27 October 2005 Edition

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Tory leadership race - Cameron seems safe bet to win

BY FERN LANE

Little to choose in contest of right-wingers

When the BBC evening news interviewed David Cameron a few nights ago to seek his views on the Labour Government's proposed radical changes to the education system in Britain -- without also interviewing his rival for the Conservative Party leadership David Davis — they were effectively saying, whether deliberately or otherwise, that they believe the contest is already over.

As things stand at present, that seems like a fairly safe bet. Cameron has seemingly come from nowhere to see off Liam Fox and Kenneth Clarke who were eliminated from the contest in the first vote amongst Tory MPs and is now well ahead in the polls with the party's national membership, who will make the final choice of leader.

Much has been made of the 39-year-old's, youth, background and pre-parliamentary activities. An Eton and Oxford educated toff, related to various branches of the British aristocracy, Cameron has certainly enjoyed a rapid rise within the Conservative Party. He only entered parliament in 2001 as the MP for Witney. Some believe that his posh background will hinder his appeal to the more meritocratic British electorate, although it might work in his favour with the elderly, white, middle-class, still-deferential demographic profile of the Conservative Party. And, as one Guardian commentator observed, that Eton-Oxbridge educational route, which is based on privilege rather than merit, nonetheless gives its beneficiaries what is called ESS; an Effortless Sense of Superiority which will be so familiar to those in the North of Ireland who have been obliged to deal with various British Secretaries of State and senior military personnel. It was in no small measure this ESS which enabled Cameron to make his much-admired speech-without-notes at the Conservative Party conference and which won so many converts to his cause.

But, beneath chubby-faced youthfulness and the stated desire to modernise the Conservative Party and to make it more 'compassionate' there lurks an altogether more unpleasant right-winger. Cameron favours hard-line Thatcherite economic policies, particularly in relation to taxation and his voting record is interesting. He voted for the invasion of Iraq, against the ban on foxhunting and against an elected House of Lords. Interestingly for a right-winger, however, he has consistently supported a review of drugs laws.

Whilst Cameron has a legion of defenders in the British media and parliament in relation to the alleged cocaine habit of his youth, others have accused him of hypocrisy. He refuses to discuss the issue beyond stating that that he has not taken drugs "since becoming an MP" — surely an implicit admission — and insisting that he is entitled to a private life. Nevertheless, he has not hesitated to discuss the fact that he has a son with cerebral palsy when this seems to be in his best political interests and to lend him a more sympathetic air. And further, we are not talking about a misdemeanour decades ago; he has only been an MP for four years.

Like Cameron, his older rival David Davis has not been averse to plundering selective elements of his personal life to further his political ambitions. Elected in 1987, he makes much of the fact that he was the working-class son of a single mother, brought up on a tough estate in Tooting, London and that he actively chose the Conservative Party, when Labour would have been the natural choice for someone of his background. Until some digging by journalists exposed it as wrong, he also claimed that his Communist Party grandfather had taken part in the 1936 Jarrow march. Also like Cameron, he claims to be interested in modernisation and compassion, but his record, with a traditional Tory whiff of homophobia and reactionary social policies, suggests otherwise. He has spoken in support of the death penalty, he voted for the invasion of Iraq, against the ban of foxhunting, against the repeal of Clause 28 (which prevented statutory authorities recognising homosexuality), against the lowering of the age of consent for gay sex to 16 and against the right of same sex and unmarried couples to adopt children. Most tellingly perhaps, given his incessant harping on about his under-privileged upbringing, he also voted in favour of cuts in benefits to the disabled and for lone parents.

In terms of policies, there is little to choose between the candidates. Both are from the right-wing of the party and so in the end it will come down to personal appeal. In that, Cameron leads the way. He has already been dubbed the 'new Tony Blair', although with the old one being so discredited this may be a tag which does him more harm than good.


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