Published:

In politics, it is not enough to be right. With every passing year, historians will conclude that John Major ran a decent government that had many achievements to its credit, whereas Tony Blair was a meretricious creature: very good at winning power which he never learned to use. Sir John might take comfort in that retrospective assessment; he might also ruefully wonder what the outcome might have been had he possessed half of Mr Blair's political skills.

George Osborne does not lack political skills, which he combines with far more moral and intellectual seriousness than most voters realise. Journalists like slashing at tall poppies, and over the past few days, there have been a number of articles asking whether George was as good as we thought. There is a simple answer to that question: "yes". But last week, there was a political glitch for which he was to blame. The so-called "granny tax" is merely an adjustment oif allowances and no granny will end up worse off. If your local supermarket is full of anxious old dears stocking up with cat food before their money is taken away, please have the kindness to reassure them.

That would not be necessary if the government had explained matters properly. Although this would have been a complicated business, it was hardly impossible and should not have been shirked. Another political truism: if you do not give your version of events, your opponents will fill the gap with their one. That should have been expected. The failure to get in first was a lapse of judgment, rapidly followed by some bad luck. Peter Cruddas is a good man, who believes that the rich should put something back and has set up a foundation to help disadvantaged young people. He was guilty – of naivete and of letting his tongue run away with him. Neither is a hanging offence.


The Tories have acted quickly to limit the damage. They should also launch an intellectual counter-attack. There is one group or rich donors who are determined to use their money to influence government policy and they are not businessmen. They are the trade unions. Equally, any enthusiasm which the public may have for reforming political donations would instantly disappear if it became clear that the parties were to receive subsidies from the taxpayer. The Cruddas affair was just a misfortune. "Granny tax" was an unforced error: no more of them, please. They are a waste of political capital.

That is badly needed, not least in the Tory party. Mr Cameron's party respects him; it does not love him. Chatting to some sophisticated though non-metropolitan Tories over the weekend, I was struck by their lack of sympathy for the difficulties in which the PM finds himself. Three points were repeated. Although none of them is new, that does not justify Cameroon complacency. A festering grievance can retain its potency. The festerings were: Europe, the failure to win the election outright, and the impression Mr Cameron gives that he takes his own tribe for granted. Only one of these is justified, and it is not Europe.

Although Europe may have disappeared from the headlines, it still arouses Tory neuralgia. One can understand why. Indeed, I would go further and argue that anyone who is not suspicious of the EU and all its works is not a true Tory. That said, a lot of Eurosceps are ignoring an obvious truth. We are winning. The tide of battle has turned; the momentum of events is now in our favour. Britain's relations with the EU are a long event with a lot of momentum, which was moving against this country for 55 years. Although we did not join Europe at Messina, history was still gently prodding us in a European direction. So it joined. Despite a resolutely Eurosceptic public opinion, the British wing of the European nomenklatura was still working and plotting to entrap us in federalism. So it continued, even after the deceit of Lisbon. But the crisis of the Eurozone has brought that phase of history to an end.

The EU as presently constituted is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. This has further to go before we can exploit it; we should still take our tactics from Quintus Fabius Cunctator. But there is a real prospect of a fundamental renegotiation of British membership, which would end with our rejoining a Common Market. The threat to our freedoms no longer comes from the EU, but from the ECHR. It is time for the Eurosceptic movement to divert materiel to that front – and to trust the Tory Leadership.

Many good and true Tories find that hard. They still cannot forgive Mr Cameron's failure to win the last election outright. For a week after that election, I shared those feelings. I now believe that the election result was a stroke of good fortune.

Suppose we can won a majority of 20. Imagine the rejoicing. With Labour and the Liberals flat on their backs; David Cameron would have been master of the battlefield – for about three months. Then the cuts negotiations would have started, and the trouble. The Liberals would have vigorously opposed every single measure which their ministers in the current government have tepidly defended. The opposition parties would have encountered one difficulty. Messrs Clegg and Miliband would both have been jealous of Vince Cable's successes. Mr Cable is a hopeless Minister who is exacerbating the weaknesses of a dysfunctional department. But he was never designed for government. In opposition, he would have been formidable. As a result, the Liberals would be at over 30 percent in the polls. The Tories might well be in third place.

Instead of that, the government has enacted a dramatic programme of domestic reform. The Coalition has been worth it. But this has caused strains, especially with the party in the country. As far as many activists are concerned, David Cameron is far more interested in Nick Clegg than in his own supporters. They urgently want to feel valued, and if the hierarchy thinks that this can wait until six weeks before the next election, it is hard to know which charge should be first in the bill of indictment: arrogance, or naivete.

If that point were put to Mr Cameron, one could understand his exasperation. He has a government to run, in some of the most uncertain and hazardous conditions that the country has ever faced during peacetime. He is in a coalition, which restricts his freedom of manoeuvre. Even so, he has tackled health, education and welfare, which is more than Mrs Thatcher did. As Tories believe that they are the party of the national interest, his supporters ought to demonstrate their commitment to that transcendent cause by displaying a bit more realism and restraint.

There is bound to be a further factor in the PM's calculations. Whenever political trouble has broken out over the past couple of years, David Cameron has always been able to calm everyone down. He has never exactly lacked self-confidence. It would be surprising if his successes had not led a further increase. But he cannot do it on his own.

The Government faces two vital and related tasks. The first, which I discussed in the last column, is the political battle over the implementation of the reforms. The second is the general political battle to explain itself in the country. Inter alia, that should cheer up the Tory tribe. Some of the Prime Minister's sillier critics have always alleged that he is a mere spin-doctor. That puerile rubbish should not deter him from responding to the urgent need for more and better spin – and fewer mistakes.

Comments are closed.