JUST when David Cameron looked to have an open goal at this week’s party conference, two of his own players have reminded him of the perils of Conservative politics: private misdemeanour and disunity on Europe.
The graphic Twitter postings of Brooks Newmark, the Minister for Civil Society, brought his immediate resignation following Sunday newspaper revelations. Whether or not he was a victim of entrapment pales before the judgmental flaw exposed. It recalls the sex scandals that befell the Conservative administration of Prime Minister John Major in the 1990s.
Such troubling memories for David Cameron are all the more reinforced as his party’s divisions over Europe have roared once more into the open. The defection of Conservative MP Mark Reckless to the UK Independence Party, triggering a by-election in his Rochester and Strood constituency, is the second in a few weeks. Its timing is not only an embarrassment for the party conference but also unnerving for the Prime Minister with a general election just eight months away.
Mr Cameron, and the Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps, may rail against this latest defector with accusations of “betrayal” and point out that only the Conservatives are offering a referendum on our membership of the EU. But arguably more troubling for the Prime Minister is that the resignation points to something more than doubts over the referendum commitment. It suggests that Mr Cameron lacks authority within his party and that his “chillax” leadership style lacks resolution and conviction. This style may play with uncommitted voters repelled by the “nasty party” image that came to prevail in the aftermath of three election defeats. But the diffident, non-ideological style has worked to loosen the brickwork in the parliamentary party and enhance the appeal of the committed outsider – “none of the above” Ukip.
It is also noteworthy that Mr Reckless in his defection speech said that it was “impossible” to keep his promise to voters on tax cuts and Europe as a Conservative. He was heavily critical of UK immigration policy and said constituents needed to believe that the UK had control over who comes into the country. “We do not have any sense of that,” he declared.
David Cameron thus has three main objectives to reinforce when he delivers his speech in Birmingham this week. The first is to reaffirm his commitment to further devolution and lay out a clear and credible path to legislation to this end. The second is to set out why voters should share his conviction that sufficiently better terms on our EU membership can be negotiated as to merit support for our continuing membership in a subsequent referendum.
Finally, he must demonstrate the firmest leadership to enhance his credibility and authority. A small piece of theatre may help in this regard: a speech delivered with notes and with the aid of a lectern. Nothing could thus be forgotten – and not least the glaring lapses of the Labour leader’s speech last week.
Ryder Cup joy is boost for Scotland
Over the past three days at Gleneagles the world witnessed a European triumph that even Nigel Farage would find hard not to salute. In a magnificent display of sporting skill and prowess, the European team swept to victory over the United States for the eighth time in ten meetings.
Captain Paul McGinley’s side led 10-6 going into the final day and reached the level needed to win the cup outright when Welsh newcomer Jamie Donaldson beat Keegan Bradley 4&3.
Rory McIlroy struck first with a 5&4 win against Rickie Fowler before fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell came back from three down to beat Jordan Spieth 2&1. The 38-year-old Donaldson, playing in the tenth match, came up with a stunning shot just when it was needed to seal the win. It sparked scenes of euphoria across the course.
The breathtaking approach shot – the stuff of which legends are made – took him to within two feet of the hole. Standing some distance away, American captain Tom Watson looked at Bradley and said: “Pick it up. They’ve won”, and Bradley duly conceded the putt, the match – and the Ryder Cup. Victorious captain McGinley saluted the achievement of his 12 players and the caddies, the backroom team and five vice-captains: “It’s been”, he declared, “a huge team effort” – and one that left the Americans confused, bewildered and convincingly beaten.
Here was a victory for Europe, for golf, for Gleneagles – and for Scotland. For this memorable sporting event has not only firmly entrenched Scotland’s position as the home of golf, but has also enhanced Scotland’s standing and appeal as a visitor destination worldwide.