Last week, I urged David Cameron to use his conference speech to take up the Politics of Yes:
“…while David Cameron’s speech certainly ought to highlight Labour’s failings, it should do so from the starting point of what we favour as our vision for Britain.”
He certainly did that. In fact, he cited nine of the ten Yes points which we listed last week (for some reason, the huge success in reducing crime didn’t get a mention).
This was not a speech built around giveaways or new announcements, it was a speech about his vision of building Britain into “a land of opportunity for all”.
Responding to Ed Balls’ “flatline” hand gesture with a finger pointing upwards, he cited each new private sector job, each child adopted rather than left in the care system, each new business set up as justification for letting him finish the job – taking full advantage of an incumbent’s ability to point to results rather than simply float ideas.
It is telling that the story he told was a personal one, rather than purely a discussion of the big picture or a Brownite recitation of tractor factory statistics. The Downing Street team is painfully aware of the trend revealed in yesterday’s ComRes poll – the Conservatives may be leading on who would keep the economy growing, but Labour are ahead when the question is who would make respondents’ families better off.
That is a serious distinction – is it enough to hope people vote with their heads for the national good, and risk that their hearts and their perception of their family’s best interests may lead them to vote Labour?
Cameron evidently intends to seize the emotional ground, not just the territory of logic and hard-headed decisions. That thinking was one of the reasons he became the first Conservative leader to call for a standing ovation for social workers, deliberately putting them on a level with the armed forces.
Laying out that positive vision of a land of opportunity gave him the licence to attack Labour as its enemies. Having called up the rhetoric of Blake’s Jerusalem, it was a different hymn he left me (and no doubt others) humming to ourselves when he declared, “The land of despair was Labour, but the land of hope is Tory”.
He had strong words for Labour. On the economy, the shameful failings at Stafford, the soft bigotry of low expectations and the disastrous handling of the public finances, they were brought to book and told he would never let them forget their failings.
And yet, and yet. There was still no solid response to Labour’s new, albeit disastrous, energy policy. There was a joke about it, but politicians only really have the right to mock their competitors when they can prove they are offering a better approach instead.
In the aftermath of Miliband’s misguided consumer pitch, we called for a conservative alternative – bringing competition where he promises centralised controls, offering cheap energy sources instead of his costly green taxes, attracting new investment to guarantee a reliable energy supply where he only threatens to drive investors away.
Cameron’s failure to offer that alternative doesn’t make Labour’s policy any more attractive or sensible, but it does leave it unchallenged and free to turn the heads of floating voters who are struggling to pay their bills. That is a freedom the Opposition should not be afforded.
As Paul Goodman laid out this morning, the Conservatives must appeal to those voters who “simply want a decent life for themselves, their families and their neighbourhoods”. We must appeal to them directly and repeatedly on the isues that matter most to them – particularly in terms of homes, jobs and savings
Cameron rightly offered them a better, brighter future, and this week’s conference has presented various policies which move things in the right direction, but there is much further to go before the Conservatives are seen as “good for my family” as much as we are seen as “good for the economy”.
Ultimately, the Prime Minister’s message about the nation applies just as much to his offer for 2015: “This isn’t job done, this is job begun.”