Leading article

'One nation' politics works. Just ask Nicola Sturgeon

To fulfil his one-nation mission, there must be a reshuffle inside No. 10 itself

16 May 2015

9:00 AM

16 May 2015

9:00 AM

As David Cameron lined up beside Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband at the Cenotaph on the day after the general election, he said that he had thought he would be the one writing a resignation statement that day. He may also have imagined how history would have judged him: as a so-so Tory leader who didn’t quite manage to win an election against the reviled Gordon Brown and was booted out after one term. A leader who was good at balancing a coalition but who didn’t stand for (or achieve) very much himself. It would have been a miserable legacy. Luckily he now has the chance to reshape it.

The political landscape he surveys has changed utterly. Of all the political parties, only the Conservatives and Scottish Nationalists are intact. The Labour party is settling down for a long civil war. The brains of the party know that it needs to move to the right and learn to like the English — and to come up with an agenda that will be well received in the market towns. The Liberal Democrats, reduced to eight MPs, are discussing starting afresh under a new name.

Ukip did rather well in the general election, with 14 per cent of the vote in England (almost twice that mustered by Nick Clegg). But the party now faces an awkward question: is it a one-man band? Its attempt to deny that — with the resignation of Nigel Farage — lasted only three days. His absurdly quick return did not give Suzanne Evans, the party’s estimable deputy chairman, a chance to show it was anything other than a political comedy routine. Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s sole MP, is now at war with what passes for the party’s leadership over its degree of state subsidy. It could well fall apart.


All of this creates an extraordinary opportunity for the Conservatives — and for Cameron personally. This was his victory. He dispensed with the advice of the so-called ‘modernisers’ under whose misdirection he failed to win the 2010 campaign. He hired Lynton Crosby, who helped him mould a more earthy, direct Conservatism with simple pledges on low tax and cost of living. It was summed up by his offer, first revealed by James Forsyth in this magazine, to give 1.3 million housing association tenants the right to buy their home. It was dull — sometimes infuriatingly so — but effective.

Cameron won after a campaign which moved on from the Tory factionalism, and beyond the misnamed ‘modernisation’ agenda which so narrowed his party’s appeal. Of the 330 Tory MPs, 208 have only been in parliament for five years or less: they have no interest in the mods vs rockers sectarianism pursued by still-feuding Tory partisans. Cameron’s reshuffle this week shows he is quite serious about uniting his party. As he realises, his job now is to run an internal coalition with as much care as he used to run an external coalition. But that is not enough to keep everyone happy. He needs an agenda of his own.

His opportunity lies in a phrase he used in the victory speech that he had not expected to give: about the need to return to ‘One-nation Conservatism’. The agenda itself is straightforward. It goes without saying that the Conservatives celebrate wealth creation. The challenge is to explain that prosperity has a purpose. Two Tory missions illustrate this well: Michael Gove’s school reform and Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reform. Their intention is to confront the twin scandals of sink schools and mass unemployment. Now, as Business Secretary, Sajid Javid can work out whether increasing the minimum wage is the best way of helping the low-paid — or whether other tax changes could help.

Cameron’s conservatism can be explicitly reorientated towards two missions: strengthening the recovery and ensuring its fruit is shared as widely as possible. But to do this, one important reshuffle needs to take place: inside 10 Downing Street itself. Cameron badly needs a chief of staff who can give his government the same direction that Lynton Crosby was able to apply to the election campaign. Someone who is capable of picking two or three main objectives, then sticking to them — at least until the EU referendum. Cameron’s great weakness is in hiring his friends and letting No. 10 degenerate into a ‘chumocracy’. He needs to cast aside these human comfort blankets and have No. 10 run by a hard-nosed workaholic who is respected across government.

‘One-nation’ politics works — just ask Nicola Sturgeon. Her SNP treated every seat in Scotland as if it were winnable. As a result, the party has quadrupled its membership since the referendum and won almost all of those seats. If such enthusiasm can be rallied behind such a vacuous creed as nationalism, then the potential for Conservatism is far greater. With his rivals in disarray, Cameron has an extraordinary chance to champion a bolder, more ambitious and more generous form of Toryism — one that is capable of winning a landslide majority in 2020.

This goal, unthinkable a fortnight ago, is now within reach. If Cameron learns the right lessons from the campaign then this can be his legacy.

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  • Seconator

    “Vacuous creed as nationalism”, you mean as opposed to the totally non-vacuous creed of tub-thumping British unionism?

