Hugo Rifkind

Cameron is quite conservative enough, thank you

12 May 2012

Find me a person who stopped voting Conservative last week because of David Cameron’s vague, half-arsed, lacklustre stance on gay marriage. Go on. I dare you. Or because of the even vaguer, totally-not-going-to-happen proposals to reform the House of Lords. I’ll settle for one of them instead. Just one, and then I’ll shut up and leave you alone. Anyone? Anyone?

Oh, look, there’s probably one. Maybe there are even as many as eight. And I don’t really want to meet them. They’re representative of nothing. ‘But the Ukip vote soared!’ I hear you cry. ‘Their share of the vote is five points higher than a year ago!’ Yes, indeed. But my hunch — liberal, urban, deluded moron that I doubtless am — would be that people voted for the party defined by its hostility to the European Union because they are hostile to the European Union. No?

Sure, Ukip is against gay marriage, but only in the way that they’re against basically everything. But they’re actively in favour of House of Lords reform (a by-product of being actively against House of Lords not reform). Why, then, is there this emerging belief that the Tory hierarchy’s great problem is that they’re always harping on about such things? Especially when they aren’t, even. Actually, it’s more that the Tory rightwing fringes are always harping on about them harping on. Enough harping, already. It’s nuts.

What planet are you on, when you think that David Cameron’s big problem is that he isn’t enough of a traditional Conservative? Whom do you speak to? Are you drunk? For most of the country, it’s a constant surprise not to see him with a shotgun under his arm. Ask a classroom of toddlers to paint a Conservative and they’ll paint David Cameron, in a top hat and a rosette, hurling a beagle at a fox. Wants to cut taxes? Check. Anti-BBC? Check. Hostile to Europe? You betcha. Pro-business, anti-welfare, hellbent on privatising great chunks of the NHS whether it’s a good idea or not, instinctively Atlanticist. What more do you want? Back-combing?

Yes, he rides a bike. Once or twice, indeed, he has mentioned windfarms. The only people who care are Tories, and the wonderful thing about Tories is the way they’re Tories, and vote Tory. Sure, they might rather he was farther to the right, and that’s a reasonable opinion to hold if you don’t mind being wrong about everything, but by what logic is this going to enable him to pick up more votes?

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Euroscepticism, yes, I can see there might be some mileage in that. But more social conservatism? (Whatever the hell that means.) People don’t not vote Conservative because the Conservatives aren’t conservative enough. Quite the reverse. I mean, you’ve met people who aren’t Conservatives, right? And you’ve asked them why? Well, do. It’s not difficult.

Look, I know the Tory right is unhappy. I don’t really understand why, given that House of Lords reform won’t happen, windfarms are a very minor issue, and no chap who doesn’t want to marry another chap is going to have to. But I accept that it’s happening. It’s one thing, in this context, to try to exploit the turmoil to shift the government more in the sort of direction that makes you comfortable. It’s quite another, though, to pretend it’s an electoral strategy. Stop it.


A strange awakening last Sunday. In the wee hours of the morning, I learned, Tom Watson MP had been contacting Rupert Murdoch on Twitter to complain that I was being rude to him.

Weird thing for the deputy chair of the Labour party to do. Particularly as I wasn’t. I’ve never spoken to the man. And yet there he was, dobbing me in to the boss.  It being 1 a.m. may have been a factor. I think you see what I’m driving at, here. Yes. But still. I never done it, guv. ‘My sincere apologies,’ Mr Watson eventually tweeted, when I asked him about it, a mere five times, the next day. ‘I got you confused with Giles Coren.’ Which was flattering, given that Giles is one the people who made me want to be a journalist in the first place, but also a whole new mystery, all in itself.

Exactly what was it about the Jewish Giles Coren which led Mr Watson to get us mixed up? Could it be that the Jewish Giles Coren and I both write for the Times, often in a humorous vein? Possible. But so do many other people, including, say, the not-Jewish Robert Crampton, and Mr Watson wasn’t confusing either of us with him.

