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Amol Rajan: Three reasons Phillip Blond is a danger to Cameron

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Wednesday, 2 December 2009 at 02:21 pm
I know and like and admire Phillip Blond, and I think many (though not all) of his political instincts are sound.

I'm not at all convinced he is a Conservative, but our common affection for London Citizens, the organisation that most accurately reflects my political views, means we share the same approach to many of the problems besetting Britain at present.

Nevertheless, I think he could be a net danger for David Cameron's project, for three reasons.

First, as Bagehot wrote beautifully a few months back (subscription only), the Tories' flickering around in search of an ideology, like moths to the light, smacks of desperation.

It gives the appearance of being too interested in appearance. Between progressive conservativism, libertarian paternalism (Nudge, etc), and Red Toryism, the Tories at present look slightly like over-eager schoolboys, reading up on a few texts and name dropping them in front of the teacher, but not reading and thinking deeply enough to have a coherent worldview. Cameron's Hugo Young Lecture was an exercise in verisimilitude: he name-dropped several thinkers without stopping to interrogate their ideas. Anyone impressed with this method should retake their 'A' Levels.

As Bagehot argued, in our country the Left tends to get voted in for offering a plausible vision of utopia, while the Right offers to run the place better. Nobody seriously doubts the intellect of Cameron, Gove, and so on. They need to convince us of their character and competence, not their brains. ResPublica won't help with the former.

Second, many of Blond's ideas are themselves likely to offend Tory sensibilites. Phillip is a fan of free markets but understands Marx well enough to know the danger of monopolies, and subsequent alienation (this, incidentally, makes Iain Martin's wilful misreading of him disappointing). This goes against much that is sacred to Tories - not just Iain Martin, but influential members of the Party, such as Kenneth Clarke and John Redwood. They will feel that Blond, through his association with Cameron, risks blurring the message. The public may think the Tories hate Tesco, just as an Osborne Treasury is wooing it.

Third, and most significantly, you simply cannot underestimate the astronomical size of the egos in the Conservative Party, which has at least two dozen men who in any five minute period are convincing themselves or their interlocutors that they are the cleverest Tory in town. This makes Phillip, who until recently was a theology professor at Cumbria, seem like an impostor. His scouser accent doesn't help.

There are a huge number of people, many with experience in the Conservative Research Department and years of wonkery behind them, who see him as an unworthy intellectual godfather of the party - which is not what he is or ever will be, but rather what, given the tone of the coverage last week, he may appear as in the public imagination.

The Times' 3rd leader last Friday is best understood as a distilled version of this envy. It promotes spite above analysis, and is far more about personalities than policies (and they really ought to have spelt his name correctly). Indeed, I've spoken in recent weeks to Tory candidates and insiders who are remarkably dismissive of Phillip, and contemptously describe him as an irritating fashion. These sentiments get transmitted up to the top of the party. They stoke resentment and division.

All of which is a shame, because Phillip has several ideas that ought to inform the legislative programme of our current, never mind next, government - and urgently too.
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