Alistair Thompson was the Conservative candidate for West Bromwich East at the last general election. He also runs Media Intelligence Partners with business partner Nick Wood, the former press secretary to Conservative leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. Follow Alistair on Twitter.
The Prime Minister has had a bad few months – rebellions on Europe, gay
marriage, the lack of economic growth, and the growing sense that Britain is about
to be sucked into yet another damaging and costly foreign war have taken their
toll on Dave’s relationship with his Party.
Coupled to the failure to appoint the best and the brightest
to key roles, an inability to end the drain of talent from Downing Street, and
the whiff of scandal, Cameron is in real trouble.
Were it not for the disarray in the Labour Party and the
unpopularity of the Lib Dems, the fraught relationship between backbench
Conservative MPs and the Leader would be significantly worse and the number of
letters sent to Graham Brady would be rapidly approaching 46.
Were this figure reached a damaging vote of confidence would
ensue. It would not be immediately fatal, but a sizeable anti-Cameron vote
(more than quarter of the Party) would ultimately make his position
So the next few months will be crucial for Cameron.
To ameliorate this danger, the Prime Minister must devote the summer to
a charm offensive to woo back disaffected Tory voters and members.
Above all, Cameron must end the cold war between his inner
circle and the Party membership. Attacks on the swivelled eyed loons, briefings
against his own MPs and return to more traditional policies are all part of the
Because this estrangement is not just down to a difference
in generations, or privilege, but something much more important: values.
In the past the Party faithful could be relied on to back
the leader, in all circumstances on every occasion.
Those of us who were members of the Party in the mid-90s
will remember the “bad years”. The dying days of the Major Government tested
many of us. But while there was certainly some unease over the “two speed”
Europe policy, following the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, in other areas
there were high levels of support. Above all Major was seen as a “decent chap”
and was thought to be “one of us”.
This has all changed.
The terrible political miscalculation over persistently
antagonising the grassroots, in the false belief that they have nowhere else to
go, has backfired spectacularly.
UKIP has been the main beneficiary of disillusioned Tory
voters, former members and activists. Along with the more general, “plague on
all your houses” vote, Nigel Farage’s party, (which is averaging 15 per cent in
recent polls), poses a serious strategic dilemma for CCHQ.
As the Daily Telegraph reported recently, if there was an
election now, based on the latest YouGov figures, Ed Miliband would gain 120
seats. Cameron would lose 98 and Mr Clegg 29, halving the size of his
So this week's low-key speech was important. There are many
who will have been underwhelmed by its profile, or indeed the toned down
language, but in one important line, Cameron did acknowledge that not
everyone who was concerned about immigration was a "little
Reading between lines, Cameron also meant the swivelled
eyed, the loons and the closet racists, i.e. those voters and members who have
deserted the party and moved to UKIP.
Has No.10 finally grasped that immigration is an issue
that matters to millions of voters? We shall see.
Keeping up this charm offensive through what
promises to be a rocky summer is vital. If Cameron can, then the polls
suggest that the Labour lead is soft and he can close the gap. If, however, this
is another speech given in isolation and does lead to any meaningful change, then Cameron is in for a very bumpy ride this summer and his team might as
well rip up the grid for the conference, as the only story in town will be Tory
discontent and rumours of moves against him.