Could it be that both the Jewish Giles Coren and I are from Scotland, and the sons of prominent Conservative MPs? Wait, no, that’s not right. Or could it be that the Jewish Giles Coren and I both write restaurant reviews and present successful TV food shows, alongside Sue Perkins? Oh, but hold on. I’ve just remembered. I don’t.

It’s terribly puzzling. What could it be that made me and Giles Coren, who, as I may have mentioned, is Jewish, so interchangeable in Mr Watson’s mind? I’ve tweeted him to find out, but he hasn’t replied. So I suppose we’ll never know.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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Show comments
  • Jim5et

    Is it that both you and Giles Coren slipstream through life as minor media commentators based entirely on the fact that your respective fathers were famous?

  • Christian Black

    No, it’s not just that Giles and Hugo are both nepotistas, it’s that they have a similar, obnoxious faux-comic prose style with the pace and format of a humour-piece but no real jokes.

  • Ben

    Jim5et you think that Hugo is slipstreaming through life because he makes insightful humorous columns like this look effortless. They’re not.

  • Christian Black

    Does he really have to work at this kind of material, then? I’ve met quite a few public schoolboys with permanent sniffles who can do this belligerent stream-of-opinion stuff at dictation speed and keep it up for hours.

  • therealguyfaux

    Do you suppose that Fatty-Boy got you confused with Coren because, erm, he hadn’t actually read either one of you and was going by some staffer’s erroneous information? Wouldn’t be the first time that that has happened.

  • Henry

    Was you pi**”d when you wrote this diatribe?

  • Vacant Possesssion

    Patronising, irritating, generalising nonsense. The only good things is it is just plain wrong. The only people who stand a chance of enticing me to vote conservative are Daniel Hannon, Douglas Carswell and a few others. Certainly not Cameron who has broken his word too many times to be trusted. That is the difference you fail to notice, people across parties can respect someone who is trustworthy which is why Boris deservedly won London and why Cameron is deservedly driving otherwise conservatives away in droves.

  • Jan

    In no meritocratic media industry would Hugo Rifkind be doing anything other than making people cups of coffee. (Is that why he writes for Coffee House?) It’s always boring, uninsightful rubbish from beginning to end…

  • Mike McNally

    “Ask a classroom of toddlers to paint a Conservative and they’ll paint David Cameron, in a top hat and a rosette, hurling a beagle at a fox.”

    No Hugo, that’s how the left thinks of Conservatives. A classroom of toddlers has rather more collective intelligence and emotional maturity.

  • Mary

    I hope you didnt mean that Watson didnt know what he was talking about.

  • Giles Game

    I stopped voting Tory because of “gay marriage” – but don’t worry, I wouldn’t want to meet you either.

  • antigone

    you’re all lala. Especially the one of you that thinks people voted Boris because h’s trustworthy. They voted for him because they admire the cutzpah or someone patently untrustworthy – and found out – still going for it

  • Disaffected

    Dear Hugo. You were looking for someone who would desert on these issues?

    I’m one. Not over gay marriage but over the House of Lords. And I don’t think I’m alone. It’s not that the proposal itself is particularly objectionable – an elected chamber would at east be free of unfettered political patronage even if it would give a failing party political system more opportunity to foul up.

    It’s rather that the whole thing shows how little thinking ahead the party has done in opposition and how short range its vision is in government.

    Osborne fouling the simplest of budgets; Cameron’s naivety in hiring Coulson, Hunt’s handling of BSKYB, cack-handed at best; May’s running of the Home Office; the whole administration is limping from crisis to crisis. How could they not know in advance how bad the budget would look? They can’t blame advisors for their own screaming lack of political depth and experience. It’s no wonder that someone like Hague is keeping a very, very low profile. Can’t say I blame him.

    So; the House of Lords is the red line for me; that the proposals might come to nothing is neither here nor there; in contemplating them without having a strong vision for the work of a revising chamber is folly. CAmeron has not given enough thought to the implications of advancing the prospect of change. It is all evidence enough that Cameron does not have what it takes to run a Conservative Government, let alone one in coalition.

