It was rather interesting listening to the likely next leader of the country discussing conservative philosophy with Peter Oborne on radio 4. Two points can be drawn from it. Firstly, he does not know very much about conservative philosophy; and more importantly, the philosophy he claims to hold is contradictory.
Although it is no proof that a Prime Minister needs a deep understanding of ideas in order to rule with success (just look at Gordon Brown), the rather limited answers to Peter Oborne’s questions were certainly surprising. Although he has never claimed to be a great intellectual – and of the fraction who will hear the program most will care little for the ideas – surely he should really know more about the intellectual roots of the political party he is now leading. If I was his advisor, from now on I would copy Blair and stick to daytime TV. Best to leave the political philosophy to those in the Conservative Party who can name more than The Road to Serfdom when asked for the key conservative texts.
More importantly Cameron’s various arguments in this interview are irreconcilable. Despite reeling off Oakeshott’s famous quote about prefering present laughter to utopian bliss, when pushed to decide whether he believed in civic associations or enterprise associations he finally came down on the side of the former. However, he spent the whole interview talking about Disraeli’s one nation conservatism, his progressive conservatism and how his will be an “enabling government”. But the fact of the matter is, progressive and universal goals cannot be built upon civic associations as meant by Oakeshott. This ties in to the contradications with Cameron’s rhetoric in favour of localism and much else. He is so desirous of change that he may be unable to dispense with the apparatus of centralized state control.
In practice, any number of things might force him to adopt a less interventionist approach to governing; yet this hardly insurance against an extension of the New Labour project. Whatever the truth of Cameron’s beliefs, something is going to have to give. Sadly as his latest announcement on all women shortlists shows, the safe money is on his progressive side trumping his conservatism.