The Tories don't need a clause four moment - they should be aiming for much more than that
04 Jun 2007 - JG
Has the David Cameron honeymoon period come to an end? The grammar school debate has probably run a little further than he had hoped and there are signs that the right of party are fed up with being forced to tread the tight line between showing a unified party willing to change and completely selling out. I'm sure Cameron is happy that this whole debate came about; it gives him a chance to show that he is in the centre ground of politics and will drag his party there with him. Unfortunately for him, though, he will never have a "Clause 4 moment". The Labour party underwent a fundamental ideological change in the early 1990s; whether you agree with what they did was right or not it was a defining moment for "New Labour". It won them over 10 years of government and still counting.
The question many people have is whether the Tories are simply talking about change, like a wolf sheep’s clothing, just to win over the electorate or have they actually undergone a fundamental change. The simple answer is, however hard they try they can never undergo an ideological change - they have no clause four; as such they should stop being so obsessed with trying to look like the Labour party. It says a lot when they can not win three elections, despite mass disasters such as Iraq. They are pinning their entire electoral hopes on Gordon Brown coming across as a dour Scot who alienates the electorate and if they are really lucky will be perceived as a leftie. That is hardly ideological change.
All is not lost however. The Tories do have one trick up their sleeve that the Labour party could never play. A rebellion is brewing from the right of the party. If Cameron wanted to appear to offer something really different from the centre ground consensus our three main parties offer and prove the Tories real are an alternative, he would do well to listen. Senior Tory backbencher Edward Leigh is leading a group of 40 Tory MPs with, what the Guardian is calling, a radical plan for all patients to be required to take out compulsory private health insurance. In other words scrapping the NHS as a tax-based system and which will mean massive tax cuts would be possible for all. Tory MP Peter Bone, who wrote the report recommending the shake up said: "-If the Conservative Party believes in a smaller state, lower taxes and better public services, then a compulsory insurance system will provide this and bring this country's health service into the 21st century-."
So far the Cameron led Tories have given us ideas such as only taking one holiday a year and even better - no tax cuts, no change to education policy and no major change to the health policy. All Cameron is, so far, is a nice man who talks about the environment – a lot. It maybe enough to win an election, though right now I doubt it, but it by no means offers us an alternative to the tax and spend, large and prolific legislating government. Scrapping the NHS is no “clause four moment”, it is far bigger and fundamental than simply changing the Tory party - it will change British politics rather like the Beveridge report did over 60 years ago.