Thanks to fixed-term parliaments (a huge change which few noticed amid the fuss over AV) we’re well into the long, long 2015 election campaign.
Poll analysis is intensifying, messages are being honed and manifesto ideas floated.
The Prime Minister is testing out a new approach – a more personalised discussion of his Government’s work.
It’s a good move – we’ve warned in the past of the dangerous gap in which people think his work is good for the nation but that Labour would be better for them and their family. He has apparently listened and is now trying to take the lead on both measures.
On every visit to any part of the country, he now goes out of his way to meet and be filmed with people who have applied for Help to Buy. A photograph of such a meeting was used to illustrate his Sun article yesterday – along with one of Mrs Thatcher meeting a family who had benefited from the Right to Buy.
The message to the electorate is clear: he wants to be the man who will help you have a better life and greater opportunities. Here’s an extract from the Sun piece:
“Help to Buy is helping those people who I always knew it would — the people I’ve had front and centre in my mind from the start. It’s helping people like you, Sun readers.
It’s helping hardworking people in our country who want to get on in life. Responsible people who work hard, put in the hours and can afford a mortgage — but can’t afford sky-high deposits.
People like Kayleigh and Chris who I met a few weeks back. They both had good jobs, and had saved for several years, but still they couldn’t afford the deposit for a house. Now with Help to Buy, they are looking forward to their first Christmas together in their new home.”
The message to his own party is rather more blunt: you may have your concerns about the economic impact of Help to Buy, or the risk profile of the policy, but he believes this is a vote-winner.
The Thatcher comparison is particularly direct – no-one wants to be remembered as the modern equivalent of the hand-wringing critics who tried to prevent her revolution by urging more caution.
This more personal element to Cameron’s campaigning is undoubtedly an improvement (whether you like Help to Buy or not).
Having started as a soft-edged leader, who spent a long time trying to avoid the issue of the deficit, he has spent some years mainly engaged in a battle of numbers. It’s right to leaven that often heavy material with a reminder that he is doing all this to alleviate the troubles of people across the country, not just to balance the ledgers.
It ought to be a mix of the two, though, not an either/or.
Yesterday the party sent out a Help to Buy email to its members headlined: “This isn’t about statistics – it’s about people”. A few eyebrows were raised, including my own.
Conservatism is about mastery of the numbers and compassion for people. By contrast, Labour offer boundless freebies and tugs of the heart-strings, while invariably allowing the public finances and the economy to go to ruin.
That is the key difference – we know that without practical competence, people get hurt. Their jobs are lost, their tax bills rise, their hopes for themselves and their children are denied.
The Prime Minister is right to want to show the positive human impact of his work, and the moral and emotional motivations that drive him. But when he has met that Help to Buy family to talk about the impact the opportunity has had on their lives, they want to know that he is going back to Downing Street to ensure their taxes are well spent and public services are well run.
Hopefully saying “this isn’t about statistics – it’s about people” will remain just a rhetorical flourish, not a prioritising of heart over head.
This is what lies at the heart of Conservative concerns about Help to Buy – many fear that while the policy may give some a boost now, it will come at an ultimately larger cost to many more households. That isn’t just dry statistics, it’s a serious concern about the interests of people, too.