The Conservatives: Reasons to be cheerful

Labour and UKIP are both likely to make gains in the upcoming local elections, but don't dismiss the Tories

Thumbs up for David Cameron?
Darren Rutland
On 23 April 2013 08:07

Some people would have you believe that Ed Miliband can now start measuring Downing Street for curtains, and that UKIP is genuinely able to single-handedly take Britain out of the EU. It is likely that both parties will make gains in the upcoming local elections, but it would be foolish to dismiss the Tories.

If the Conservatives suffer losses in May, Ed Miliband will jump on a train (first class, of course) to the nearest Labour gain and declare that this is a sign that the end is nigh for David Cameron. He will completely forget the context of the poll.

The last county elections took place in 2009, at the same time as those for the European Parliament, where UKIP finished second in terms of the national vote. The Conservatives enjoyed a gain of almost 250 councillors, and gained seven councils.

Some of these will be lost. It’s important to remember what was going on the last time these seats were contested. Gordon Brown had abolished the 10p tax rate, and his premiership was going from disaster to disaster. Had David Miliband hurled his banana in Brown’s direction with the same velocity as his boss’s BlackBerry, Miliband the Elder could be in Downing Street today.

Alas, this did not happen. As if to remind us of the situation facing Labour in 2009, James Purnell resigned seconds after the polls had closed. Had the Foreign Secretary followed, the chances are that his next trip to New York would be to address the United Nations as British Prime Minister, rather than to join an international charity having resigned as a backbencher. These were the circumstances in which the Conservatives enjoyed their success in 2009. But things are nowhere near this bad for Cameron.

Firstly – and don’t tell the Labour front bench – the economy could turn around. Jeff Randall wrote last month that retail sales are up, as are house prices, car sales and share prices. It’s also worth remembering that while Fitch recently became the second ratings agency to downgrade the UK’s credit rating, they said that should the UK relax its attempts to reduce the deficit, a further downgrade would be possible. Figures out this week may only show modest growth, but it would be something.

On the economy, the idea that it is only the left who can be ‘fair’ is being dispelled. Government policy on welfare has public support. Figures show that almost 900,000 people opted to come off sickness benefits, rather than undergo a medical exam. The government are on to something. While the Coalition could to more to help get the economy going, its work so far shows it’s heading in the right direction.

Ed Balls might try to make people forget about his closeness to Gordon Brown by tweeting about Nicole Scherzinger, Norwich City and himself. But it’s up to every Conservative to remind the country that should Labour win, Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street could be held by two of Gordon Brown’s loyalist lieutenants.

Of course, they both seek to distance themselves from their former master these days. The Labour leader blusters when people ask him why he didn’t you do anything about [insert topic of the day] when he was in government. It makes you wonder; just what did Ed Miliband contribute when sat at the Cabinet table?

Secondly, UKIP. Sure, at this stage in the political cycle, some of what they say is resonating. But you have to question anyone who says they would put Ed Miliband into Downing Street at the same time as claiming to be the holder of the Thatcherite torch in the 21st century.

A quick look at some of the key concerns of disillusioned Tories suggests that not all is lost. Theresa May is standing her ground at the Home Office, rolling her sleeves up and getting stuck in to sorting out the mess at the UK Border Agency. Similarly, Iain Duncan Smith has shown a resilient determination to make the welfare system work, having looked closely at it since he was removed as the party’s leader.

We all know that UKIP’s claim to be a libertarian party is false. They are even playing politics with their raison d'être. The Conservatives have pledged to hold a referendum on our membership of the EU, should they win a majority in 2015. It’s not to everyone’s liking, and some think it should happen sooner. But at the moment, it’s the only realistic chance of an EU referendum in the foreseeable future.

In spite of this, UKIP will be campaigning against the Tories, and will therefore hope to play a part in helping Labour – who won’t be supporting an EU referendum any time soon. UKIP even voted for an increased EU budget. Either they’re trying to play a long game, or they’ve got a little confused.

Thirdly, the country will have to choose: Cameron or Miliband; sanity or delusion; necessary action or wreckless spending.

Beyond die-hard Labour supporters, Ed Miliband does not pass the Number 10 test. The country does not see him ready to stand in Downing Street and announce he has accepted the Queen’s offer to form a government.

His recent meeting with the disrespectful George Galloway won’t go to help him become a unifying figure. And can you seriously imagine him on the world stage with the likes of Obama and Putin?

Cameron said he would rather be a child of Thatcher than a son of Brown. Thankfully, the Iron Lady was not constrained by Coalition. The party today has to take up her urgency and be bold. But it needs to start now.

Darren Rutland has worked for the No to AV campaign and the TaxPayers' Alliance. He tweets @DarrenRutland

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