Twelve-and-a-bit weeks to election day, and most polls still put Labour out in front. This may be by a narrow margin, but it’s still enough to make Ed Miliband Prime Minister.
We mustn’t abandon all hope, but the first post-mortems on David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party are beginning to come in. For instance, in the Telegraph, Allister Heath delivers a damning verdict on a decade of Tory modernisation:
“Instead of standing proud and seeking to sell the benefits of individual autonomy, free markets and economic freedom to new audiences, the Tories have been behaving ultra-defensively for years, engaging in Blair-style triangulation, and conceding too much to their opponents…
“There has been no grand vision, no effort to ensure that the electorate learnt to love capitalism…”
Heath goes on to quote various poll findings to show that the electorate is, at best, lukewarm about capitalism. But whose fault is that? I’d say it’s more a matter of what the bankers did than what the Conservatives didn’t.
One might also doubt whether a party dominated by wealthy public school boys is best-placed to rebuild capitalism’s tarnished reputation.
Given this context, is it really fair to portray the Cameroons’ caution as cowardice rather than realism?
“Mr Cameron and his allies took fright at polls that showed that the Tory brand was contaminated and that there was little support for slashing taxes and public spending.”
Complicating the issue is the fact that George Osborne did slash some taxes – for instance taking the advice of the right and knocking five per cent off the top rate of income tax. This, unfortunately, was a political disaster from which Conservative poll ratings have yet to recover.
It’s also wrong to say that the Conservatives haven’t made a “positive, moral case for allowing taxpayers to keep more of their own money.” Osborne tried to do precisely that in regard to the top rate and also corporation tax – but to no avail.
Nor is Allister Heath entirely right when he says that there’s been “no grand vision”. Early Cameronism was all about big ideas, with radical small state implications – i.e. the ‘Post-bureaucratic Age’ and the ‘Big Society’. Obviously, these failed to convince. Ditto the subsequent, harder-nosed concept of the ‘Global Race’.
It’s only quite recently that the Cameroons went completely vision-free. Gone is the hopey-changey vibe of 2010; instead the implicit message of the current campaign is “Safety First”. (This, of course, was the slogan on which Stanley Baldwin fought – and lost – the 1929 general election. In 2015, the polls predict a similar outcome.)
Looking back over his leadership, Cameron’s big mistake wasn’t a failure to bring back Thatcherism, but that he fought his two general elections the wrong way round. The first should have been about security and second about hope, not vice versa.
In 2010, what the country wanted was to be rescued from immediate economic danger. For Cameron to talk about important, but abstract, ideas like the Big Society, was like a fireman babbling about the architectural potential of a burning house.
In 2015, we stand in the ruins, with the hard task of rebuilding still ahead of us. Now would be the right moment for an inspiring vision for the future, but all that Fireman Cam has to offer is a safety drill.