Janet Daley was raised in New York and was an academic before becoming a conservative commentator. Former Moral Maze panelist she is The Daily Telegraph’s principal Monday columnist. Click here to scroll through all of today’s contributions to the What David Cameron Should Do Next series.
The most debilitating mistake that the Tories have made over the past decade is thinking that the question, “What do we have to do to become popular again?” is more important than “What does the country need?” Under David Cameron’s leadership this has become explicit – rather as if he believed the electorate would be flattered by being included in this introspective exercise. As a result, even when the Conservatives are saying things that are potentially attractive, they are greeted with suspicion because they seem to be uttered for the wrong reason – that is, for the sake of appearing attractive rather than out of genuine conviction. This will be a very difficult impression to erase because it has been so firmly and deliberately implanted in the public consciousness. The only possible antidote is to bring the disparate elements of emerging policy into a straightforward philosophical message which can be presented with consistency and sincerity.
Iain Duncan Smith and John Redwood’s policy groups have now produced some excellent ideas in almost excessive detail. But in the absence of an overall theme under which they can be subsumed and made into a coherent whole, they are in danger of being lost in the noise of Labour shrieking “lurch to the Right” (while it picks off the more interesting points to plagiarise). Cameron should choose a couple of overarching principles – say, the need to reform welfare and the public services – which can be the heart of what the new Conservatism stands for, and present them in humane and morally unimpeachable terms: “Responsible people who work hard deserve our support: they need better healthcare, better schools, safer neighbourhoods and fairer treatment from government when they try to secure a better future for themselves and their families.” He then needs to make a clear and comprehensible argument for why his policies will produce that result.
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