Cameron needs a whole new Conservative message, and the Tory conference must be the place to do it
Tory grass roots are increasingly concerned that too much ground has been conceded to the Lib Dems. Cameron will lose their support unless he gets radical.
The toppling of Col. Gaddafi has ended a less than happy summer for David Cameron by putting him on a somewhat unexpected high.
The polls reflect the kind of small bounce that is to be anticipated from a successful military deployment, though those predicting that this would be “his Falklands moment” are likely to be disappointed.
The problem for Cameron is that a small bounce does not undo what has gone before. The Prime Minister was wounded by the phone hacking scandal that questioned the very core of his judgement.
He has also presided over a country that held its breath and hid in its homes as rioters caused mayhem on the streets. Seeing it in the round, this has not been a good summer at all.
A leader constantly on the ropes but always managing to glide over the trouble in the end may make for exciting viewing, but Cameron’s agenda has been severely hampered over a summer of, “events dear boy, events.”
Though not normally my first port of call for erudite political analysis, thingy bob of the New Statesman hits the nail on the head about just how bad the holiday PR disasters blighting Cameron’s summer have been:
“There is” said Rafael Behr “…something resonant in Cameron's twice-forfeited vacations; something that describes the governing style of a man who has cruised through life. A holiday that is persistently interrupted by reality might be the emblem of his leadership.”
Unless Cameron is careful this powerful image will stick. So what is he to do?
For every government, the political conference season provides a natural platform for a re-launch.
Last year, Cameron addressed the party faithful as the first Conservative Prime Minister for thirteen years.
The loyalists would have forgiven him anything, such was their relief that they were finally back. However, it all came at a price and Cameron was quick to remind them of that.
The conference was plastered with coalition style branding, reminding everyone that they were “together in the national interest” with the Liberal Democrats.
But from what I hear, this year is going to a different matter entirely.
There is growing disquiet amongst the Tory grassroots about the direction of the government and the amount of “promised land” being surrendered to the Lib-Dem insurgents.
The reforming, radical government promised in the Tory manifesto has got bogged down in internal strife with coalition partners and has spent the majority of this year on the back-foot.
School reforms have gone quietly under the radar. The first free schools will be open by the time the Tories meet in Manchester at the beginning of October, but the rest of the radical plans, be they constitutional or medical, are stuck in a tricky quagmire.
Though Cameron and Osborne are sticking to their economic guns and maintain the support of the rubber stampers of this world, the state is still growing at a terrifying rate and the Conservative grassroots have not forgotten this.
Cameron needs to come out of the blocks hard in Manchester, and it seems he is already briefing away. Matthew D’Ancona, whose Cameroon connections are second to none, has clearly been given a sneak preview of things to come.
Writing in Wednesday’s Evening Standard, he claimed:
“The PM needs millions more people to trust Tory motives and to believe that all the tough decisions were taken in the public interest rather than for ideological or sectional reasons....His party's rank-and-file has to wake up to the disagreeable truth that much of the heavy lifting of modernisation lies ahead.
“Yes, the strategy of reassurance that served the Conservatives so well while they were in opposition needs to be adapted to the different setting of government. But the argument remains very much the same: now, to coin a phrase, more than ever.”
But what does Modernising mean? Modernising should be radical, fearless, and foresighted politics.
It should not mean pandering to the left, increasing spending on non-entity policies and being too afraid to release your inner Peel.
Modernising is a dirty word to many Tories. It immediately conjures images of huskies, green logos and Caroline Spelman telling them to re-cycle old bike tyres.
The party will forgive a lot of their leader when he remains powerful. But further surrender to the Liberal Democrats and the remotest perception that “Cameroon” is once again becoming a euphemism for “wet”, rather than a description of a strain of reforming thought, and the PM will find his party becoming a growing problem, bordering on a threat to his administration.
The battle to take the centre-ground may have served Cameron well in the first few years of opposition, yet lest we forget, it did not seal him the deal.
Modernise by all means Prime Minister, but remember it’s your head on the block if you choose the wrong kind of modernising...
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