By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron has been Tory leader for seven years now and those of us who wish he'd be different should probably give up. My ideal Tory leader would be more of a swashbuckler. He'd have focused on two overriding goals: (1) major reforms to the UK economy so that we use this decade of debt repayment to renew our supply-side potential and (2) a huge focus on social mobility so that – to use the words of Dom Raab MP – we become the party of the underdog.
Cameron isn't going to be that leader. After seven years under the spotlight what we see is what we've got. He isn't going to change now. But what exactly do we have?
In my column for today's Times (£) I urge the real David Cameron to stand up. At the moment we have a Tory leader and Prime Minister who appears to be acting according to the Micawber principle, always hoping and waiting for something to turn up. I argue that his inaction risks leaving him looking smaller than the factions and events swirling around him:
"He can’t cure our economic ills because everything Britain does is overshadowed by the eurozone. He can’t deliver the crime and deregulatory policies that he promised because the Liberal Democrats won’t let him. He can’t deliver Lords reform because of mutinous Tory backbenches. He hoped for a golden moment in the Olympic sun but was completely eclipsed by Boris Johnson. On issues such as gay marriage we picture a Prime Minister surrounded by pollsters and spinners, carefully choosing which way is safest to jump."
I argue that Cameron needs to come out fighting. Even though he won't be fighting for everything I would hope a Conservative leader would fight for, the country and his party needs to see some belief and energy. At the moment his speeches are forgettable and the words he uses at his public appearances give the impression of being over-tested and over-prepared. There's little from him that is raw or real. I recommend a big change of gear:
"Let’s see the best of Mr Cameron in the next few months. Let’s see him out in the country, in the regions, in hostile meetings with voters explaining what he’s doing. Let’s see him with commuters, explaining why rail fares must rise so we can have a railway system fit for the next century. Let’s watch him in a village hall in leafy Buckinghamshire, blighted by the high-speed rail link, explaining why it is essential for reconnecting North and South. Let him meet churchgoers and explain that gay people deserve the same opportunity as they do to make lifelong marriage vows to each other. Each meeting will be tough. There will be very awkward moments. But if he sticks at it, his image will evolve. He’ll no longer be a PR man, at the mercy of events. He’ll be the man who holds strong views and has a clear view of where he wants to take the country. He’ll get to that place, prized by every politician, where voters who disagree with their views can still respect them."
I'm not sure if it will work but it's worth a shot. Otherwise the Coalition will continue to drift. Otherwise Tory MPs will not believe that it's in their interest to be loyal to Cameron's Government. They'll start looking to what happens After Cameron. Many already are. My guess is that at least a third of the parliamentary party are now Cameron sceptics. Sceptical in that they wonder if he has any plan to win the next election or, more modestly, save the party's marginal seats. He needs to start addressing that perception. Soon. Very soon.