It has been a quiet weekend in Westminster, which — along with the increasing chatter about the prospect of a hung parliament — has helped Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats dominate the news yesterday and today, culminating in the party leader’s speech to conference this afternoon, offering (you guessed it) “real change”.
I cannot remember so much publicity for what has usually been known as the “third” party since the ugly removal of Charles Kennedy as Lib Dem leader in January 2006. For positive coverage, this weekend has been something of a modern record: I don’t recall the Liberals dominating politics on Sky News, say, as they were late last night and today.
The papers are generally quiet, too. One tiny titbit caught my eye, in the Mail on Sunday‘s wickedly sharp Black Dog political gossip column. This, from a “friend” of the Tory leader’s wife, Samantha Cameron:
We were talking about Disraeli at a dinner party and Sam said, “What exactly is a One-Nation Tory?”
This remark is revealing because it is precisely what her husband, “Dave”, is not. On the face of it, it is extraordinary that Mrs Cameron doesn’t know about the political ideal that her husband’s wing of the Tory party claims to be emulating. It may not be the stuff of intimate pillow talk, granted, but you’d have thought it might have come up at some point over the years.
In reality, however, it is no wonder she hasn’t heard of it. One-Nation Toryism as pursued by Benjamin Disraeli and even more so by Harold Macmillan, and embodied today by the man the party leadership has finally realised needs to be central to any election campaign, Kenneth Clarke, is a far cry from the social and economic liberalism of Margaret Thatcher, Michael Portillo and “Dave” Cameron.
For want of a better description, One Nationism is about relieving poverty and tackling the underclass on the understanding that we truly are all in this together, and that increased wealth at the bottom boosts the entire economy and improves national cohesion.
Clarke would have pursued it. Cameron has not.
Had Cameron done so, the Tories might be set for an overall majority. Instead, though it is still almost unspoken, because “Labour crisis” is deemed a better story (so far) than “Tory crisis”, the Conservative Party has failed to connect with the wider electorate.