  • davidofkent

    There is only one way for the SNP to go – down. The simple answer to the SNP is to give them what they really want. They don’t want independence because they know that the loss of taxes from North Sea Oil will cripple Scotland at the outset. They want fiscal autonomy, so let’s give it to them. Full fiscal authority for all except defence (because they would rely on England’s defence umbrella in any case). Remove the Barnett Formula, of course, and let them derive the whole of their income from Scotland. their borrowings should not be guaranteed by OUR Bank of England, so they might need their own Central Bank. I don’t know how long the Scots will put up with digging deep into their own pockets for their socialism, but I would put the SNP’s popularity lasting into months not years.

    • Tony Steedman

      Perhaps you should stick to cultivating your hops rather than prognosticating on the SNP’s longevity. Been to Scotland often by the way ?

      • AtMyDeskToday

        No offence meant but yours is close to being a rhetorical question since a characteristic of the DT & Specy blogs is a significant number of posters who perceive themselves as expert on a subject about which they are in fact completely ignorant. None more so than the average malignant Mr Angry of England who has never been north of London. Having spent time working in the SE I can testify that Kent is a stronghold of such deluded types.

    • SNP UPRISING

      Dream on…. You’re Union dies a bit more every day.

      • vieuxceps2

        “You’re (sic) Union”-You can’t have a union of one,it’s got to be” our”. In any case it cannot die a bit more as it’s long dead where it matters most, in people’s hearts and minds.Especially English ones.

    • ChuckieStane

      The SNP’s electoral success was after a referendum defeat and a collapse in the oil price. Now Scottish Labour and LibDems are in disarray and the Tories have just got their lowest ever percentage share.

      You may be kidding yourself if you think an SNP collapse is imminent.

      • Liberty

        Seems to me that the SNP did so well for many reasons. In no particular order, nationalism, SNP is not Labour, LDs or Tory, social pressure, being exciting and new and Sturgeon. Few realise that oil is an industry in long term decline or that independence is not viable with current [UK subsidised] spending. The SNP is now as big as it is going to get and Labour will never work with it because that would be suicide. So, the Tories can take their time, devolve, build links with the UK and maybe discredit Scottish nationalism enough to make the prospect of a referendum unattractive to the SNP until it dawns on enough Scots that they are better in the UK.

        • SNP UPRISING

          Eh…. No

        • victor67

          Wishful thinking.
          The young and the poor voted Yes. They understand that it would be tough but look to the more equal Scandanavian countries rather than the gross inequality of Tory Britain.
          Scotland is rich in natural assets and able people. It will endure and flourish.

    • victor67

      Who will challenge the SNP?
      Perhaps the Lib Dem’s may recover a bit in the Highlands and Borders , however in the working class areas the challenge and opposition will not come from any Unionist neo-liberal parties.
      Watch the Scottish elections next year for a strong performance of the Greens and other radical and progressive groups.

  • Albert Hall

    The conditions for the SNP to win support and seats are far easier than those applying to UKIP. Firstly, Scottish nationalism is based historically on anti-English sentiment. Because being anti-English has the taint of what is now (inaccurately) called ‘racism’, the Scottish nationalist can no longer indulge this pleasure openly,

    • Des Demona

      ”Scottish nationalism is based historically on anti-English sentiment”

      You think?
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-32736153

      • vieuxceps2

        Yes, I do think and so do many others.A strange country whose peoplefind more joy in the downfall of the neighbours than in their own achievements.”Anyone but England”,eh?

        • Des Demona

          Oh dear. See my post above.

      • Albert Hall

        Poor counter I am afraid Des, the article you link to is about positive English sentiment towards Scotland, not about the sentiments towards England among nationalist Scots.

        • Des Demona

          Obviously you didn’t read it properly, did you not get as far as the many retweeted ”come, you’re welcome”?

  • Albert Hall

    Pardon me, I pressed ‘post’ thinking there might be options. I continue: …and now substitutes the word ‘Westminster’ for England / British, which, to the Scottish nationalist of the Salmond stamp mean the same thing. Never was a country so defined by what it claims not to be, than the nationalist’s Scotland which, above all, cannot allow itself to appear to be anything that England appears to be.
    UKIP does not have the opportunity to define itself in opposition to another part of the UK as the SNP does, and has for 40 years that I know of. Nor has UKIP the opportunity to build membership and win seats on that same basis.
    Sturgeon is not practising ‘one-nation politics’, quite the contrary. The SNP is uniting against a mythical England, built in the main from distorted accounts of Scottish history, and from bogus assertions that the Scot has different and more virtuous qualities than the Englishman

    • SNP UPRISING

      The sad thing is that you actually believe this pish.

