Last Friday was Gordon Brown’s 100th day as Prime Minister having spent 13 years licking his wounds after the Granita Pact with Tony Blair. It was the moment he had dreamt of for decades. Brown’s spokesmen made a great deal of wanting to have a whirlwind first one hundred days. You wouldn’t think so now, would you? It is a safe bet to say that with his decision not to call a general election, the climax to his first 100 days in office won’t be forgotten soon.
Conservatives are rightly ecstatic that an election they feared last weekend they would lose, and which would probably had led to a fresh round of blood-letting, has been avoided. Such was the turnaround in the polls that the Tories have even swung into the lead. Much of the reason for the Tories’ success in the past week rests on the fact that, at last, Team Cameron realised that the Party’s strategy had been unbalanced. Tim Montgomerie has rightly and repeatedly called for the adoption of "the and theory" – rather than for a continued unbalanced strategy based on false choices.
Announcements that reconnected the Party’s leadership with its grassroots – and with voters – on crime, immigration, education and tax are what have rescued the Tories from electoral disaster and fostered a new sense of unity and purpose. Having successfully shown Gordon Brown to have been partisan, inept, underhand and lacking courage, the Tories need to learn the lessons of the past 2 years, and in particular the past few months when panic set in. With that in mind, here are my suggestions as to how the Tories can best build on this weekend’s momentous events.
1. Continue to campaign on traditional as well as non-traditional conservative themes.
Having successfully decontaminated the "Conservative brand", David Cameron has earned the right to be listened to and trusted by voters. He is self-evidently a decent, well-meaning and compassionate man. It is for this reason that last week’s announcements – particularly on Inheritance Tax and Stamp Duty – were not able to be portrayed convincingly by Labour as likely to lead to massive cuts in public services. The same is true for the Party’s policies on crime, immigration and education.
2. Remain on the offensive against Gordon Brown.
Brown’s position as omnipotent leader is now less secure. Labour MPs, the media and other natural Brown allies will be looking at Brown in a different way after the past week, no longer reverential or intimidated. The Conservative Party needs to keep up the pressure but in such a way as not to provoke Labour to unite against the Tories – it was Brown’s intimation of an early election that, of course, successfully reunited the Tories to such dramatic effect this past week.
3. Do not underestimate Gordon Brown again.
Too many people convinced themselves that once Brown became Prime Minister, voters would see he was dour and ineffective and the Tories could coast to victory. They were wrong. While Brown may have decided not to call an early election, he can hardly be discounted as a busted flush. His ruthless streak, honed from his time as Chancellor when all challengers to his eventual succession of Tony Blair fell by the wayside to the "clunking fist", will be back on display as early as Tuesday with some undoubted sweeteners being offered to his backbenchers and to the electorate in the Comprehensive Spending Review. Tories need to remain united and to hold their collective nerve.
4. Stop gratuitously attacking the Tory Right.
Tony Blair successfully led his party to the centre ground by ensuring his party’s traditionalists broadly came with him. Project Cameron has hitherto seen an pointless and self-defeating desire to pick fights with the Conservative Party’s traditionalists. There is more than enough meat now on the bones for traditionalists to see that a Cameron-led Conservative government – while not perfect – would go a considerable way towards reducing the role of the state in people’s lives. So don’t pick any more fights with the Right and the Right will stay on side.
5. Learn from the Quentin Davies fiasco.
Those advising David Cameron, and even Cameron himself, need to show more consideration and common courtesy towards their parliamentary colleagues. It’s not rocket science. Had the likes of Quentin Davies, John Bercow and Patrick Mercer been made to feel more wanted, Davies’ defection and the advisory positions taken by Bercow and Mercer could possibly have been avoided. One new MP mentioned to me last week that the last time David Cameron spoke to him was to ask for his vote in the 2005 leadership election. This is unacceptable. Making all parliamentarians feel part of the Project is essential if future problems are to be avoided.
6. Appoint someone in Team Cameron to handle coalition relations.
As the conservative movement in Britain grows at an impressive rate, Team Cameron likewise need to ensure that the members of the conservative movement, and in particular its leaders, are kept in the loop and feel they have a channel of communication to the Party leadership. The appointment of someone with a role similar to Tim Goeglein at the White House (who is in charge of White House relations with the conservative coalition) will help ensure the broader conservative movement remains if not wholly on side then at least broadly on side, thereby avoiding future misunderstandings and rows.
7. Ensure maximum commitment from the Shadow Cabinet.
While most members of the Shadow Cabinet are pulling their weight and working incredibly hard to help propel the Party back to power, some are rarely in the press, on television, in the country or, frankly, making any impact at all. Alastair Campbell’s diaries show the level of discipline, effort and sacrifice necessary if power is to be achieved. Those unable or unwilling to put in the requisite effort should make way for those will.
8. Maximise the perception of change among candidates.
This does not mean reverting to a discriminatory A-list but instead is a call for those candidates, or sitting and restanding MPs, to show a maximum level of commitment to promoting the dynamic message of the Party to voters. While recognising the need for the Party’s MPs to comprise a wide spread of ages and experience, those MPs whose best years are behind them (known perhaps unfairly as "bedblockers") should make way for hungry and committed candidates of all ages whose best years are ahead of them.
9. Ensure activists are ready for the fight.
As the largest political party in Britain, the Conservatives ought to be able to count on a vibrant number of committed and well-trained activists. If only. The Party needs to ensure that its activists are energised, motivated and trained. The days of the happy amateur are past. Younger activists are trained by the likes of the Young Britons’ Foundation but more seasoned activists too need to be trained on the latest campaigning techniques if victory is to be guaranteed when polling day comes. The fearsome professionalism of the New Labour campaign machine can only be beaten if the Party’s activists are on top of their game.
10. Recommit the Party to politics.
Most activists joined the Conservative Party because they are interested in politics. The demise of CPC discussion groups and the sheer lack of political discussion or thought within the Party’s base should be addressed. Handling carefully so as not to encourage factionalism or dissent, the reinvigoration of political discussion within the Party will help ensure that activists truly understand the Party’s policy platform thereby energising them further for the election itself (whenever that may now be).
Now is not the time for the Party’s leadership, or its activists, to indulge in self-congratulation over this weekend’s events. It is the time for the Party’s leadership, parliamentarians and activists to heave a collective sigh of relief and rededicate themselves to achieving victory. David Cameron was right when he said that a Tory election victory would amount to a victory for Britain. Now the real battle begins.