Matthew Plummer 9.55am
I love the Eurovision Song Contest. Tragically for me it isn’t some sort of ironic interest based on poking fun at the funny hats, weird beards and implausible busts – I actually have the wretched thing in my diary and look forward to it each year, although up until now it’s been something of a secret shame.
The Swedes are to blame. In 2006 I lived in Stockholm, and they take Eurovision rather more seriously over there. Melodifestivalen is the country’s annual talent show that selects their Eurovision entry, and I was horrified to find my friends, who previously exuded Scandinavian cool, staying in to watch it with unnerving enthusiasm. Carola was the eventual winner: her act was typical schlager, a wonderful Swedish word that sums up all the craziness of Eurovision-esque power ballads, cheesy dance music and lengthy hair billowing with wind machines running at full tilt. Carola’s song reached #1 in the domestic charts, was promoted around Europe and finished a very credible fifth in the year Finnish monster rock act Lordi swept away all before them.
But I think the whole Eurovision business neatly sums up some of the failings we have in understanding our European partners. Our entries – recently more towards the nul points end of the spectrum – mean we’ve become accustomed to sneering at the madness on stage each year, and consoling ourselves with just how good the British music industry really is. The red tops do their best to drum up interest in whatever act the BBC has strong-armed onto a plane, but inevitably singing in Eurovision is seen as a hospital pass, with the contest joining siestas, eating horses, long road trips Eastwards and all the other clichés we like to belittle Europe with. We’re just too cool for Eurovision.
So when it comes to the actual contest finals the unfortunate performer we’ve dispatched invariably doesn’t stand a chance against acts who are rather more established, and who see Eurovision as an opportunity to build their profiles as commercial recording artists. I had no idea who Bonnie Tyler is, so I asked my cousin, who described her thus: ‘I think she’s a… something from the… I’m not entirely sure actually’. The Sun charitably called her a veteran. Either way her Eurovision song won’t be gaining much airtime in the bars and clubs around London, whereas the opposite is true in Stockholm.
We did actually choose someone decent a few years ago – Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a song for Jade Ewen in 2009, took her on tour around the Eurovision nations and ended up delivering our best result in years. Casting my mind back I seem to remember Britain being genuinely excited about the 2009 competition because Jade actually had a chance of winning. Her career progressed as a result, showing that Eurovision is worthwhile if you actually engage in it seriously, rather than dismiss it as a stitch-up by scheming foreigners.
Likewise griping about bloc voting (when all the Nordic countries vote for each other, etc.) betrays another misunderstanding about Europe. In the democratic voting-by-text era people still stubbornly dish out high points for their neighbours – just as we do with Ireland. But this primarily reflects the degree of cultural integration across the regions of Europe, which makes sense when you put it in context with UK voting – many of the German acts feel like something we might actually hear on the radio, whereas Latvian music just sounds weird. As a result Germany and the UK regularly (indeed reliably) vote for each other. Just don’t call it an Anglo-German voting pact – it’s just another one of Europe’s many little cliques built on proximity and interaction.
Follow Matthew on Twitter @mwyp
Nik Darlington 9.54am
Yesterday on these pages, Giles questioned whether the Tory party truly wants to resist the UKIP surge, or whether the Tory party in fact embraced it. This morning on ConHome, Paul Goodman questions whether Tory MPs even want to win the next election.
For some “lunatics”, to paraphrase Mr Soames commenting yesterday, this is not wide of the mark. The MP for Ketting, Philip Hollobone (majority 9,094), is insisting on parliamentary time to debate a referendum bill and “if it ends the coalition, so be it”.
That would, in all likelihood, end the Tory party’s tenure in office. It would not, in all likelihood, end Mr Hollobone’s tenure in the House of Commons.
There are however many hard-working, bright colleagues who would be sacrificed at the alter of Mr Hollobone’s (and others’) capricious whim.
To recap, John Baron (Basildon & Billericay: majority 12,398) posited a motion criticising the Queen’s Speech for not including an EU Referendum Bill. Coalition with the Liberal Democrats precludes this, however David Cameron has since announced the independent publication of a draft bill that is presumed will be taken on by the first name out of the hat for private members bills.
Mr Baron and supporters - including Peter Bone (Wellingborough: majority 11,787) and the reinstated Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire: majority 15,152) - have extracted this significant concession. Yet they press on. And on. Today’s Times (£) cartoon puts this best.
