Norman Tebbit provides a good summary of the mess that David Cameron has got himself into:
The polls have given the Conservative leadership a very nasty shock. Suddenly they find themselves threatened by the Lib Dems who ought to have the sole function of splitting the Left-wing vote. The problem has its root in the Ashcroft plan to win the marginals by attracting votes from Lib Dem supporters and disillusioned NuLab voters. That, it was decided, would be done by repositioning the Conservative Party onto that muddy, mucky middle ground – even at the cost of failing to win back the electors who had voted Tory before 1997, but had been abstainers since then.
There is not much time to lose. The present Lib Dem surge is based entirely on the performance of Mr Clegg, or the non-performance of Messrs. Cameron and Brown in The Great TV Debate. Some of those who saw it declared that Mr Clegg had done well. That put up his ratings. That impressed the impressionable, who duly rushed to tell the pollsters that Mr Clegg was unstoppable. It all has about it something of the dot-com boom, bubble and crash. The question, however, is whether that entirely natural deflation of the Clegg bubble will come before or after May 6.
Cameron's socialist gamble doesn't deserve to pay off, but I find myself hoping that it does. Our only hope is that he's a swindler, and that enough socialists get swindled. If he fails, or if he's genuine, we are in deep trouble.
Some people disagree, notably Gerald Warner and Peter Hitchens. Both are old-school religious conservatives who feel betrayed and left voiceless by Cameron's modernisation. They gleefully anticipate Conservative defeat, hoping that a truly conservative alternative will arise from the ashes.
Others, such as Sean Gabb, have more noble reasons for wishing the destruction of the Conservative party. He maintains that the Conservative party plays the role of 'Quisling Right':
A Quisling Rightist is someone who makes conservative noises — giving speeches that seem to imply promises and giving promises that seem to imply delivery of something important — but who, on achieving office, does nothing to oppose the real governance of this country by the coalition of bureaucrats, lawyers, educators, media people, and business interests who together make up the Establishment, and who are joined by their common benefiting from a large and active state. The function of the Quisling Rightist is to channel dissent away from courses where it might be effective, and to give the impression to superficial observers that a genuine political debate exists in this country. His reward is to hold office and to enjoy status and salaries with a minimum of personal inconvenience.This is certainly cynical — it may even sound paranoid — but there is a historical basis for Gabb's position. It was Heath who took the UK into the European Economic Community, concealing the organisation's true purpose. Despite the good things she achieved, state spending actually grew under Thatcher. John Major took us towards the Euro by joining the ERM, and we were only saved by Black Wednesday. David Cameron's retracted "Cast Iron" guarantee for a referendum on Europe was the latest in a long line of broken Conservative promises.
But though there are dangerous authoritarians in the Conservative party, there are also many traditional conservatives who value freedom. The party even harbours some libertarians, though they must keep a low profile. If it is a fantasy too far to suppose that Cameron himself is a closet libertarian, it is perhaps not so far-fetched to suppose that classical liberal voices within the party may find their strength after the election, and finally begin to roll back the state. I'm not optimistic, but it seems our only hope.
As it turns out, the Conservatives have Gabb's support for this election, though his reasoning is apocalyptic:
many of my friends insist that they will either not vote at all, or will vote for a minority party that expresses their own opinions. I will not strongly disagree with these friends – especially as I change my own mind several times a week. But the view I most often hold is that libertarians and patriots have no real choice but to vote for the Conservatives. As said, the idea that the Conservatives will undo any of what has been done is ludicrous. However, the central difference can be summarised in two sentences. A returned Labour Government will soon have no compunction about ordering the police to fire on demonstrators. A Conservative Government might be more squeamish.Crikey.
A Conservative Government would probably continue with most of the suicidal or simply demented policies of the Blair and Brown Governments. But, at the end of five years, it would then allow a free election as these things have been commonly understood in England. A re-elected labour Government would not. When these beasts in human form lied their way to office back in 1997, they came in with the same assumptions as Hitler had in 1933. They did not regard themselves as having acquired a limited and renewable leasehold interest, but as having inherited the freehold. They and their clients would never again have to sell their services in any open market. They would reorder the State wholly to their own interest. No private sphere, no ancient and immemorial rights would stand in their way. 1997 was Year Zero of their Thousand Year Reich.