David Cameron declared sunshine would win the day. But the Scottish Tory leader’s resignation shows the party no longer has room for social liberals
We must respect Ruth Davidson’s given reasons for quitting as Scottish Conservative leader. She has held the role for eight years – effectively a generation in today’s febrile politics – and she has a son less than a year old.
But more widely her decision to step down has a message more beyond the personal and beyond Holyrood. The resignation of Ruth Davidson is the final death knell of Cameroon Conservatism, as much as that was ever a thing: the socially liberal brand of Toryism in which sunshine won the day, championed by a small coterie centred on Notting Hill and the Cotswolds and only ever, it turned out, coated onto the Tory brand as a light veneer.
“While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life, we were banging on about Europe,” Cameron told the Conservative conference in 2006. Europe would, of course, be the subject that did for Cameroon Conservatism. Ken Clarke said that Tory Eurosceptics were like crocodiles circling around the party boat, which successive leaders had kept at bay by feeding them buns. “The trouble comes when you run out of buns,” said Clarke, and when Cameron hod tossed them his biggest, they came for him, his creed and everything left of moderate Conservatism.
What legacy of modernisation, then, Cameron, who hugged a husky, in bequeathing a party whose nearest equivalent may well be to go into an autumn election promising a return to riding to hounds?
It was under Cameron’s watch that equal marriage was introduced, and that is to his credit. But what lasting imprint does that leave on the Tory brand when its leader of the House is now Jacob Rees-Mogg, an opponent of gay marriage and abortion even in cases of rape – a man who, while implacably opposed to legislation to Brussels, believes moral guidance is unique to Rome (his leader’s foibles notwithstanding)?
What legacy did Cameron, who called for more understanding for ‘hoodies’ and criticised short-term solutions, leave when the home secretary is now Priti Patel, until recently a supporter of capital punishment and whose every utterance since her appointment seems weirdly designed to appeal to the Kelvin MacKenzie-era Sun?
And what is left of liberal Conservatism when the party’s most frequent voices across broadcast media are Iain Duncan Smith, seemingly with his own parking space at the BBC, Mark Francois, who believes Dad’s Army to be a documentary, Andrew Bridgen, a grotesque caricature, and John Redwood, a man out of his time even when he challenged for the leadership in 1995?
A few remain. Rory Stewart, who must now view his party with the same bewilderment as he did walking across Afghanistan in 2002. But not many.
Ruth Davidson, though, was the figurehead of the Cameroon revolution. A kick-boxing lesbian untied to the shibboleths of the Conservative Clubs, she was put up for interviews and photoshoots relentlessly, the new face of the party, a future first minister, maybe – possibly – a future prime minister.
And now she’s gone, and Cameroon Conservatism is dead. And as the party, culturally, if not formally, merges with the Brexit Party and hitches its bandwagons to values alien to a new generation of young, socially liberal city-dwellers, it may soon be too.