    Both parties will get stamped on in the next General election.

    And, just to be clear and precise, you’ve just lost my vote; not simply on the House of Lords proposals, but that was the issue that made my mind up for me that the whole current conservative shower is indeed politically irredeemable.

    An ex-supporter.

  • Alex

    Great, another spoilt little brat who’s desperate to rebel against Daddy at every opportunity.


  • Nicholas

    ” They’re representative of nothing.”

    Oh, dear Mr Rifkind. I hope you appreciate how snooty and condescending that sounds. Actually they represent a perfectly legitimate and alternative viewpoint (however small) which in a proper democracy would just be accepted and not subject to snide comments from an opinionated columnist.

    Do you really think that the history and composition of the Conservative Party should result in unanimity for Cameron’s “modernising” and “de-toxification” project – even if much of it were not so plainly bogus? You sneer at UKIP yet you do not ponder the strange and much longer co-existence of Labour and the Lib-Dems, leaving aside such hand-wringing convolutions as “New” Labour and the SDP.

    What might be more productive to explore is why Mr Cameron feels it is necessary to drag the Conservative Party leftwards when the left of centre political arena in Britain already has more than one party to represent it? Within a tiresome narrative about “diversity” it seems strange that he should want to contribute to the development of a one party state (one party under three different names) when the conservative viewpoint (still evidenced by polling) is so unrepresented in Parliament and the media.

    There is no balance Mr Rifkind, that is the problem. There is no counterpoint to the relentless march of leftist dogma and cant that pervades our public narrative and media services. When a small voice endeavours to speak up for that counterpoint it is churlish to scoff at and scorn it as “representative of nothing”. An objective columnist might look for balance and explore the discrimination that seeks to stifle the voice from the right by demonising and marginalising it – not join in.

  • Old Blue Eyes

    I am an 80 something who has voted Conservative ever since I have had the vote and often worked for the party at election time. If I, as I am, am mindful to cast my vote elsewhere at the next election then the Conservative party is in real trouble. It is not just one policy that Cameron and his cohorts have espoused to which I object but a whole host of actions and failures. Things will have to change and quickly if he wants my vote.

  • Vichy Dave – Cicero Knows Him

    The conservatives lost my vote because they are a useless shower of excrement. A once great party now utterly unfit for power.

  • Hugo Rifkind

    Thanks for the comments. Well, most of them. If you did recently stop voting Tory for these things, though, I’d be very interested in knowing who you vote for instead. Because decreasing the Conservative vote because you want a more right-wing government (if you do) seems like lunacy to me.

  • Myfanwy Alexander

    Sorry metropolitan Hugo thinks windfarms is a small issue: it has delivered a double Tory victory in Montgomeryshire. A number of turbines equivalent to 75% of those planned for the whole of England are heading to Powys and the area is incandescant. Ignoring how important these sort of issues are explains why so many voters are alienated from party politics

  • RichieP

    ‘liberal, urban, deluded moron that I doubtless am ‘

    About the only thing I either understood or agreed with in your entirely silly and puerile rant.

  • John Hall

    People aren’t switched off from the Conservative Party. They simply do not trust Cast Iron Dave. He appears to believe what he says only for so long as it takes the lies to trip out of his lying mouth. It’s not his positioning to the left or the right. It’s his inability to stick to any position.

  • Ben

    Hi Hugo,

    I’m a person who wouldn’t have considered voting Conservative under the leadership and policies of Hague (who I now much prefer), Howard or IDS. From another time as far as I’m concerned. Cameron’s work to de-toxify the party has given me some confidence that it is changing for the times. Gay marriage, climate change, EU, immigration etc. – these aren’t issues I’m particularly animated about, but they’re symbolic. If he tacks back to the right on social issues, I’ll tack back to not touching them with a bargepole. I’d also guess it’s part of the reason why they performed so poorly under previous leadership. Just a guess mind. Oh, and I’m under 30. Cheers for the column and don’t let the loons get you down.

