By Tim Montgomerie
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I can't remember a Cameron speech that has had such a good response from the whole centre right…
- The Sun calls it "impressive and statesmanlike". The Telegraph praised it as "uncomplicated and distinctively Conservative".
- Tory modernisers and mainstreamers both applauded. Ian Birrell described it as "a definition of modern conservatism that unites the left and right of the party while challenging the shallow one-nation rhetoric of his rivals". Iain Martin blogged that the speech had got the PM back in business.
- Bruce Anderson writes this morning that the speech mixed Churchillian hopefulness and Thatcherite resolve.
- IDS told The Express that it was probably Cameron's best. Even Nadine Dorries Twittered that it was "excellent".
But what now?
A speech rarely changes anything. We must now wait to see if Cameronism 7.0 (copyright Matthew Engel in today's FT (£)) is the real settled thing or if it's just another iteration, designed for the Tory leader's seventh party conference speech but not for beyond. Ever since it was first forged in very different times Cameronism has struggled to find definition. His inner circle has sometimes given the impression that Cameronism is whatever Cameron says it is – seeming to believe that the Tory leader's own reasonable, moderate personality is the personification and sum of what modern Conservatism needs to be. Up until now Tory modernisation has been pursued with carelessness, even recklessness. The NHS was put centre stage but then a massive reorganisation was introduced, contrary to promises. The big idea of the Big Society was never tested in focus groups or in opinion polls and flopped on the doorsteps. Greenery – as a political message – has been all but abandoned since Cameron became PM.
Are we to believe then that this new seventh explanation of Cameronism is for real and for good? The reaction of the conservative family should encourage Cameron to stick with this new message. It is not its only advantage, however:
- Advantage one is that this emphasis on aspiration is not just consistent with the best of Tory traditions but also with the two flagship and most popular policies of his government – Gove's school and Duncan Smith's welfare reforms.
- Advantage two is that the Tory conception of the good society is more popular than the Labour conception. It is also more effective and more affordable. The Tory conception is that the routes to a good life are provided by good parents, inspired teachers and job creators. The Left's understanding is built on the idea of an ever bigger welfare state – and as the Prime Minister said yesterday on "one notion" above all others: "more borrowing".
- Advantage three is that Cameron 7.0 is built on extensive internal polling. Andrew Cooper and Stephen Gilbert have won the internal battle for this more hard-headed conservatism. The two men who were the driving forces behind the early Tory modernisation programme have, to coin a phrase, smelt the coffee. They rather than Steve Hilton authored this speech. In these tougher times they are recommending what Danny Finkelstein has called "cold weather modernisation" (£) – a persuasion of "voters that when the economy returns to growth everyone will benefit, not just the few." It's the modernisation consistent with the polling ConHome unveiled on Sunday.
The challenge for Team Cameron is to start living in this speech, immersed in its words and arguments. Craig Oliver and his team need to spend time with neglected conservative commentators and reassure them that Cameronism 7.0 is for real and for good. Every minister needs to go on TV to explain the compassionate purpose of reforming welfare, reskilling the labour force and producing public finances that can underpin world class public services and a world class safety-net. Every Tory leaflet needs to communicate this speech's big ideas. Every Tory TV broadcast. The conservatives.com website needs to be reorganised and redesigned to help explain Cameron 7.0. And so on and so on. It would be a shame if the Cameron operation thought the work had been finished yesterday. The work of popularising a new Tory narrative has only just begun.
There must also be policy implications too. Nick Wood reminds his Mail readers that it's very difficult to have an aspirational society when the government is accounting for nearly half of national income and imposing the commensurate, enervating taxes to finance it. The Government needs to take still bolder steps towards building a society that rewards the job and wealth creators. John Redwood provides a policy shopping list on his blog this morning with recommendations on bank lending, energy, re-training and deregulatory policies. They would help ensure that Cameron 7.0 is good policy as well as good politics.