      • Albert Hall

        Well tell me “SNP UPRISING”, what is it you see yourself “uprising” against? Couldn’t possibly be “the English yoke” could it? Obviously I’m harking back to S.nationalist old-speak here, but feel entitled to, because, if you’re under 40, I’ve lived in Scotland longer than you’ve been on the planet.

  • Tony Steedman

    ‘ Vacuous creed as nationalism ‘ I was quite enjoying this article until I came across this so called journalistic objectivity. So what does this brand of Toryism bring us then ?

    • Richard

      Isn’t that echoing Samuel Johnson, you know, about patriotism being the last refuge of a scoundrel? In other words, appealing to nationalism as a motivating factor for acting is generally done in the absence of anything else, or to disguise other things.

      • SNP UPRISING

        The vile bigoted anti-Scottish, British unionist nationalism shown by the Tory leadership, UKIP, and even some Labour & Lib-Dems, in recent weeks resulted in such a strong SNP vote.

        • magi83

          It becomes increasingly obvious with each passing day that most nats don’t do self reflection.

          • SNP UPRISING

            Britnat

          • magi83

            Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    • Bebop

      Vacuous creed is how it’s seen by your fatuous, cosseted colonialist type.

    • Chamber Pot

      I am an Englishman and a southerner and know Glasgow well, and I can understand the Scots dislike of the Tories. Dave is not a Prime Minister for the whole country let alone the rest of the country outside the Westminster bubble, and I can fully sympathise with those walking down Sauchiehall Street on a Friday night who might want to smack this slippery snake oil salesman in the chops. Dave and his chums spent millions buying the election, and smearing their opponents, and it is testament to the collapse of the Westminster system that the appalling 2 Eds and Clegg meant that people voted for Dave as the least worst option rather than out of any real passion. The Tories stand for nothing, and represent no-one.

    • victor67

      Yes Cameron’s defunct British Nationalism playing to English fear in contrast to the democratic revolution under way in Scotland.
      The SNP will face challenges and opposition but not from any Unionist parties.

  • John M

    I disagree with your point about the way Nicola Sturgeon has created a “one nation” Scotland as her entire pitch was based on greed, nationalism and hatred.

    What would have been the reaction if Cameron had done the same thing but on slightly different policy terms. What if Cameron had tried the line of “screw the poor, I’ll scrap unemployment benefit and benefits for chavs entirely, cut funding for those bastards in Scotland and the EU who hate us anyway, stop the chavvies using the NHS unless they’re working and hand all the savings to working people so you all pay 10% income tax and I’ll increase NHS spending for workers..”

    It would be highly likely that appealing in such vicious terms, the working population would simply dump all that sanctimonious social responsibility and hand every seat in the UK to the tories.

    Now of course that hasn’t happened because it wouldn’t be right, but the deliberately devisive nature of that scenario is no different to what Sturgeon and the SNP were stirring north of the border. She just worked out that if she hated the “Tooweries”, the English and relatively wealthy the rest would fall into place – and it has.

    Far from creating a One Nation Scotland she has actually divided that country politically to a degree not seen in hundreds of years. Politically the SNP may jhave won the seats, but it will all be for nothin if she collapses the Scottish economy and the wealthy, working, taxpaying, proud Scots she seems fit to demonise leave the country and Sturgeon to collapse into a pile of bankrupt, hate filled, sectarian rubble.

    • SNP UPRISING

      Utter pish

      • magi83

        Perhaps, but so to is 99% of the ‘pish’ that you spout.

  • SNP UPRISING

    “Vacuous creed”

    You racist scum

    • Richard

      Ad hominem attacks don’t help anybody to understand what you are trying to say.

  • misomiso

    Your analysis, dear Speccie, is as ever clear and concise with only two caveats.

    1) A Right of Center Scottish Unionist Party is now essential. Historically speaking, the marriage of Nationalism and the Radical Left
    has been politically almost unbeatable, but economically and socially
    disastrous for the people involved. Hence why the Nats are so powerful
    in Scotland.

    And Cameron’s Conservatives will never win North of the border. The mistake of the 60s of uniting the parties North and South has come home to roost, and given your editor is a proud Scot he should lend his voice to stopping the Tories destroying the Union by their insistence of fielding candidates North of the Italian line.

    We are now in the politics of identity, and a seperate Unionist party is needed to contest the Soul of Scotland, while Scottish Labour can start to pressurise the Nats from the Left. For all of your fawning over Ruth Davidson, the percentage share of the vote for the Tories went down in 2015.

