers come falling down.

Our leadership’s response has been tepid. There are those who predict a bright future for the shadow chancellor George Osborne, although I fear, based on his somewhat unconvincing physiognomy, he is more likely to encounter the kind of fate doled out to an unfortunate in a Saki story.

Anyhow, if he is to fulfil the predictions of others, it would be helpful if he were to cease appearing on the nation’s television screens looking like a man who has an unmerited bonus cheque stuffed away in his back pocket. Guilt never becomes a politician.

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Our leader-in-waiting, meanwhile, does not give the impression of having stunned the Oxford don Vernon Bogdanor with his facility for economics, not that, as I recall, Boggo was ever quite so complimentary during our tutorials. Still, it was only PPE.

These flaws have allowed the Clunking Fist (how apt that as a parting gift Tony Blair should lumber GB with our private name for him) to take centre stage and, most bizarrely, be cast as global hero.

Once again, however, his feet will be revealed to have the texture of clay.

It is one thing to throw money at banks, another to have to explain to the electorate that they are, in effect, a bunch of bankers. How will hoi polloi react to having a mortgage application turned down by a bank in which they have a stake? Not. Very. Well.

The global meltdown will, therefore, only cause a blip in the polls. The new Labour careerists who have reinvented themselves as new Tory evangelists need not worry. If you want to get ahead, hug a Tory. A philosophy best exemplified by the fact that you have a Tory, and a High Tory at that, writing for this magazine. If you can’t beat them, employ them.

This sea change is down, in no small part, to Cameron and, of course, those who guide and advise him. Dave and I go back to the sinking of the Belgrano, both being “new bugs” at Eton during the Falklands War. David, as he then was, has always been a persuasive and fluent speaker, more often than not being among the early favourites for the coveted Loder Declamation Prize. His eloquence never better displayed than during the famous look-no-notes-all- my-own-work speech at Blackpool. He is masterful when reciting someone else’s script. Dave’s vanity, too, was on display from the off. He was, for example, the only Etonian to have a Corby Trouser Press in his room, not as an affectation but as a practical appliance.

At the time he felt more comfortable on the Lord Carrington/Francis Pym wing of the party, but as we moved, inexorably, from Eton to Bullingdon it eventually dawned on him that there was no future in the past. The party of Macmillan had no place in the world of Margaret Thatcher and the Big Bang. If the Establishment was to defend itself it would not do so with “a quick 18 after lunch and a sharpener at the 19th”. Instead, we would have to work like grammar school boys. It was expected of us that we take Firsts. Rather counter-intuitively we would have to be New Old Etonians.

No harm in all that. Parties, even Conservative ones, must adapt or die. It was one of the many aspects of Margaret’s genius that for the Tories to remain the natural party of government they must always act against type.

It was, perhaps, her only flaw to entrust this process of change to Estonians and not Etonians. An error almost certainly attributable to having spent too much time in cabinet meetings attended by Frank Pym.

This time there will be no such blunders. The hard thinking has been done.

We have moved from being Neocons to Nudgeocons. The sainted Keith had Friedmanomics, we have Nudgeonomics, the science, or maybe the art, of manipulating people to do your bidding without having to make the bidding explicit. Nothing could be more quintessentially, for want of a better word, Etonian.

The debate is on. Let us conduct it in these pages.

Gideon Donald will be writing regularly for the New Statesman

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