Has the Prime Minister handled this badly? Of course he has. Should a doomed stand be made against the muddled, undemocratic ranks of the Labour party, the Lib Dems, Greens and the rest? Yes, it should.
Europe is a salient issue for voters and the British people deserve a say on EU membership, pending the Prime Minister’s negotiations. For what it is worth, looking at the status quo, on balance I would vote to stay in; but it would be a close call.
It would not take much to convince me otherwise. The ‘out’ lobby has a war chest of momentum, funding and evidence. The ‘in’ lobby does not. In fact, I fear supporters of EU membership have at worst largely forgotten why they support it, and at best are relying on out-dated evidence.
Nevertheless, Europe is not the most salient issue for voters. It does not even come close. The crucial consideration in this sordid episode is that the Conservative party is being poisoned by myopia, desperation, and fears the wrong enemy.
Lance the boil. Have the debate about a referendum bill. Expose opposing parties. Be done with it.
Demonstrate to voters what this Conservative-led Government has achieved in the realms of welfare reform, schools and immigration; ram home the paucity of Labour’s alternative; press on with vital reforms to healthcare; and continue the hard but necessary work of rebuilding Britain’s economy.
Only by doing so shall the Conservative party have a hope of winning in 2015. Only be doing so shall there be a chance for an EU referendum. And only by doing so shall those MPs in safe seats who yearn for that referendum, have any colleagues left to ensure it.
Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington
Giles Marshall 11.58am
With Tory cabinet ministers scrambling over each other to assure the party of their Euro-scepticism, one might wonder what the fuss over UKIP is all about. Aside from a matter of timing, it seems most Tories are united on the referendum. Yet of course, there is more to it.
UKIP is not only a repository for Euro-sceptics. Indeed, Europe is just the hook on which to hang a whole panoply of concerns. UKIP is fundamentally a protest party. For disillusioned Tories in particular, UKIP offers an unrepentant leader in Nigel Farage who contrasts nicely with the more nuanced David Cameron.
Tory members and a significant number of backbench MPs are not happy in coalition, hate the notion of Tory ‘modernisation’ and dislike the thought of compromise. In their black and white - or blue and red - world, there is much virtue in Tory puritanism and Mr Cameron’s great crime is in failing to recognise this.
Mr Cameron, of course, is trying to operate in the real world. His Toryism derives from his upbringing rather than deep political conviction. It was never honed through a party activism that might have brought some deeper, grittier understanding of the party he leads. His Toryism is instinctive, and thus more inclined to accommodate itself to the demands and pressures of the world outside the bubble of the party. That lies behind his chaotic but worthy pursuit of ‘modernisation’ and it still lies behind his desire not to take knee-jerk approaches to such complex issues as EU membership.
Mr Cameron is, at heart, a Tory pragmatist of the type that used to dominate in the twentieth century heyday of the party.
The party he leads no longer resembles that triumphant machine. It is questionable as to how far this change is due to the legacy of the party’s first truly ideological leader - Margaret Thatcher - and how much would have occurred in any case as a result of a growing sense of alienation in the modern world.
Whatever the cause, the Conservative party today is a puritanical beast, railing against the iniquities of the world but struggling to find solutions. Like 16th-century puritans, today’s Tories take comfort in purity and isolation and want nothing to do with the murky waters of compromise politics.
Even before the halfway mark of the Coalition, many Tory backbenchers had been restlessly pushing against its constraints. They have managed to breach some, even to the extent of proposing Bills that challenge their own government. In such times it is difficult to distinguish backbench Tories from a brand of opposition MP.
Europe - or rather its forced removal - is the great prize. Mr Cameron has tried to feed that appetite but has found its gaping maw remains open no matter how much he tries to satiate it. He is facing the same problem as John Major. Paul Goodman makes the comparison on Conservative Home, and puts the issue down to a failure of leadership on the part of both men.
This is not the whole story. It is not really possible for any outward-facing Tory leader to lead his party. No-one who is not a died-in-the-wool Euro-denier has a hope of gaining the support of Tory backbenchers, and yet when such men are put into leadership they fail to win over the country as a whole.
Europe merely represents the high water mark of the Tory party’s desire to become an unadulterated and unrestrained party of the right. Many members envy UKIP’s easy positions and rather want them for themselves. Many Tories now would prefer purity to power.