  • Art

    Never new Giles Coren was Jewish. But you both make a living from amusing, highly readable ephemera. And you both have more talented fathers, which is probably a bit annoying.

    But what if Watson did confuse you because you’re both Jewish? Are you suggesting that would have somehow been a signal of wider prejudice?

  • Kyle Mulholland

    Does Mr Rifkind stand by the silly, belligerent, unfunny tripe that is presented in this column?

    David Cameron is not a conservative. People have departed the Tory Party for many reasons over many years. Its failure to do anything about the Left’s relentless forward march in the culture war may have a lot to do with it in many cases.

    Most people who vote Tory – and most people who vote Labour, as it happens – aren’t massively pro-crime, pro-immigration, pro-drugs, pro-Europe, anti-family and anti-Christian. However, the Tory Party leadership is all of these things. So why should they vote for them? The political parties are a spent force, who represent nobody. Only tribal loyalties are keeping them afloat.

    One the illusion is shattered, it will only be a matter of time before a new political realignment happens in Britain. Mr Rifkind and other leftists won’t like it, because it will mean that his sort will have their monopoly challenged, but I sincerely hope that it does. Perhaps Mr Rifkind won’t be so smug when that happens.

  • Hugo Rifkind

    Ben – Thank you for that. As the man said, we park our cars in the same garage.

  • Mr Adequate

    I don’t know what’s most depressing; that Rifkind got into journalism because of Giles Coren or that early commenter Ben think Rifkind writes “insightful humorous columns”. On reflection, at least Ben is 1/3 correct.

  • Still Disaffected

    I shouldn’t really take the bait, but since ou ask who I will vote for and since you might just read the whole of the answer, I probably won’t vote at all. And this despite having voted conservative for the best part of thirty years.

    You’ll obviously conclude that this gives me no right to beef about the current system if I’m unwilling to take part in it. But if I despise the current crop of ‘professional’ politicians and despair at the low, low quality of the people we have in politics and in government, depressed at how badly run we are as a country and how ill-served we are by politicians, why should I give a mandate to anyone who isn’t committed to proper accountability, as though I’m happy with the system?

    I would vote for a candidate whose party credibly promised to break apart the Westminster cosy bubble; which would hold politicians criminally accountable for their negligence; which would have tolerated no ‘pay-it-back-and-we’ll-say-no-more-about-it’ response to expenses, which understood that there is something deeply, deeply disturbing about the ways in which civil servants seem to find themselves snapped up by commercial organisations involved in the government’s business.

    There isn’t such a party. Or not yet. And if it emerged I will be ready not only to vote but raise money and to knock on doors for it. If Cameron, May, Osborne and Hunt; Miliband, Clegg and Balls are really the best the front benches have to offer, we might just be entitled to ask for better options.

    I might, though, vote for a credible independent local candidate incensed by some decision of government and hell bent on teaching the national parties a lesson.

    But I won’t any longer be voting for the Conservative Party as a party, because it simply hasn’t shown basic competence in government nor does it give off any signals that it can express with any coherence what it stands for. I’m not looking for more right-wing policies or hard-nosed stances on Europe; it has to be cleverer than that, and it isn’t. I’m looking for competent, honest people pursuing clear goals.

    You’ve had my loyalty for thirty years; you squandered it. The House of Lords fiasco was indeed the last straw.

    And, for what it’s worth, your thoughtless article with its casual dismissal of critics made it a very easy and straightforward decision to make.

  • Ben

    Not a problem. The self-proclaimed silent majority are anything but and there’s only so much white noise I can take. I should point out I’m a different Ben to the first one.

    Kyle, you say the Tory leadership is “massively pro-crime, pro-immigration, pro-drugs, pro-Europe, anti-family and anti-Christian”

    Have you ever risked being taken seriously?

  • Kyle Mulholland

    “Have you ever risked being taken seriously?”

