Sunday, January 08, 2006

Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater

Lately, David Cameron has been looking rather pleased with himself. First he announced the National Health Service would remain free for all, then he hired Bob Geldof to advise on reducing global poverty, and shortly after that he renounced Thatcherism. In fact, the way things are going, he might as well close shop and dissolve the Conservative party.

That would no doubt please many of those praising him such as Polly Toynbee, but it may be time to ask whether he's gone a little too far.

In fact, David Cameron could learn a thing or two from the Church of England. Once upon a time, the Church was known as "the Tory Party at Prayer", very establishment, and a little staid. But by the 1980s, the Church was losing a substantial number of worshippers, and in a desperate bid to staunch the flow, decided it was time to "get with the project" and be more relevant. Over the last 20 years, the Church has jumped on the bandwagon of every liberal cause imaginable, and where did that get them? Fewer members, poorer finances and an ever wider split between traditionalists and liberalisers over the issue of the ordination of women and gay priests.

By contrast, the Catholic Church has grown in members and stature the world over, despite their "doctrinaire, authoritarian" theology, because they have little interest in what the Liberal establishment think of them. They're not expecting the Guardian's editorial team to fill the pews, they're appealling to the masses. Many of those following the Pope may not follow the message, but at least they know where the Messenger stands.

The lesson to learn is that there is little to gain from appealing to those you are never going to win over in the first place. The average voter it's true has little interest in ideology, but at the same time, they'll vote for any party that gives them a better quality of life. Which means they'll be right wing on some issues (such as locking up more criminals) and left wing on others (such as keeping the NHS free).

David Cameron may be enjoying his honeymoon period, but when it comes to 2009, he'll have to announce what policies he actually believes in. The way he's going, there won't be any left.