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Coffee House

David Cameron vs the Middle Ground of politics

3 March 2013

9:36 PM

3 March 2013

9:36 PM

The Prime Minister’s article in today’s Sunday Telegraph is, like all of his major speeches, an uplifting read. It references Sir Keith Joseph, a giant of Conservative thought. Three years ago, I had the honour of delivering the Centre for Policy Studies annual Keith Joseph lecture, as did Cameron three years before that. Here is what Cameron has to say about Sir Keith in his piece today:

‘But the battle for Britain’s future will not be won in lurching to the Right, nor by some cynical attempt to calculate the middle distance between your political opponents and then planting yourself somewhere between them. That is lowest common denominator politics – and it gets you nowhere. The right thing to do is to address the things people care about; to fix yourself firmly in what Keith Joseph called the “common ground” of politics.’

Sir Keith hated the idea of placing yourself in the middle of an SW1 political spectrum and famously urged the Conservatives to find ‘common ground’ with the public. Again today, Cameron denounces ‘cynical’ attempts to place the party in the middle of some imagined spectrum. But what were the Cameroons actually doing at the time? Precisely what Sir Keith warned against. The below extract is from Janan Ganesh’s indispensable biography of George Osborne:

‘Osborne drew a horizontal line on a scrap of paper to represent the political spectrum. He scribbled ‘Tories’ halfway along the right side of the line, ‘Brown’ some way to the left side and ‘Blair’ in its very middle. “That is where we have to be,” he said, jabbing insistently at the Prime Minister’s name.’

Osborne wanted to move the Tories leftwards, to a position equidistant between Brown and Howard. Forget about the wisdom or feasibility of such a strategy: to see politics in this way is to make the fatal mistake that Sir Keith highlighted. The ‘political spectrum’ exists chiefly in the heads of politics graduates and people who have spent too long in the political bubble. Instinctively, Cameron knows that this is the wrong way to do politics. He really should take more of his own advice.

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