Cameron’s reshuffle played for friends. Instead, it alienated everybody

written for The Telegraph, 2nd September 2014

Radek Sikorski (right) on his old Bullingdon contemporary Cameron: 'His whole strategy of feeding scraps just to satisfy them is, just as I predicted, turning against him"

Radek Sikorski (right) on his old Bullingdon contemporary Cameron: ‘His whole strategy of feeding scraps just to satisfy them is, just as I predicted, turning against him”

Anyone who tells you that they can predict the outcome of the next general election is either lying or swivel-eyed. But one thing is certain: Conservative morale has collapsed. Again. Chris Kelly is a man of such ambition that at university he and his friend Justin Tomlinson bet £100 that one of them would be prime minister by 2038. If he sees no point in defending his 3,856 majority in 2015 – and contrary to rumour, doesn’t fancy his chances with Ukip – the flame really has gone out of the hearts of the pushiest of Tory Boys. Boris Johnson is clearly now working on the assumption that there will be a vacancy for the leadership of the Tory party by the end of May 2015 – hence his decision to contest the seat of Uxbridge.

And when morale collapses in any organisation, it can only be the responsibility of the leader. Not only is Cameron incapable of inspiring loyalty in his party, every faction of the Tory party is now convinced he’s in the pocket of the other lot. The darkest malaise in Britain today is the miasma of distrust, and Tory MPs seem as infected with paranoia as the conspiracy theorists who regularly write to warn me that the BBC is run by paedophiles. However factions define themselves – Left, Right, wets, trads, mods – the Tory benches are filled with men and women who are certain that the leadership is only promoting the interests of the opposing faction. In fact, it was Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski who diagnosed the real problem, on those telephone tapes exposed in June. Cameron is an appeaser – he is constitutionally incapable of standing up to one faction or another. Or as Sikorski put it: “his whole strategy of feeding [his critics] scraps in order to satisfy them is (just as I predicted) turning against him: he should have just said –––– off!” With the possible exception of that now long-past battle over gay marriage, Cameron has never been able to acknowledge that he actually disagrees with anyone else in the Tory party. The problem with refusing to challenge other people’s deeply-held principles is that you show no evidence that you have any left yourself.

That’s not to say, with the LibLabCon complainers, that Cameron is a man without virtue, without conviction. He has an acutely personal commitment to the family, to the virtues of marriage and the importance of extended community. When he spoke about the protecting the 24-hour safety net of the NHS, we knew he spoke from personal experience – incidentally, the memory that Cameron has lived out family tragedy, and not merely gilded privilege, seems long passed from public consciousness. He believes to his last breath in the sanctity of the Union, no matter how advantageous the amputation of a Scottish electorate may be to the Conservatives. But he has trimmed his sails to the wind too often for the Tory party to know where he is steering them.

And if there’s a moment when Cameron lost the last of the party, it was shortly after Sikorski’s perspicacious profanities, in last July’s reshuffle. Over at Conservative Home, Stewart Jackson, the fractious traditionalist MP, today complains that the Cameron must “show the Right some man love”. Jackson repeats a now-familiar complaint from the Right: “the reshuffle, sacking of Owen Paterson, and non-job offered to Liam Fox were an egregious affront to proud men”. Fox was said to be particularly aggrieved that the Prime Minister hadn’t even spoken to him personally, leaving it to his Parliamentary Private Secretary Gavin Williamson to announce his offer of a junior ministry.

But in typical Cameron fashion, he’d really managed to offend the Right by mistake. The sacking of Paterson – largely personal – was no kowtow to the “green blop”: this from a leader who’d in turn alienated the green wing of his own party when he ordered his team to “cut the green crap”. Liz Truss will be every bit as a firm against the Greenpeace lobby. Instead, this was a misstep in an otherwise consistent strategy of culling every white male who’d ever shown an inkling of wet or Europhilic thought. Dominic Grieve was sacrificed because he stood in the way of a confrontation with the EUCHR; Damian Green, Ken Clarke, David Willetts, Alan Duncan and Nick Hurd were likewise scalps to appease the Eurosceptic Right. In an notable exception to Cameron’s frantic hunt for female candidates to promote, the widely respected businesswoman Margot James was given only a lowly PPS job on the third day of the reshuffle. Of Cameron’s tokenistic promotion of women much has already been written – though No 10’s incomprehensible decision to directly brief the press that he was appointing women qua women still rankles with the women whose credentials he thus sweepingly undermined, as well as the men sacked to make way for them. But famously, during the domination of Hollywood by Hunagrian exiles, Frank Capra was known for saying “it is not enough to have talent to make films. One must also be Hungarian.” Against the promotion of Liz Truss and Priti Patel, the failure to promote James demonstrates again that it is not enough to be a woman to be promoted in Cameron’s cabinet. One must also be a Eurosceptic. Cameron isn’t ignoring the Right – with projects like the cherished plan for a British Bill of Rights, he keeps trying to woo them. He just isn’t any good at it.

So, the modernisers and the Europhiles (not always the same thing in policy, but often in aesthetic) have long considered themselves betrayed by Cameron. The traditionalists have never trusted him to begin with. If Cameron loses the election, each faction will claim the other was whispering in the ear of the helmsman who steered them onto the rocks. This doesn’t make Douglas Carswell’s own decision to tie his long-held individualist principles to the party of Godfrey Bloom any less anti-liberal, as Matthew d’Ancona demonstrated succinctly at the weekend. But it does explain why the rats are deserting the sinking ship.