By Tim Montgomerie
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In my Times column (£) I offer eight pieces of New Year advice to David Cameron:
- Offer an In/Out referendum in your January speech on the EU. Nothing else will quite restore goodwill amongst traditional supporters in the country and press. In today's Sun, Trevor Kavanagh agrees.
- Communicate regret rather than relish about having to squeeze benefits. The squeeze is necessary for deficit reduction and to incentivise the leap from benefits to work but no Conservative should give any impression that below inflation increases will be easy for already hard-pressed families.
- Throw everything at the IT challenge that endangers the Universal Credit. Whitehall isn't good at IT and the Coalition's reputation for competence is at stake if this flagship reform fails.
- Don't retreat on gay marriage but do reassure Christian and other traditionalists that you're are on their side. Recognise marriage in the tax system. Promote faith schools. Fight against religious persecution overseas. I presented other ideas on Christmas Eve.
- Give more one-to-one interviews and fewer speeches because you are at your most persuasive in these fora.
- Respond to the Lib Dem disloyalty. Don't personally sink to Clegg's level but authorise Grant Shapps to counter punch at the constant Lib Dem attacks on the Conservative Party.
- Lovebomb your party for the next two-and-a-half years. Appoint someone like David Burrowes MP as a second PPS to help you reconnect with the parliamentary party.
…And number eight…
I begin my Times list with the suggestion that David Cameron orders his Number 10 and Tory operations to prepare exhaustively for next month's publication of the Francis Report into an estimated 1,000 unnecessary deaths at Mid Staffordshire hospitals in the middle of the last decade. This event could be as important as the much-anticipated Europe speech. Robert Francis QC's report is set to be damning – damning of NHS systems and probably of Labour ministers of the time. If handled corrected and if the Prime Minister uses the report to demonstrate understanding and grip it could be a huge opportunity for him to start to re-establish the health credentials that he worked so hard to gain in opposition. It's also a big moment for the PM and Jeremy Hunt to position themselves as the patients' champion which, as I blogged earlier in the month, is the new Health Secretary's ambition.
David Cameron is at his best responding to landmark reports into such big events as Bloody Sunday and the Hillsborough tragedy. The Francis Report gives him a huge opportunity to lead national opinion on the NHS and to lead the anger at the terrible care that was supplied from 2005 to 2008.
If you want to read my full list of eight ideas you'll have to go behind The Times' paywall. If you're not already a subscriber The Times is running a new year special offer. Go on – treat yourself!