By Tim Montgomerie
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"(a) A commitment to actively support healthy, traditional marriages and fair pension and inheritance arrangements for gay adults… (b) A bigger budget for the armed forces and an end to the sale of arms to despotic regimes… (c) Faster, longer imprisonment of repeat offenders and more care for the vulnerable children of prisoners… (d) A willingness to confront the Islamic roots of global terrorism and more opportunities for mainstream British Muslims to set up state-funded schools…"
In tomorrow's Sunday Telegraph David Cameron writes:
"We are the only party simultaneously committed to proper investment in the NHS and bringing down immigration. We are the only party simultaneously asserting Britain’s interests in Europe and seriously investing in a better education for poorer children. It's not about being left-wing or right-wing – it's about being where the British people are. And where the British people rightly are on all these issues is where the Conservative Party is too."
Exactly. Not Left-wing or Right-wing Conservatism. Not centre ground, lowest common denominator Conservatism but common ground, ambitious Conservatism. Or, as I argued in my musical essay for the Today programme, full orchestral Conservatism.
Now that we have breadth – the broad conservatism that surrenders little space to political opponents – we need five other things: Consistency. Focus. Imagination. Delivery. Discipline.
- Consistency: Some have been saying (eg The Economist's Jeremy Cliffe) that Eastleigh proved that there was no benefit to Cameron from promising an In/Out referendum. That reasoning assumes that voters will immediately believe something politicians announce. Time and again politicians have promised one thing on Europe and not delivered. The job of persuading people that we will deliver an EU referendum is a long-term project. The party leadership needs to pick its key themes and stick, stick, stick, stick, stick at them.
- Focus: A party that talks about everything will confuse people. The Tory leadership probably needs to focus on four or five things. Perhaps… (1) Bringing debts under control. (2) Protecting pensioners. (3) Protecting the NHS. (4) Bringing immigration under control. (5) Cutting taxes for the low-paid by controlling welfare. Those are five instinctive suggestions but Con HQ has the money to research what they should be.
- Imagination: Don't communicate progress and messages by speeches and other conventional media alone. Use social media. Make YouTube videos. Most importantly, win third party endorsements. But, most of all, say the same thing over and over again – just in different, imaginative ways.
- Delivery: I know, I know — this one is quite important! In his Sunday Telegraph piece the PM lists some of the GOvernment's achievements: "Already the deficit has been cut by a quarter. More than a million new jobs have been created in the private sector since we took office. We’ve capped welfare so those on benefits can’t take home more than the average family earns. Thousands of Academy schools have been opened. The qualifications system is being over-hauled. Just this week it was confirmed that net migration has been cut by a third. And while doing these big, country-changing things we are doing everything possible to help people who are struggling with the cost of living: helping to freeze Council Tax for three years in a row; freezing fuel duty; cutting the income tax bills of 24 million taxpayers; taking two million of the lowest paid out of tax altogether." Hopefully, by 2015, the list of achievements – especially on borrowing – will be better.
- Discipline: Now that the PM is more or less in the right position Tory MPs need to be disciplined. Yesterday, they largely were. There have been few noises off, despite what you might have read in The Guardian and Independent. Voters hate disunity. In return for loyalty the party leadership still needs to be better at party management. It should listen more carefully to backbenchers and grassroots members.