Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cameron Flipped, Blair Flopped

Flip Flop was an imported phrase and perhaps it should never have been used at Prime Minister’s questions, only for it to be returned with force by Tony Blair, because unfortunately, for David Cameron this IS half true.

The Tories were contentedly wandering into oblivion, happy to provide their own self-comfort by reminiscing about the good old days of Thatcher and ignoring how the country has since changed. A party once famed for its pragmatism was now a rapidly ageing husk unable or unwilling to change.

Then something extraordinary happened. From the ashes of a third election defeat, the members, having just won the battle to keep their vote on the leadership, rediscovered pragmatism and elected a very different sort of leader.

Since then Cameron has concentrated on doing nothing discernibly Tory-like. And it works!

16,000 new members, even allowing for a margin of error this has been a huge success, and after years of poor polling the Conservatives are just squeaking ahead.

Pragmatism is alive and kicking once again, policies rejected time and again by the voters have been ditched. Democracy has received some lip-service from Her Majesty's Opposition.

This is the Flip - the time when a party says to the voters "Yeah -you're right, we were wrong" and starts to re-engage with the real world.

Tony Blair flipped, and it was a raging success. True, he always waters down the good ideas to appease the Labour backbenchers (something he is on record as regretting), but a steady stream of Flips has made Labour very popular despite the spin, dodgy-dealings, Iraq and all that.

That is why the Tories could still swallow the idea of Labour's education reforms. A watered down shadow of what is needed yes, but still in the right direction more or less, and let's not forget that waiting four years in the hope of being elected to start changing things is bad news for pupils who currently have to endure a sub-standard system.

However, even though the reforms were weak at best, concerted pressure from the Old Left has led to more amendments that have watered down a watered down bill. The Flip has become a Flop, the admirable, sensible and right has become disgraceful, wasteful and wrong.

Whether there is still enough good in the Bill when it passes Parliament is up for debate, but the Prime Minister should consider this. A leader, concerned with a lasting positive legacy should rightly learn when to flip - but don't be surprised if that legacy crumbles when he decides to flop.

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