Danny Finkelstein is Comment Editor of The Times and edits the Comment Central blog. Before joining the paper in 2001, he was adviser to both Prime Minister John Major and Conservative leader William Hague.
1. Keep calm. For two reasons. First, because all new Prime Ministers have a honeymoon, there’s nothing you can do about it and it won’t last forever. Second, because the electorate like you but worry about the party. They therefore need to believe that you are strong. Given your character serenity and optimism is the best way to convey this.
2. Reinforce the strategy. Moving towards the centre is the correct strategy, the only one. The problem isn’t that people dislike a changed Tory Party, it is that they still don’t believe the Tories have changed. So keep showing that you have. For instance, keep stressing that with you stability will always come before tax cuts.
3. Stop being oppositionalist. It is very tempting to oppose Brown vigorously from the word go. It’s also a mistake. People believe he should be given a chance. You can’t influence people’s view of Brown, just their view of you. When they see you comment on the new PM they’ll wonder – are you reasonable, are you fair, are you trustworthy. They’ll be judging you. Your self discipline on the tone of opposition isn’t bad at all. The party as a whole, though, hasn’t been as disciplined. Perhaps you need some simple rules, forbidding people from standard oppositionalist comments about the new PM.
4. Be optimistic. There is a big tension between your optimistic strain and your social breakdown rhetoric. You need to resolve this and you can, quite simply. Crime, for instance, is a tremendous weakness for the government, but talking of our dark and forbidding streets cuts across your optimistic message. So talk instead in optimistic tones of your faith that it can be tackled and the sort of society we’d have if we ended social breakdown.
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