For reasons I do not wholly understand, Labour partisans appear reasonably pleased with Ed Miliband. Liberal Democrats may not be especially gruntled with Nicholas Clegg but they do appear to appreciate that there’s little point in changing leader now. Which brings us to the Conservative party. And there we discover madness aplenty. Again. For it seems as though more than 50 Tory MPs are sufficiently dissatisfied with David Cameron’s leadership that they think a change of leader something worth considering before the next election.
This, for all the reasons Robert Colvile suggests and many more he doesn’t, would be folly. Madness. Lunacy. Proof that the party is unfit for office. Whatever his shortcomings there are only two things that really matter here:
1. Mr Cameron is more popular than his party.
2. There is no credible replacement leader who will improve rather than hamper the Tories’ electoral prospects. And, yes, that includes Boris.
Nevertheless, the myth persists that Mr Cameron would be better placed if only he were more obviously right-wing. If only he was more in tune with the Tory membership, this theory posits, he’d have a) won a majority at the last election and b) be more likely to win one at the next.
Neither of these propositions is true. Again, individual policies favoured by the Tory right may poll well but, collectively, their positions are box office poison. And since the Tory part exists to deny the Labour party power it’s a rum brand of Toryism that insists upon a slate of policies that make a Labour victory more, not less, probable.
No good can come from questioning the Prime Minister’s leadership, not least because doing so reinforces the sense, always dangerous, that the Tory party is, to use the technical term, dominated by self-obsessed headbangers keener on policing their own ranks and rooting out heretics who fail to meet their preferred standards of ideological purity than it is on actually governing the country.
It is not as though this government is not attempting some quite large things. The public finances may remain a mess but, setting that aside, its programmes for welfare and education reform are large challenges that are sufficient to make its re-election a worthwhile objective.
Besides: who would do better? As a persuasion or matter of temperament Toryism is supposed to take a reasonably – even generously – sanguine view of matters. Perfection is impossible; making the best of what must be is about the best that can be expected of any government. It is in the nature of governments that they disappoint but mere disappointment is an insufficient justification for regicide or revolution.
To govern is, inevitably, to be frustrated. But the compromises imposed by office are, generally speaking, endlessly preferable to the loneliness and impotence of life on the opposition benches. Which makes it all the more mysterious that so many Tory MPs seem so keen on trashing their own leader. The more they undermine Mr Cameron the weaker he must look and the weaker he looks the more probable it is that the Conservatives, already up against it, will lose the next election.
If nothing else you might think that the prospect of Prime Minister Miliband might concentrate Tory minds but that reckons without the virus of self-indulgent recklessness that once more seems to be spreading through the Tory party. Some habits, it seems, die hard and, like the scorpion, the Tories sting themselves because they cannot help doing so. It is the way they are.