A lot of pixels are being spilt over who exactly won the victory of a week ago today. The early, modernising, mainstream, middle-ground Cameron, say Guy Opperman (implicitly) and Daniel Finkelstein (explicitly). A later, back-to-Conservative-basics, more centre-right Cameron, argue Iain Martin and Tim Montgomerie (explicitly, in both cases). My own answer is as before: both. The win was made possible by both the Heir to Blair and the Voice of Lynton.
On the one hand, Crosby didn’t so much scrape the barnacles off Cameron’s boat as complete the reshaping of its hull. The Rose Garden love-in period with the Liberal Democrats had already passed. The Big Society had been quietly dropped as a major governing idea. So had the A-list as a formal means of selecting candidates. In opposition, Cameron had hugged huskies – or, rather, been filmed being pulled along by them on a sled. In government, he was expostulating against “green crap”.
Above all, he had stopped fighting his turbulent MPs – a struggle exemplified by the pushing-through of same-sex marriage on what was effectively a whipped vote – and learned if not to love them, then at least to live with them. Alongside him, George Osborne had introduced the benefits cap, and praised “the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits”.
Crosby completed this transition by crafting a simple appeal based on the economy, leadership and security in uncertain times.
On the other, the core of Cameron’s appeal was much the same in 2015 as it had been in 2005 (with one very obvious exception: ten years in, he had been Prime Minister for five years, and thus possessed the authority of office). There is no great mystery about him. He is essentially an old-fashioned member of England’s governing class: moderate, centrist by instinct, highly intelligent but ideology-suspicious – a One Nation Tory, to use the phrase he himself used in his post-election speech.
He may be backing off onshore wind, but he has stuck to the 0.7 per cent aid target. And he himself embodies the commitment to the NHS that some on the Right of the Party would like to challenge, and which seems now to have reaped some electoral return. Of course, the bulk of his policy appeal is neither particularly leftish or rightish in Party terms: a balanced budget, tax cuts, an EU referendum, schools reform. But the Stanley Baldwin aspect of Cameron somehow always shines through.
And at the risk of stating the obvious, everyone wants a bit of Cameron now that he’s a winner (which is doubtless also true of this site, although he really does seem to have taken our advice on the reshuffle).
Perhaps all successful Prime Ministers take their cue from Walt Whitman: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” At any rate, Cameron is now the Party’s most successful election-winner since Thatcher – not that there’s much competition for that honour, I’m afraid – and on one measure, with the exception of course of her, since the war. But I can’t help thinking that his return to Downing Street at the head of a majority was actually made possible by someone else. Step forward, Nicola Sturgeon.
She denies telling the French Ambassador that she wanted Cameron to win the election. But the SNP’s aims and her own actions are consistent with it. For the SNP, the presence of the evil Tories in Downing Street is the perfect foil for its independence campaign. And during the campaign, Sturgeon simply wouldn’t shut up about her offer to Ed Miliband of a governing “progressive alliance” post-election – almost as though she were reading from Crosby’s script…
Miliband dodged, ducked and denied – but the image of himself as a puppet dangling to her tune simply wouldn’t go away. North of the border, the SNP put Labour to the sword. South of it, anxious voters – and no, not just “Shy Tories” – swarmed to the polling stations to keep Miliband out by the only means possible: voting Conservative. Miliband is gone. Cameron is back. Clever Nicola Sturgeon!