David Cameron is no longer simply struggling against the Euro-monster. He is struggling against a much bigger desire to retreat to a position of political comfort, a position that he has tried to force the party to vacate since 2005. It is possible that his failure is due in part to the incoherent nature of ‘modernisation’ itself, which was too Blairite in nature and should have taken stronger account of historic One Nation Toryism.
The big question is if Mr Cameron does indeed fail, whether there is going to be another chance for the Tory party to be a broad-based party of the centre-right, or whether it will simply assume UKIP’s mantle, and stay on the fringe.
Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesmarshall
Henry Hopwood-Phillips 10.15am
The world is a-turning. The classes shift from lower, middle and upper to under, indebted and hereditary. Real power slips through MPs’ hands into those of constitutional lawyers, NGOs and financiers. Voters are confused and apathetic, confronted with a menu of social democrats donning different ribbons, that lack either the ideas, the conviction or the courage to extract the UK from debt-ridden paralysis.
It is in this precarious environment that democracy has to be protected. If this sounds melodramatic, consider it is complacency that has reduced us to this position. I am often accused of pessimism but I would argue, with Spengler, that i am not a pessimist - pessimism means seeing no more duties.
Parliament has become little more than an acting pit, its real purpose - the coordination of interests - occurs behind the scenes. As Charles Moore recently noted in Standpoint, politics has been reduced to an:
“all-consuming pseudo-science of trying to guess what people want and then find ways of pretending to give it to them.”
Man in this barren environment uproots himself for money despite risk of grave anomie, and allows as compensation his public and private responsibilities to plummet. Into this vacuum has seeped a state that continues to increase exponentially in size.
The global flipside has been fluid labour - i.e. immigration - encouraged by political elites who sell a Benetton advert and hide behind an aegis largely composed of rhetoric invoking diversity and inclusivity while pursuing cheap labour and the postponement of overly-optimistic pension plans.
The elites told us they loved everyone when they in fact saw everybody as equally worthless unless contributing to their own net-worth. Anybody who did not appreciate their own country becoming alien to them in matter of decades was turned into a social leper overnight by being turned into the modern equivalent of a witch - a “racist” - a word that has become such an invidious tool.
Social entropy has defiled the national fabric. Technology and urbanity has distanced us from ourselves, each other and our environments, to the point where large numbers of sybaritic younger generations who have never known any better feel vaguely apathetic about annihilation
A point that recalls Toynbee’s admission: “Civilisations are not murdered, they commit suicide”.
I harbour much hope though. UKIP’s success at council level demonstrates the seams are distressed. It is in times of crisis that the biggest and best opportunities come about. A national debate on the lifeblood and symbol of our people, our sovereignty - our parliamentary democracy - needs to take place.
Douglas Carswell MP has already started us out along a certain path with his iDemocracy. I would take his principle and extend it towards its natural conclusion. I think political parties are no longer required, they are an anachronism in an age where identities are so fluid that parties feel obliged to be concrete but alienate people with their packages or become hypocritical fudges incapable of enacting any manifestos. These parties have created what Francis Fukuyama calls a “vetocracy” - systems where myriad actors have just enough power to veto, dilute and delay decisions but no single actor has enough power to push through an agenda.
Instead we should take parties, which have morphed into a single cartel with different franchises, out of the equation. Most people have an eclectic smorgasbord of views that are very compromised by the current menu. Why not compile a government file that can be shared via an online cloud in which under the subtitles of ENERGY, DEFENCE, HOUSING etc, people add solutions, answers, resolutions, policy ideas which, after the civil service has redacted, the electorate vote on either all together at a certain time or spread out over a period?
Logistics are a bit irrelevant once the principle is admitted. After policies have been elected, people who believe their lives, their beliefs, their actions, their thoughts most fully represent certain issues or approaches that are popular can put themselves forward to execute proposals.
Referendums should be used, in a similar manner to the Swiss, for issues of great importance, and politicians should be paid in proportion to past and current salaries and posts. Politicians would also be forbidden to take up post-political jobs in which it was decided figures were trading on past public service. In all matters but defence and policing small, directly accountable councils, parishes and townships would replace the monolithic behemoths that are today’s councils.
Direct democracy, devolution and decentralisation are the three Ds that will power Britain into the 22nd century as a leader instead of a relic.
If all this sounds rather ridiculous, scary and fanciful, I can assure you that the nation has undergone far greater changes in its history and will do again. When it’s done so, it’s usually been for the better.
Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower
Jack Hands 10.25am
The North Korean state is responsible for systematically carrying out some of the darkest crimes against humanity this world has ever seen. Yet media and political reaction to the latest diplomatic tensions has predictably focused very little on the regime’s horrific human rights record.
The trivialisation of the North Korean problem is characterised by the media focusing on the quasi-religious cult of Kim Jong Un, its mythical propaganda induced tales and the enormous, grandiose public gatherings and predictable rhetorical flares of staged hatred against the United States. Recently, the escalating tensions and the restoration of its nuclear weapons programme have seen the eyes of the world focus on North Korea’s potential threat to peace.
North Korea relishes this of course. If the regime has proven anything since the end of the Korean War in 1953 – a war which never officially ended, it has shown it is adept at strategically turning up the tension to help consolidate its own power.
North Korea’s shadowy elite are fully aware that with its military-first policy backed up with a nuclear threat, it would be foolish for its enemies and indeed the world’s media not to take any such threat seriously - however unlikely and self-defeating of its own interests launching an all out war would be.
It does so because it knows it is an effective tactic in diverting attention away from its domestic failings, human rights abuses and crucially in consolidating the position of the insecure leadership of the young Kim Jong Un. Therefore, North Korean aggression acts as the perfect smokescreen and diversion tactic for the regime’s real aim, self-preservation.
This is shown by the regime’s extreme sensitivity to the discussion of its horrific human rights record. In our own Parliament, as at the United Nations, any attempts to raise human rights abuses have been met with emphatic, aggressive responses. The UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have tabled several resolutions on the matter and on 21 March announced they will be setting up an official UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea Human Rights abuses, a significant move.
It is estimated there are five political prison camps called “Kwan-Li-So” in which an estimated 200,000-300,000 prisoners are today incarcerated. That figure is growing.
While many people are aware of the political prison camps there is a lack of coverage about their extremity. These are no ordinary state-driven crimes against its people; these camps are quite possibly the worst state-led systematic abuse of human rights anywhere in the world.
A report by Christian Solidarity Worldwide tracking known prisoners show some of the horrors, these people face. Take, Keum Joo Huh, a 29-year-old female Taekwando teacher who was sent to a camp for ‘collective punishment’ over her mother’s illegal job of brokering for those searching for family members that had been separated by the war. Keum Joo died from malnutrition in May 2002.
The horrors detailed by Shin Dong-hyuk, the only ever escapee from such a camp, in his sobering book Escape from Camp 14, is living testimony to these unimaginable horrors.
Shin who was born in the camp, and like Keum Joo Huh his only crime was being born into a family seen as politically dangerous. Crime by association is an effective tool in suppressing enemies which helps to explain how the North Korean regime has lasted for so long in comparison to other authoritarian rules. Mass torture, starvation, rape, killings, slave labour are a daily experience for prisoners. Nor is there any discrimination between the old, young, healthy or sick. These are crimes against humanity, yet still coverage focuses predominantly on the trivialisation of Kim Jong Un.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, rightly said in January that the huge issue of North Korea’s nuclear program should not be allowed to completely overshadow the horrendous human rights situation, which “has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” and where “self-imposed isolation has allowed the government to mistreat it citizens to a degree that should be unthinkable in the 21st century.”
George Orwell once observed, “The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance“.
In isolationist North Korea, people are forced to believe this but in the West we have the freedom to see beyond. We have the power to make the world’s people and governments to deplore these crimes and place this issue at the top of the agenda in future diplomatic talks. Put simply, we need to provide the voice for the voiceless.
Alexander Pannett 1.15pm
There are growing reports that the Syrian regime of President Assad has been using chemical weapons against his own people. If true, it would herald the crossing of a “red line” for the US and may lead to military intervention from Western forces.
The use of chemical weapons currently appears to be small-scale, tactical deployments. A few chemical shells targeted at rebel bunkers. The danger is that the use of chemical weapons reveals the growing desperation and determination of the Assad regime to resort to any methods necessary to survive. Now that a precedent has been set, it is no longer unthinkable that Assad’s forces would use chemical weapons against civilians on a larger scale. They have certainly shown no compunction in causing mass civilian casualties with more conventional weaponry.
Assad has shown his disdain for threatened international reprisals if he uses chemical weapons. He has gambled that there will be no direct Western intervention in retaliation and that as Western intelligence agencies are already indirectly aiding rebel groups, there will not be any major escalation in the rebellion. He is correct that the West is reticent.
