By Tim Montgomerie
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One thing that David Cameron has lacked is a large number of big party beasts who have regularly gone into the press to defend (a) his alliance with Nick Clegg and (b) the decisions that his coalition government has taken.
Former Health Secretary and 1997 Tory leadership candidate Stephen Dorrell MP does that today in a speech to be delivered to the Tory Reform Group. Mr Dorrell, now Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Health, argues that the Coalition is performing beyond expectations:
has so far confounded the sceptics on virtually every count. They expected it
to be a weak government which was unable to confront the key issues facing our
country. In the event it is proving to be an effective government which is
carrying through necessary but uncomfortable changes across the full range of
government activity – and retaining remarkable levels of public support as it
Mid term opinion polls
can usually be relied upon to produce lurid headlines for governing parties –
and voter support for both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats has certainly
fallen since the General Election. It is however worth noting that despite these
mid-term doldrums, Labour has been unable to establish even a minimal lead in
public opinion over the combined votes of the coalition parties…
The fact that Britain has
retained its triple A rating and, more importantly, is able to borrow at
roughly German interest rates despite running a government deficit comparable
with Greece, is due to the fact that the Coalition has demonstrated that it is
willing to take the steps necessary to put our public finances back on to a
The broad basis of its
support is key to its political success. Some elements in the Coalition would
have preferred sharper spending reductions (for example on overseas aid
spending, or possibly on health); others would have attached a lower priority
to holding down the tax burden. But none of them would have been able to carry
their policy either in the House of Commons or, more importantly, with the
public because they did not command sufficient public support."
Mr Dorrell places today's Cameron coalition in the context of Benjamin Disraeli's historical efforts to broaden the Conservative base. He argues that Cameron's alliance with Nick Clegg is a genuine effort to turn the Conservative Party into a genuinely national party again that can command a majority in the future.
Mr Dorrell's speech comes at an interesting time. For the first time since before George Osborne's controversial budget the Coalition is on the front foot. Labour's opinion poll lead may be narrowing. The Government's economic credentials are certainly improving with voters. In today's Telegraph Jeff Randall is full of optimism:
"The British economy’s most recent data show that we’ve just experienced the fastest quarterly growth in five years, employment is going up, unemployment is coming down, public-sector borrowing is falling; pay in both the public and private sectors is rising, inflation is fading (though still above target), retail sales are positive, as are new car registrations."
In his column today Bruce Anderson calls on the Tory leadership to build on its current momentum and rebuild party morale and national confidence. He also urges Tory Chairman Grant Shapps to lead some tough questioning of Labour's leadership and its opposition to the economic medicine that might finally be working. Politics has a sense of being at something of a fork in the road. Let's hope David Cameron seizes this moment.
> We will publish the full text of Mr Dorrell's speech after it has been given.