The Week in Review: Cameron wipes out all record of Liberal Conservatism

Silenced: Liberal Conservatism never happened, geddit?
Silenced: Liberal Conservatism never happened, geddit?
Ian Dunt By

They finally did it. This week the Tories stopped pretending, once and for all, that they were ever engaged in a modernisation process.

It's been moribund for years. Cameron is as likely to mention huskies in PMQs as he is to sacrifice a young lamb. But this week, they actually got rid of all the evidence there ever was a modernisation programme.

The Conservatives deleted all their pre-election speech and news archive and then posted a robot blocker on their website to stop Google users from ever finding them.

The promise of no more "pointless reorganisations" of the NHS? Gone. The promise of "vote blue, go green"? Gone. The promise to use the internet for more "transparent" government? Gone.


The great retoxifying whitewash of Liberal Conservativism has begun. The past was a dream. It never happened. Weakened to the point of impotence by coalition, a spotty electoral track record and his own equivocations, Cameron is now firmly under the control of his backbenchers and his crusading ministers.

This week showed how trenchantly right-wing and old-school-Conservative the party had become. It is, in many ways, more conservative than the Tory party which was labelled, not unfairly, the 'nasty party'. John Major himself even looks like a progressive crusader next to the current leadership.

On the day the UK was elected to the UN's human rights council, Theresa May demanded her underlings dismantle the law preventing government officials from making someone stateless. She wants the power to take away the passport of a British citizen and put them in a permanent legal limbo.

Tory MP David Davies (not that one) demanded that absent fathers be put "in chains" and forced to work. Many Tory backbenchers focused their political work exclusively on an arcane point of European human rights law. Their ferocious ideological commitment to scrapping British membership of the EU appears to have alienated the public so severely that the 'in' and 'out' camps are now neck-and-neck.

The bedroom tax returned to the Commons, with even Danny Alexander's father coming out against it. The government scraped through, although its majority was cut to just 26.

A group of Liberal Democrats split from their leadership, insisting - not unfairly - that only tenants with an extra bedroom who refuse to move to a smaller location  should face the financial penalty.

That sort of basic fair play could have saved the coalition an awful lot of bad press over the last year. Instead, the main headline emerging from the debate came from a Labour MP who pointed out that his brother faced losing his home of 20 years because he was a kidney patient using the extra room for a dialysis machine.

That chimes with the general effect of the policy. The majority of people hit by the bedroom tax will be disabled. It is a bona fide public relations disaster – a benefit cut so wrongheaded and unjust that even the British public are against it.

On probation, Chris Grayling pushed ahead with his plans for privatisation. The issue has stayed mostly below the radar, because it seems dry and boring. But all it will take is one preventable murder and it will be very firmly above the radar. One of the biggest problems with Grayling's plans is that they separate supervision of low-and-medium from high risk offenders, with the latter still being dealt with by the probation service. That fragmentation could allow a potentially dangerous individual to go unchecked. If the worst comes to the worst, the media backlash would be severe.

The privatisation continued apace over at the Department for Education, where plans for privatising social care provision were being put into place, with a typically aggressive and unpleasant communications drive.

Wherever you look you see ministers pushing through privatisation, backbenchers ranting about Europe and desperate, underhand attempts to pretend the Tories never experimented with liberalism in the first place.

Partly this is a result of the political context Cameron found himself in. If these were economically fortunate times, his social liberalism would be centre stage rather than his almost-messianic faith in the free market. Instead, he is driving through a privatisation agenda with little public support and a welfare agenda with plenty of public victims.

You can see why they needed to delete those old speeches. Their sunny, optimistic, charitable disposition runs completely counter to the harsh reality of the present.

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