    I notice this rather silly comment deals with none of the statements I make about the current rump at the helm of the so-called ‘Conservative’ Party.

    Our borders have been all but abolished. There is no desire to do anything about Brussels’ dominance of our toy parliament.

    Kenneth Clarke is busy letting all and sundry out of prison, and the prosecution guidelines for possession and use of supposedly illegal drugs get progressively softer.

    The leadership have come out in support of gay ‘marriage’ and very quickly dropped their supposed commitment to transferable marriage tax allowances, which they promised before the election.

    Nothing has been done about the preposterous anti-Christian ‘equality’ legislation that sees hoteliers hauled up into court for daring to refuse rooms to non-married couples. They’ve said nothing about registrars being threatened with dismissal for asking to be excused from conducting civil partnerships. Roman Catholic schools are under attack for urging people to sign the ‘Coalition for Marriage’ petition.

    Does none of this seem familiar to you?

  • Nicholas

    I cannot accept as real “conservatives” people who refer to those to the right of them as “loons”. The difficulty with politics these days is the large number of socialists who, for whatever reason, are in parties other than the one they should be in – Labour. The “modernisation” and “de-toxification” is an invention of the propaganda of the left, an own goal by the weak on the right and being carried through to the destruction of any viable conservative alternative by a peculiar process of subversion and denouncement.

    I admire those in the Labour party who stand up on and for the Left. At least they are honest to their principles and not sailing under false colours. I admire least those supposed conservatives who espouse watered down socialist dogma and denounce real conservatives as “loons”. Especially if in doing so they adopt the arrogant (and typically socialist) presumption that they are in the right.

    There are few certainties in life but one of them is the tone of Mr Rifkind’s Spectator articles.

  • Ben

    I think the key word is “statements”, and this includes the risible assertion that the Conservatives are “massively pro-crime”. Brilliant. From what I can tell these are just your perceptions – and just because you don’t agree with their policy doesn’t mean they’re pro-crime. Borders “all but abolished”? If you’re not an EU resident I think you’ll find it’s pretty hard to get into the country. You do know the world’s quite big, don’t you? My American friends are lucky they came to the UK when they did, before we decided we’d shut the door to the people we need most.
    As for gay marriage, if two adults want to get married why should they be stopped – what business is it of yours? No one’s asking for churches to be forced to conduct gay marriages.

  • Ben


    Unfortunately for you, the British public aren’t quite as keen on such purism. Blair knew he couldn’t win in the ideological hinterland. Hague, IDS and Howard all found out the hard way. On the above social issues you’re going to find yourself on the wrong side of history I’m afraid.

  • Kyle Mulholland

    ‘Ben’ has not dealt with my arguments properly.

    If pursuing a policy is known in advance to increase crime and disorder, then I am justified in concluding that those who pursue this policy are ‘pro-crime’.

    If anyone from anywhere in the European Union can enter Britain at any time, and their passports afford them almost the same privileges when they get here as a British passport would, then I am justified in suggesting that our borders might be slightly porous.

    I doubt you and I actually agree on the fundamentals of what the word ‘conservative’ actually means, so this is a pretty pointless argument.

  • Nicholas

    Don’t patronise me Ben. The Jews were on “the wrong side of history” in Germany from 1933-1945 but “history” changed after that.

    In history and in politics there are always going to be winners and losers. My beliefs are held sincerely, unlike many politicians who seem to hold them only to win. But I’m entitled to hold them even in the face of majority disagreement and don’t appreciate being categorised as a ‘loon’ by you or Mr Rifkind.

    Since the social “progress” that is much touted by people like you supposedly includes a respect for diversity perhaps you and Mr Rifkind should show more respect to the diversity that disagrees with you about politics.

  • Hugo Rifkind

    Nicolas, either deliberately or otherwise, you’re misreading my point. I do not believe that people with right wing views are loons. I do believe that people who think right wing policy and posturing can win elections in Britain are loons. Vital distinction.