    2) The Constitutional settlement. Aside from the Economics, Cameron NEEDS to find a fair settlement for the UK, and the UK’s relationship with the EU. This means NO POLITCAL UNION with Brussels. If he wants a fair and lasting solution he must not aim to win the referendum by 51%, he must aim for consensus, and to do that he has to deal with the fundamental Legal problems at the heart of the project, deal with the activist courts and finally say NO to the federalists within the Tory party. Then at least we can have a fair settlement that all parts of the party and country can live with.

    If he does this, as well as keep the recovery going, he truly will be a great PM.

    • magi83

      I agree. I think it’s essential for the Scottish Tories to break away and now is the perfect time. The SNP is simply a vehicle for independence and once that question is finally resolved it will cease to have any purpose. The SNP have more or less aligned themselves policy wise with Scottish Labour as centre left to appeal to the electorate so in a post indy/federal Scotland there wouldn’t be much to separate most Labour/SNP MPs. The Scottish Tories need to be proactive and ready for the inevitable change in the political landscape.

    • JoeCro

      Ruth Davidson does appear to be above any criticism for some reason. The ‘Scottish’ Conservatives have just had their worst General Election performance ever in terms of vote share. Next years Holyrood election will be the real test, I think they will be found wanting once again.

      • misomiso

        Its just crazy. The Tory party would rather Scotland broke away then change their party. How can they want another year of this?

        They think when Scotland has fiscal control then the Scots will coming running back to the conservatives. Instead Nationalism will just change and become even more the ‘Tartan Tories’.

        Watching this happen is like watching David Cameron pouring petrol on a burning family member and wondering why the fire won’t go out.

      • magi83

        In fairness, their vote share as a percentage decreased significantly less than Labour or the Lib Dems. Not a cause for celebration, but it’s necessary to put some perspective around it. Perhaps not surprising given that Scottish Tory voters would be among the least likely to vote SNP.

  • Hegelman

    ”Learn to like the English”…..But Labour is a big old English party full of English people. If that is not good enough how can it convince those determined to call it un-English.

    It’s like the Jews in Germany. No matter what they did and what they were they were always non-German according to the anti-Semites.

    But the country is changing. The blue rinse ladies with the fat pensions and the skilled worker Tories who form so much of the Tory vote are on the way out. So Labour has reason to feel happy about the future.

    • Callipygian

      Miliband is English? His homeland is Marxism, not England.

      You really are living in the past, old man.

  • magi83

    Although the Spectator continues to misunderstand the SNP and its voters, I agree with the rest of the article.

    The best way for Cameron to cement his legacy is to build a UK where the vast majority are better off than they were in 2010 or at any point under the Blair/Brown era. Fulfill the promise of Thatcherism (a job criminally left only half done) with a good dose of Macmillan conservatism.

    I think that’s where the PM’s instincts lie. The question is now whether he has the strength and vision to convert those instincts into something tangible.

    • SNP UPRISING

      Cyber-BRITNAT

      • magi83

        Yawn.

  • Chamber Pot

    Samuel Johnson was wrong. The people opposing nationalism and patriotism are generally wealthy plutocrats who own the media and academe, who are internationalist in outlook, and who see the destruction of families, communities, and countries as a good thing and an opportunity to make even more money. There is nothing wrong with loving your country and prizing your culture and your roots over all others, on the contrary anything else is treachery.

  • Callipygian

    A rising tide lifts all boats.

    I do hope that Cameron looks back to Reagan to see what made this B-movie actor an A-list statesman and a champion of the free world.

  • Chamber Pot

    It’s no longer about the economy any more, it’s about whether or not useless Dave has a compelling vision to nourish the national soul. What is the point of more wealth if the native population is not benefiting and the country is no longer liveable, with mass immigration causing overcrowding, a collapse in education, the health system, sectarianism, and the introduction of a police state and the death of freedom of expression ?

  • thomasaikenhead

    ” Now, as Business Secretary, Sajid Javid can work out whether increasing the minimum wage is the best way of helping the low-paid — or whether other tax changes could help.”

    No, the best way to help the low-paid is simple, address the issue of mass immigration and in particular the illegal immigrants in this country who undermine the minimum wage .

    Of course, given his background, Sajid Javid will never get to grips with the negative impact of mass immigration so he is destined to fail from the off!

    Like Baroness Warsi, he is so obviously a token appointment who will achieve little although, to be fair to Baroness Warsi, she did eventually speak out about the Muslim ‘street grooming’ gangs of Pakistani origin.

  • SNP UPRISING

    A fine example of why The Speccie has a print circulation of about 8 in Scotland.

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