So there we have it. A liberal Conservative, or a conservative Liberal, or just a vaguely aristocratic and liberal kind of guy, is the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Quite how he got there is a raucous tale of high-jinks that will be sung by the troubadour-classes for years to come, displaying as it does those magical and mythical elements of the fairy-tale that distinguishes genuine reality from our banal perceptions of it. If I were to offer a very brief summary, it would run a little something like…
“Standing as the leader of the Tory Party, the heir to New Labour’s Mr. Blair went about first and foremost cleansing his party of the influence of conservatives, evidently deeming them unsuitable bedfellows, before imposing the kind of illiberal leadership more common to the Liberals, or indeed liberals. Out went Tory Blue and in came Liberal Yellow, for Cameron deigned that the best way to secure the most votes was by appealing to followers of a party that consistently polled the least votes. The swing voter, it was deemed, also happened to be a liberal, which was rather handy for Cameron, since he was only really interested in the swing voters, and it is much easier to woo a friend than a foe. And woo them he did; for though small in number they were great in power, and for the love of a swinger was Cameron willing to forsake all other bonds of political fidelity.
“And so, with a Belizean on one shoulder and an Australian on the other, Cameron went about courting precisely those who, on the face of it, were most likely to take umbrage with the background and worldviews of him and his colonial lieutenants. To Cameron this mattered little, for with his ‘modernisation’ he had already hatched his plan to make them swoon; though it soon became clear that Cameron’s ‘modernisation’ was in fact remarkably similar to that familiar and now time-weary brand which the electorate were in droves rejecting. Cameron sallied forth regardless, and in the transformation the unfashionable ‘backwoodsmen’ were tossed aside, for which they were later reprimanded, both for being tossed aside and for being backwoodsmen, both these things apparently having cost the shiny-new ‘Modern Conservatives’ an electoral majority.
“Even so, this detoxification of the party, cleared as it was of all those elements that historically won elections, demonstrated Cameron’s commitment to the modernising cause, and showcased his remarkable ability to harmonise the seemingly disparate into an incoherent whole, a skill that his shrinking band of followers touted as his greatest talent and which his growing band of foes denounced as his greatest weakness. And so, again and again, he was able to face two ways at once, his swivelled eyes nonetheless giving the impression of looking four-square ahead. Thus it was that he opined the ‘broken society’, whilst dogmatically embracing the values that created it; he eulogised the ‘Big Society’, whilst offering a state-trained ‘army’ as the foundation of it; he derided the anti-democratic EU, whilst reneging on a cast-iron guarantee to hold a referendum on its most contentious treaty; he waxed lyrical of liberated ‘free schools’, whilst demanding they conform to state-approved dogma; he took firm and flamboyant action against expenses abuse, ending parliamentary careers in the process, whilst swiftly sweeping over the dubiousness of his own claims and those of his acolytes; he spoke consistently of the importance of faith in the public sphere, before removing orthodox Christians from his party for saying orthodox Christian-type things; he spoke admirably of ‘pushing power downwards and outwards’, whilst implementing Big Brother-esque control-freakery at CCHQ; he talked of the importance of the charitable sector, whilst voting to close some of it down for refusing to abandon its Christian conscience; he spoke of meritocracy, whilst imposing A-List candidates chosen as much for image as for merit; he spoke of ‘diversity’, whilst stuffing his Cabinet full of people that looked remarkably like him; he harangued government for not adequately equipping our armed forces, whilst agreeing that the Defence Budget would have to be cut; he spoke passionately about public debt, whilst largely committing to the Budget model that created it; he spoke convincingly about a low-tax and small state society, whilst waving through a high-tax and big-state green agenda; and numerous and varied other things besides. Having thus convinced everyone that he believed whatever they thought he might believe, so did Cameron embark upon his inevitable defeat of an already defeated foe.
“Only, it did not work. Despite having the backing of a ‘modernising’ troupe of 1980s SDP throwbacks, despite the chattering classes toasting his victory and cheering the new enlightenment, Cameron’s plan proved a dud, and he failed to take the country with him. The chattering classes were aghast, unable to comprehend how their own brand of metropolitan liberalism didn’t sweep to power in a country that, by and large, is neither metropolitan nor liberal. And so it was that the country, possessing the collective wisdom that intellectuals often lack, saw through the ruse, and for want of anyone to vote for merely voted for everybody, thus producing a hung parliament and offering no clear endorsement of any one in particular.
“Thus it was that the first-past-the-post system, that always delivers a firm result and stable government, failed to deliver either a firm result or a stable government. And so, after hours of grubby deals, here we stand, governed by a man that contrived to lose the unlosable election, bunked up with a man who was the biggest loser of the election, this being the new definition of ‘victory’. In the name of representing the wishes of the electorate, power has been dispensed by those and amongst those whom the electorate refused to endorse; in the name of the ‘national interest’, Clegg and Cameron have pursued what is manifestly best for their own careers; in the name of ‘a stable government’, so has each tied their party to an inherently instable coalition for government. The LibDems, having had bestowed on them power and influence far beyond what reasoned calculation would merit, have chosen electoral reform as the price of their treachery, and that in the name of giving them more power and influence. The ‘Modern Conservatives’, having failed to triumph, chose to bribe the least influential with what would most effectively hobble the most influential, and that in the name of possessing power. And all the while everyone looks around, not quite sure how we got where we are, but wholly sure it is not really where we wanted to be.
And so there it is, in brief, an electoral tale full to the brim of paradox. One year from now, one suspects a new, though remarkably similar story, will have to be told.