Andrew Pierce, Assistant Editor of the Telegraph, reviewing PMQs on Radio 5Live today, was laughing at how Brown had once again stolen the Tories' clothes (this time, on border police), leaving Cameron "standing naked at the dispatch box". He claims the Tories are furious about it, but have no option but to agree that Brown's proposals are a jolly good thing, if the proposals were theirs in the first place.
The Tories have brought this on themselves by seeking the managerialist "centre-ground". If they look to adopt positions close to Blair and Brown's Third-Way programme, they should not be surprised if the Government adopts their ideas. Now that they all share the same sizes and styles, their wardrobes are interchangeable. This isn't stealing, it's sharing, like co-habiting girlfriends. Stealing is selfish, sharing is mutual - Dave was today trying on Gordon's "56-day detention" outfit for size, though he's not quite sure whether it suits (DD was said to be sure that it didn't this morning, but then his taste is more conservative).
The only way to prevent this from happening, and to provide voters with a good reason for voting for a party other than the Government, is to adopt a philosophy and policies that are distinct from the Government's interventionist position.
I have been writing about the three irreconcilable branches of the Tory party - the social-democrats, conservatives, and classical-liberals. Brown will have no difficulty borrowing social-democrat policies - that's exactly his size and style. And, although people like to imagine that leftists are socially liberal, the working-class instincts of many of their supporters will have no trouble reconciling themselves with socially-conservative policies, so long as they incoporate sops to the poor and disadvantaged, which Cameron's social-democratic instincts and determination to stop the Tories looking like the "nasty party" oblige him to incorporate in any proposals. And as lefties from Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini and Hitler,* down to the modern-day Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez have demonstrated, the left are enthusiastic adopters of authoritarian (and often even racist) positions - again catering to the prejudices of what they view as their core constituency (or class).
The one position with which lefties find it difficult to reconcile themselves is classical-liberalism. They can handle the social-liberal aspects of that (though in a meddling, "let's make everything perfect for everyone" rather than "laissez-faire, laissez-passer" kind of way), but the economic liberalism and individualism is simply incompatible with their beliefs. Brown and Blair have made a good job of pretending it is otherwise (and in the case of Blair, I believe there was a genuine modicum of belief in free markets), but scratch beneath the surface of almost everything they have done, and you find a corporatist, managerialist, effectively-socialist solution disguised as a market mechanism. They have coopted the large corporations and City institutions, and consulted economists till they (or we) are blue in the face, to maintain the charade of market-delivery, but they have at all times hindered the freedom of businesses large and small to respond freely to unbiased market signals.
The Tories should accept that Uncle Gordo will try to look as authoritarian as them (if not more so) on law-and-order issues. They should argue for what they believe is right on security issues (strong, well-funded defence of personal liberty, property, and nation - pretty much what DD has been promoting very effectively), and live with Gordon stealing the parts of that agenda that are more authoritarian and less liberal. But exactly contrary to the Letwin/Willetts brainbox-nonsense about "socio-centric not econo-centric paradigms", they should try to drag the focus back to the size of the state, whether in its intrusion into people's private lives, or into our economic activities. Those are clothes that Gordon simply couldn't wear comfortably if he tried to steal them. But it would require them explicitly to abandon the Letwin programme and to commit to cuts in government-funded activities and in taxation. Is Cameron brave enough, and could he carry it off convincingly given his position to date? If not, those who think that politics really is about the battle of ideas, and not just about who can best run other people's lives, should leave the Tories to flounder in Gordon's wake, and go off and set up a real alternative.