David Cameron has chosen the electoral battleground on which he wants to fight in 2015: economic management, welfare reform, immigration control, and leadership – to contrast his strengths against Ed Miliband’s weaknesses.
These may or may not be the main issues will decide the election – the NHS and tax will surely feature, too – but the outlook for the Party is very challenging, whether or not the Prime Minister fights the campaign of his choosing. The mountain that he must climb is dauntingly steep.
Many left-wing Liberal Democrats have peeled off to Labour. UKIP is taking disproportionately from the Conservative vote. Above all, Miliband has a demographic advantage. He needs a smaller poll lead to win than Cameron does.
Put all this together, and victory will be very difficult to achieve, especially given Tory weaknesses in northern urban seats and among ethnic minority voters, as well as women. Under his leadership, there have been many achievements and some mistakes.
Michael Gove’s pioneering work at education is one of the former. The handling of the same sex marriage issue is one of the latter. But it is altogether too easy simply to blame the Party leadership for problems that stretch back for over 20 years – since the last Tory election victory.
The long and short of it is that polls consistently find a smaller pool of voters prepared to vote Conservative than Labour. Modernisation is as essential to change that as ever – but it must be a modernisation that works.
Tony Abbott, Stephen Harper, John Howard, George Bush, Margaret Thatcher – all the successful right-of-centre leaders in recent times have been able to win over battling, striving, pound-stretching voters on modest incomes.
Many of them now can’t afford to buy their home – especially younger ones. They are fearful of losing their jobs, if they have one at all. They see little point in saving, because all too often the effort isn’t worth the return.
This is why ConservativeHome launched pre-conference a campaign called simply: Homes Jobs & Savings For All. A home of their own, a secure job and enough savings to draw on in need – these are the essentials for people and families.
Success is good and aspiration is vital. But most voters simply want a decent life for themselves, their families and their neighbourhoods. Real modernisation means targeting them – especially in the midlands and northern marginals.
Homes, Jobs and Savings For All may not be glamorous and certainly isn’t novel. But it does speak to the needs of modern Britain. It offers a way to the Party both of doing well and doing good – of showing that it understands the country it seeks to serve.
There will more about all three from us over the coming months. We hope to hear the Prime Minister speak about Homes, Jobs and Savings for All when he addresses the conference this afternoon.