Considering the quagmire that Syria has descended into, with its kaleidoscope of factions and interests, the West should be cautious about getting directly involved. Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the cost and strategic dangers of being drawn into wars in the Middle East. Previous Western intervention has exacerbated regional rivalries and sectarian divisions, raising the threat of terrorism, not diminishing it.
However, the wider issue is that the West must demonstrate to the world that it is serious in its stance against the use of chemical and biological weapons. It must also make it clear to Assad that any escalation in the use of such weapons against civilians would herald direct intervention. Otherwise Assad may believe he can act with impunity, which would have tragic consequences for the Syrian people.
Despite understandable reservations, the West should announce that it is now directly aiding secular rebel groups and it should also impose a no-fly zone. With air assets deployed to enforce the no-fly zone, the West can more easily resort to a direct air war if Assad escalates his use of chemical and biological weapons. If direct intervention is required, use of ground forces should be limited to special forces working in tandem with rebel forces as in Afghanistan in 2001. Their main priority would be to secure all biological and chemical weapon sites to stop such weapons from falling into the hands of extremists.
Obama is right to be cautious and will be loathe to commit American forces to an area of the world that is a distraction from the much more strategically important Pacific. But a leader does not choose the events that he or she faces. For now the West should limit its actions to aid and a no-fly zone. But it must do all it can to dissuade Assad from deploying chemical and biological weapons against the civilian population. Only the imminent threat of force will do this.
Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannett
Nik Darlington 9.55am
So the backroom shake-up in Downing Street is causing a mini stir this morning.
Leaving aside the prominent headline for a moment, our biggest congratulations go to the TRG’s vice-president, Jane Ellison, who has been appointed by the Prime Minister to a new policy board of MPs. Jane is joined by backbench colleagues Jesse Norman, George Eustice, Margot James and Jake Berry, as well as former ministers Nick Gibb and Peter Lilley.
The biggest news of the morning, however, is that the Mayor of London’s younger brother shall be heading up the Number 10 Policy Unit. In a way it is a shame it is taking the gloss off the GDP growth figures in light of the BBC’s crowing it would be a triple-dip recession - but perhaps the timing tells us Downing Street was at least half expecting bad news.
That is by the by now. What does it mean?
First and most importantly, I expect the Lords & Commons cricket club shall have to make do without one of its better cricketers. Belligerent with the bat and a bowler with real pace and bounce, Jo Johnson was limbering up for a promising summer, bordering on unplayable at times in pre-season nets (though fastidiously did he protect his polished new cherry) and even electing to don a lid when batting. The club shall be even more reliant on Peter Bone’s left-arm tweakers.
Secondly, it marks an about-turn for David Cameron, who till now has employed a civil servant in the role. It demonstrates a beefing up of Number 10’s political clout and provides a direct link between policymaking and the parliamentary party.
Yet how cosy and effective (to all tastes) that link shall be, only time will tell. Jo Johnson has done a stint as a party whip, so backbenchers have had plenty of experience of his enforcing Government policy, less so working with them to formulate policy (which we presume is the main point behind the switch-around).
Nonetheless, the third significant point is that Jo Johnson is easily one of the more cerebral of the 2010 intake and with his hinterland (handful of degrees, financier, journalist, edited the Lex column etc), he will bring an intellectual thrust to the role. Again, this might grate with backbenchers who yearn for a more bread and circuses brand of politics, or a harking back to the black and white certainties of Thatcherism (neglecting, of course, to recall how reliant Mrs Thatcher’s policies, particularly economic, were on intellectuals).
He is also relatively pro-European, at least significantly more so than the vast majority of MPs. This may be something to do with his FT background (though media organisations tend to be self-selecting) or simply that he has actually spent some years studying and working on the continent. Some might make more of this than it is worth, given that David Cameron’s EU policy (in many ways markedly more Eurosceptic than Mrs Thatcher) is largely decided. Nonetheless, Jo Johnson is no John Redwood (the latter, for instance, is far cannier a bowler).
Then there’s the brouhaha about his older brother, which many in the media will be fixated on between now and the next election (and perhaps beyond). The sensible will do best to ignore it.
All in all, it is an intriguing development. Jo Johnson is a brilliant pick for the policy unit. As a go-between for Number 10 and the parliamentary party, time shall tell, the onus perhaps resting more with backbenchers than the man in question.
Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington
Nik Darlington 2.30pm
The passing of Baroness Thatcher has elicited a great deal of Tory stock-taking and soul-searching, as well as comment upon comment upon comment as to what the legacy is of Britain’s longest-serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century. As John Harris wrote in the Guardian, “Thatcher’s death has Britain peering back through time”.
In a subsequent article, born from his introspective itinerary around Britain researching Lady Thatcher’s legacy, Harris asks readers to “spare a thought for the late unlamented one-nation Tory”. His argument is that “centrist, socially-concerned Conservatism” had already died long before her, and largely because of her doing.
Let’s be frank. The Tory Reform Group, its members and leading political representatives have not always seen eye to eye with all aspects of Thatcherism. Respected her achievements and they way she led the country in dark times, yes; but there have been policy disagreements along the way.
However, Harris is simply wrong. The ‘One Nation Tory’ might be a minority concern in today’s Conservative party, dominated as it is by people who cut their teeth during Mrs Thatcher’s battling leadership of the party, and the aftermath; but it is alive and well. Harris claims that every year he attends the Conservative party conference “looking for any signs of its revival…but it is nowhere to be seen”. Based on attending a ConservativeHome fringe event, that is not surprising. Did he not care to call in to any TRG events, which every year seem to outnumber those of other Tory groups? Even stars of stage and screen turned up to Ken Clarke’s midnight party last year.
It is perhaps fashionable to presume there are no centrist Tories left, which is peculiar considering the efforts of David Cameron to steer the Conservative party in just such a direction - and indeed, it is more plausible to say that the party did not make it fully over the line in 2010 because it had not moved far enough in that direction, than it is to say it moved too far. It is even more peculiar coming from a Guardian writer, when that newspaper has on occasion so wholeheartedly championed Mr Cameron’s stewardship.
Perhaps it is simply thus: no Tory of whatever ilk can be as “centrist” or “socially-concerned” as the Guardian. Harris may be a columnist, not an editorial writer, but he does a fine job of blending into his surroundings.
Harris is right that too slavish an adherence to the free market - a common and unfortunate conclusion reached by today’s self-proclaimed Thatcherites - has landed post-Thatcher political parties (including the Labour party) in hot water. As Sir Ian Gilmour said, “the balance will have to be redressed”.
Harris is right that the present plethora of Tory groups, if they coalesce at all, do so around one interpretation of Mrs Thatcher’s policies. Yet this misses the point, which is that the fact a plethora exists suggests how confused even Conservatives remain about her legacy and what to do with it.
Harris wonders “what would happen if the grandees of pre-Thatcher Conservatism were raised from the grave, and confronted with Britain’s current problems”. He need not resort to table-turning, though many have indeed passed away. Just look at Lord Heseltine’s continued role in public life at the ripe old age of eighty. His growth review, which at its heart recommends a more decentralised approach, has largely been accepted by the Government. Meanwhile, Ken Clarke’s experience, not least as a successful Chancellor of the Exchequer, remains indispensable to the Government. Though not necessarily a ‘pre-Thatcher grandee’, Lord Baker is a life member of the TRG and remains an influential figure in education policy.
Ed Miliband, as Harris says, has “tentatively” attempted to expropriate the ‘One Nation’ theme for the Labour party. I spelled out last October why Mr Miliband’s interesting approach falls flat. His post-Blair (and by extension, post-Thatcher) Labour party is in the grip of myriad interest groups fixated by an ideological nihilism. Signs of this are bubbling to the surface even in his own positioning, until now so often non-committal.
Michael Gove recently told a Policy Exchange gathering that in order to interpret her legacy honestly, we have to view Mrs Thatcher as a “historical figure” - much, indeed, with the detachment we deploy to consider Sir Winston Churchill, or William Gladstone, or even Pitt. Most agree that her prescriptions and demeanour were right for her time. Party political Conservatism has moved on; Thatcherism has moved on too. It means different things to its adherents today than perhaps it did even to Mrs Thatcher herself. In the same vein, One Nation Conservatism, so sidelined since the 1990s (and largely to do with a single policy issue: Europe), has moved on.
Our relative anonymity, and the fact John Harris thinks we are dead, might well be a problem. Yet we have in power a largely centrist, modernising Conservative-led government dealing with economic disruption and deeply moral dislocation - not least in education and welfare policy - that the opposition Labour party refuses to confront.
So while the Tory Reform Group does need to do more to get its message heard above the cacophony of Conservative voices (small ‘v’), I respectfully believe Harris’ pessimism is misplaced.
Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington