By chance, I read two articles today which suggest that David Cameron’s ambivalence on policy matters extends to his view of party defectors. It seems to depend on which way they are going.
In the Times on Saturday, he talks about Quentin Davies, a Conservative MP who felt that he deserved wider fame than he had won for his conviction for cruelty to sheep. He defected to Labour on the eve of Gordon Brown’s elevation, after writing a long and contrived letter to David Cameron, and was duly herded into the House of Commons by Labour groupies to be paraded as a rather empty token of Brown’s pulling power.
Cameron recalled what he felt when Shaun Woodward defected to Labour. “As a member of the public, my reaction is, God, aren’t politicians dreadful. How can you do that to all those people who have worked so hard?”
Well, quite right Mr Cameron. What could be lower than someone who gains a political seat on the platform of, and with the backing of, one political party and then changes sides? It is not just the party workers who are let down – what about the voters who cast their votes for one party and then find themselves represented by another?
I was glad to see Cameron stand up for what is right….until my eye fell on another article, this one from the Oxford Times of 25 May 2007. “Cameron heralds breach” is the headline and it concerned the defection of two Oxford City councillors, Paul Sargent and Tia MacGregor, from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives. Cameron hailed this as a “breakthrough”.
Sargent and MacGregor both had large majorities when elected for the Lib Dems in May 2004. Sargent received exactly twice the votes of the Conservative candidate, MacGregor more than 2.5 times as many votes as the Conservative, who did not even come second. It seems unlikely that many voters in either Ward voted for the beaux yeux of the candidates, voting instead for the party they stood for.
Careerist moves by Toytown politicians are one thing. You could put one of Quentin Davies’s starved sheep into an an Oxford Ward for all the practical difference it would make to the daily lives of Oxford’s ratepayers. I am completely lost, however, as to how Cameron can praise the defections of city councillors to his party, and express disgust at the same act when it is towards another party.
Mind you, the whole thing is a collector’s piece for students of political criticism. Matthew Parris in the Times said that every defection from the Conservatives to Labour resulted in “a small but measurable increase in the average IQ of both parties”. A senior Conservative source described Davies as “a socially conservative retard, appallingly illiberal…a bucket of bile”. Quentin Davies’s critical letter to Cameron is schoolgirl green ink stuff, and belonged in the bin where Cameron immediately put it, but his recent comments on his new friends Gordon and Harriet are much better. Brown is “not a person to be entrusted with the management of anybody’s finances, let alone the country’s finances”, he said in March 2005. Harman is “puerile”.
I owe the quotations to the Guardian, whose article “Brown’s new chum seems a bit confused. But then he was never the same after that incident with the sheep” by Catherine Bennett is here. There is a bonus too for collectors of Grauniad sub-editing, who seem a bit confused themselves. A note at the foot of the web version reads “The headline of the newspaper version of this article mistakenly said ‘Cameron’s new chum …’. It should, of course, have read ‘Brown’s new chum …’. This has been corrected.”
So David Cameron can’t work out whether he approves or disapproves of defectors. The Guardian can’t work out which way the defector defected. Quentin Davies has joined a party led by a man he considers untrustworthy and with a deputy leader he thinks puerile. And the voters of two Oxford Wards who emphatically rejected the Conservatives at the last elections now find themselves represented by them. No wonder politics and politicians (to say nothing of the Guardian) are held in such low regard.