  • Nicholas

    Not deliberately, Mr Rifkind, I assure you and thank you for your clarification. I don’t think that right wing policy and posturing can win elections either but probably for very different reasons to yours. I think they have been so caricatured and indoctrinated against that it would be difficult if not impossible to articulate them in any way that could overcome derision.

    But in terms of degree surely and properly a right of centre position is right wing? Mr Cameron could not really be described even as right of centre although he sometimes postures to that effect. The “centre” ground has been shifted to left of centre and Mr Cameron is perhaps a little closer to the centre (from the left) than Mr Milliband.

  • Ben

    Kyle, it has taken the space of one post to go from ‘all but abolished’ to ‘slightly porous’.

    We can actually agree on one thing, given I wouldn’t class myself as conservative, but political parties are diverse in ideology within. I’d consider myself both a social and economic liberal. At the current time my vote would be Conservative, but I’d have no qualms in changing that. Regardless of who Cameron chooses to court, I don’t envy his position.

    Nicholas, apologies if you thought I was being patronising. My loon comment also wasn’t specifically intended at comments on this blog, just a general observation. My history comment was also from a moral standpoint.

    You are more than entitled to your opinion, and – as much as I can be – don’t doubt that your views are sincere. I just happen to think you’re wrong.


  • Nicholas

    “You are more than entitled to your opinion, and – as much as I can be – don’t doubt that your views are sincere. I just happen to think you’re wrong.”

    Well, yes, I could be. And that admission is probably what separates us. The qualification of being right or wrong is perhaps too often applied to views for which the evidence of that is uncertain – or abstract – or challengeable – or more often untested. There has been an increase in dogma in politics. I’m not sure why but I think the online exchange of views probably exacerbates it.

    I’m by no means certain that a conservative – or right wing posture – has been tested on the electorate for many a long decade. At least not a serious one as opposed to keeping the pound, back to basics or any of the other blazer wearing frivolities. The current conservative message is incoherent to me as it seems to embrace all sorts of odd things and eschew others – like straight talking. Politicians of the main parties have carefully skirted the various elephants in the room as being too risky to test. So we are back to polling and the received wisdom of the media narrative as demonstrated here.

    We are engaging in politics overshadowed by the politburo – so an objective test of what the electorate really think and want is not possible. It is subterranean and often subversive. How much the views expressed are arrived at by objective consideration and how much by the influence of the public narrative is unknown. There has been a tremendous growth in political propaganda and spin but I think the majority of the electorate cleave to familiarity – on the better the devil you know basis. Therefore I don’t think the policies of UKIP, say, are necessarily being tested on the basis of their appeal as on the basis of scepticism that the party is big enough to be taken seriously. UKIP may become to the Tories what the SDP and Lib Dems were to Labour.

    PS I am not a UKIP supporter. But my support for the Conservative Party has diminished.

  • David Short

    I do agree with a previous commentator that this column has the mark of being written by someone who was ‘refreshed’ at the time. However, Miliband has a fighting chance of winning because Labour always hangs onto its heartland seats despite a lower and lower turnout (they don’t vote anything but Labour so it’s either vote Labour or don’t vote. Look at the stats), and Miliband will appeal to the kind of people in southern areas that used to be able to afford to live in Hampstead before the oligarchs made it unaffordable for the the new wannabe Melvyn Braggs.

  • Matthew

    Hugo – I’m relatively new to reading the spittle-flecked epilogue that accompany this type of column. If there isn’t already a word for the enviable talent of attracting readers to repeatedly confirm how much they loath your writing, I hereby coin the term ‘rifkinding’. It seems Giles Coren is a seasoned rifkinder too. And Jewish. Coincidence? You’ll have to ask Tom Watson.

  • Jan Dzban

    There are people to whom the word “conservative” means something morally tangible and basically unchangeable. There are others – like Mr Rifkind – for whom “conservative” is just a label, not much different from the one you find on a bottle of a shampoo. You can pour anything there… Very decadent and foolish.

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