In early 2009, when I had my interview with my local Conservative group to become one of their council candidates, the news broke that Ken Clarke was invited to take a job in the Shadow Cabinet. The topical question of my interview, the one my interviewers threw right at the end as a "curve ball", was what did I think of Ken Clarke? I tried to give the the interviewers the answer that they wanted to hear and the result was stuttering non-committal to an opinion. This is one of those events I look back at with some regret about my cowardice.
Ken Clarke is the personification of everything I loathe about the Conservative Party. He is a liberal imposter; pro-Europe and limp about crime and punishment. A few weeks ago, Radio 4 interviewed Liberal Democrat voters about which of their coalition partners do they like. I seem to remember that Lib Dem voters approved of Ken Clarke most of all. I think one voter even gave Clarke the epithet "good" or "normal", or some similar positive attribute.
Ken Clarke is a liberal democrat if not a Liberal Democrat.
And so is David Cameron. I think David Cameron sometimes uses Clarke as a foil for his own liberalism, or as a weather vane to test the direction of the prevailing wind. When the storm brewed over halving sentences for criminals including rapists, Cameron performed a U-turn to fit in with public opinion. He came out against Clarke's proposals to give soft - actually softer - sentences to criminals. It is Cameron's wont to, at critical times, suppress his liberalism to offer a sop to Tory voters. Tory voters who are too deluded or tribalised to see Cameron for what he is.
Take a look at "Catgate". When Ken Clarke wagered that, contrary to Thereasa May's claim, that a pet cat did not feature in a judge's decision not to deport a Bolivian immigrant, Cameron appeared to slap down Ken Clarke. Not because Cameron disagreed with Clarke's softness on immigration, but because the Tory conference was one of those critical moments - much like election times - when the media is concentrated intensely on Cameron's Tories and he needs to be seen to do the populist thing. Knowing that the public is worried about high levels of immigration (levels that Cameron will do nothing to reduce) he seized the opportunity to side with May.
Remember Cameron's U-turn over his "cast iron" guarantee on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The Lisbon Treaty is undemocratic and Soviet. The Lisbon Treaty was a treaty that was allowed to "amend" itself. As such, any changes to the Treaty can be made within the Treaty itself, without having to publish a new Treaty. Because changes to the constitution can be made without publishing a new treaty, the EU Commission can acquire more power from member states without the inconvenience of member states holding referenda over their ceding of power to the EU.
It is anti-democratic and harmful to sovereignty. A Conservative Party - that is, a conservative and patriotic party - would have used the Lisbon Treaty as a good excuse to withdraw from the European Union. But David Cameron reneged on his cast-iron guarantee of a referendum on the European Union because his anti-EU posturing had ceased to be profitable. When he dropped his guarantee of a referendum he had a lead of double-figures over Gordon Brown and probably believed that he was more popular than he actually was and could jettison that burdensome referendum.
He always knew that the Czechs would ratify the Treaty so he could use this as a justification of his reneging on his "cast iron" guarantee. Deluded Tories see Cameron's reneging as proof that the Tories are the party of pragmatics. They do what they can do. They are not idealist or utopian. On the contrary, no Conservative leader has surrendered more to left-wing idealism than David Cameron.
Look at Cameron's meddling in his Party's own candidate selection procedures prior to the 2010 electoral contest. Look how he manipulated the South West Norfolk selection committee into choosing the young, female Elizabeth Truss as its candidate. For someone who ought to dislike powerful central executives, Cameron acts very much like a powerful central executive. It wasn't only Elizabeth Truss, but other female and ethnic minority candidates were "parachuted" into good constituencies in a way Cameron's mentor Tony Blair would have been proud of.
If Cameron's Tories cannot leave his Party's candidate selection procedure to meritocracy, what chance does our dreadful education system have? A truly Conservative Party would restore the tripartite education system; having grammar schools around the country would improve educational standards and give bright but poor students a chance to go to the top of society. But they won't restore grammar schools because they are ideologically wed to comprehensive egalitarianism - a system that places political correctness and equality of outcome above academia.
I know a lot of Tories who are cynical about David Cameron look fondly upon Margaret Thatcher, as if she was the apogee of conservatism. The truth is she was not. Her fixation with markets restored our economy to a position of greatness in the world but it did nothing for conservative values. If you look at the Conservative prime-ministers since the Second World War, none have been conservative.
It is not a new thing that the Tory Party has lost its identity and betrayed its conservative supporters. David Cameron's Tories are simply the most painfully blatant example of a party that has ceased to be useful and ceased to serve its purpose. This is why those Tories who cling to the Party in the hope that the next leader will hold conservative values will be disappointed: The Tory Party's dying isn't a recent phenomena. It has been dying for over half a century.
It cannot be saved.