In the next round of the Conservative Party leadership election the party membership takes the final decision. The press suggests that they will follow the MPs and opt for David Cameron. At one stage the media was hounding Cameron about youthful drug taking. But he faced down the challenge and refused to answer. The issue has now gone down the agenda. That small triumph showed him as a serious contender for the party leadership.
On the other hand, the whims of the Tory party faithful are not easily predictable, and David Davis has been doing his best to appeal to basic right-wing concerns. So, even if the hierarchy of the party seems to have established that Cameron would be a good new leader, the outcome of the party vote is not absolutely certain. Some senior members of the Tory party do not like the current system of electing a leader for precisely that reason.
This is not the first Tory leadership election since they went into opposition, but it is the most important. As long as the party remained in opposition the leadership was less important since the leader was not Prime Minister. Michael Howard, the current leader, was chosen to give more political weight to the leadership and the party in the run up to the last election, even though the ruling class had no intention of replacing Labour as government. While the Tory party is not being prepared for an immediate return to government, we are entering a period in which the capitalist class will want to have an ‘alternative’ in waiting. It is well aware of the deterioration in the economy - what can be summed up as the end of the ‘Brownian miracle’ - and there is a definite unease in the bourgeoisie about the situation. The following is a good example: decisions over retirement age and paternity leave “have fuelled concern about the government’s future direction, particularly after Tony Blair steps down as prime minister. ‘We’ve had high-level discussions [with government] to make sure we understand each other’s positions. That’s been helpful but it hasn’t bridged the differences,’ John Cridland, deputy director general of the CBI employers’ group, told the Financial Times. ‘These are the first two major decisions by the Department of Trade and Industry affecting business since the election and they haven’t made the right judgement calls from a business point of view.’
David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the BCC had thought that the government had understood what business needed. But after the deal on public sector pensions, ‘our view now is – does the government understand at all?’” (Financial Times, 31/10/5)
Such remarks are not definitive, but, when we know that the acceleration of the crisis is focussing the minds of the bourgeoisie, it still means something. The ruling class is broadly happy with Labour’s imperialist policy apart from Blair’s tendency to not maintain the most rigorous independence from the US. Also, at the moment, there is not an immediate need to modify the government team because of the need to confront workers’ struggles. But the economic factor can undermine any government.
At the same time, if the Tories are to appear as an ‘alternative’ they have to distinguish themselves from Labour. Cameron’s political line is that Blair does indeed have the right policies on many issues, but he is hampered by his own party in introducing the necessary reforms in the public services. The bourgeoisie’s political commentators seem to think that this is exactly how things are going to play out in Blair’s last term as Prime Minister.
A bad week for Blair, like when David Blunkett resigned for a second time, does not mean that Labour is about to lose office. But potentially it provides grist for Cameron’s mill if he is elected Tory leader. If Blair ends up fighting his own party over reforms in the public services that he wants to push through, then Labour opponents can look like they have consciences and compassion, and the Tory party will begin to look more like a serious contender for office. The deterioration in the economic situation will, in addition, make the Labour Party look less competent in the management of the economy.
The worsening state of the economy will compel any government to try and make the working class pay for the crisis of the capitalist system. In a situation of growing social discontent workers need to be aware of all the political manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie, not because they can benefit from any of the alternatives but because of the basic need to know your enemy. Hardin 4/11/5