Last weekend Ian Birrell, the former deputy editor of the Independent and speechwriter for David Cameron suggested that Lord Snooty needs to show compassion in order to invigorate a Tory election campaign that he rightly describes as ‘narrow, repressed and uninspiring.’ I am sure there are many readers – and I was certainly one of them – who shook their heads and raised their eyes to the ceiling or perhaps let out a shrill hysterical laugh.
Birrell is certainly right that ‘scaremongering seems to have replaced any sense of hope ‘ in the Tory campaign. Well they are doing what comes naturally, and the idea that Cameron can counteract this negativity ‘by reimposing his compassionate credentials, reiterating his innate optimism and reminding voters that he understands their concerns’ is pretty far-fetched.
Tory Central Office has clearly reached the same conclusion, however. First there was last week’s unctuous Daily Mail interview with Samantha Cameron, which declared that ‘No one can fault the compassionate credentials of a couple whose courage and devotion to their disabled son Ivan moved the entire nation when he died in 2009, aged six, a year before David became Prime Minister.’
No one may doubt their courage and devotion to their own son, but ‘compassionate credentials’ have been conspicuously absent from Tory policy towards other people’s disabled chidlren. And to this reader at least the Mail interview, smacks of gross political cynicism and electoral manipulation. And as for the picture of a smiling Cameron giving milk to a lamb, please, do you really think voters are completely stupid?
Because His Lordship may be a good down-to-earth bloke around the house, but politically he is closer to Joffrey in Game of Thrones than he is to Mary Poppins. For the last five years he has led one of the most heartless, callous and mean-spirited governments that this country has ever seen, whose social legislation has demonstrated an extraordinary viciousness and ruthlessness towards some of the most vulnerable people in the country.
We could talk about the work assessment tests imposed on the sick and disabled, which have driven some people to suicide after their benefits were cut. Or the bedroom tax. Or cuts in legal aid that have made it more difficult for asylum seekers to make their cases or appeal against rejections.
Or Theresa May’s hateful 2013 Immigration Bill, whose aim, according to Immigration Minister Mark Harper, is to deny ‘illegal immigrants’ access to bank accounts and public services – including the NHS – in order to ‘stop migrants abusing public services to which they are not entitled, reduce the pull factors which draw illegal immigrants to the UK and make it easier to remove people who should not be here.’
And we might also mention the government’s refusal to respond to a request from the Italian government to participate in search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean because it claimed that such operations only increased the ‘pull factors’ that draw asylum seekers and refugees to Europe.
Try and equate any of that with the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of compassion as ‘Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.’ It doesn’t even have much to do with the ‘compassionate conservatism’ that Samantha Cameron claims to believe in.
Birrell’s recommendations – and Tory Central Office’s attempts to refloat the touchy feely Dave of old – have nothing to do with compassion either. They are merely a form of media manipulation and image production intended to garner votes. Because if you are truly a compassionate politician capable of empathy, pity and concern for others , you need to demonstrate it in your policies and your practices.
You cannot behave like a wolf for five years and have yourself photographed feeding a lamb for five minutes. The Scots saw through this nonsense a long time ago. The fact that Cameron is now trailing to the anodyne and equally fake and manufactured personality of Ed Miliband suggests that English voters are catching on to the fact that compassionate conservatism is an oxymoron that will not win this election.