When IDS became leader he warned that public perceptions of him would be difficult to reshape once the first few months had passed. Writing for today’s Guardian Jonathan Freedland acknowledges that this will also be true in shaping David Cameron’s reputation and his early efforts are yielding positive results:
"I’ve noticed that friends usually bored by all matters Westminster want to talk about David Cameron; they want to know everything about him. Within the next few months the British public will reach a gut feeling about Cameron that, once in place, will be hard to shift. Will they regard him as a pretty-boy toff, too callow to be prime minister? Or will they buy the JFK hype and see him as a leader-in-waiting? The current mood suggests the latter – but it’s not a done deal yet."
Today’s news that Bob Geldof has joined David Cameron’s globalisation and global poverty policy group is a key sign of the centrality of Mr Cameron’s ‘modern compassionate conservatism’ in his first 100 days. Economic competitiveness and security policy groups are being launched after those charged with social justice, the environment and now international development.
The G&GP policy group will examine:
- Aid including bilateral aid policies, microlending, disease prevention and disaster relief
- Global free trade (no specific mention of ‘fair trade’);
- The reform of the EU ‘s agricultural and aid policies;
- Civil society’s role in development – plus human rights, property rights, governance and corporate responsibility;
- The role of NGOs in the World Bank, IMF and other multilateral bodies.
Peter Lilley MP will oversee the group’s work. A former Tory cabinet minister with responsibilities for trade and industry and then social security, Mr Lilley "devoted almost ten years to working on aid and development projects, mostly in Africa" before becoming an MP. His online biography tells us little more about this ‘devotion’ but he was well ahead of his time in calling for a more compassionate Conservative Party. As Deputy Tory Leader, in October 1997, Mr Lilley gave the First William Wilberforce Address to the Conservative Christian Fellowship. He used his Address to argue for a Conservative Party that focused much more on the needs of poor Britons. Although Mr Lilley has been a supporter of the decriminalisation of cannabis his emphasis on poverty has separated him from the narrow Soho style of modernisation championed at that time – and ever since – by the Portillistas.
The involvement of Bob Geldof, inspiration behind this year’s Live8 event, is the one that has caught the attention, however, and led this morning’s Radio 4 news bulletins. It is not the first time that Mr Geldof has backed small ‘c’ conservative campaigns, however. He has helped the Eurosceptic ‘vote no’ campaign and recently promoted traditionalist views on marriage. Mr Lilley used an interview on this morning’s Today programme to welcome Mr Geldof’s involvement and he said that Mr Geldof would be helping put the group’s membership together – which, he hinted, would include representatives from the developing world.
But if Mr Geldof’s early involvement is a publicity coup, The Daily Telegraph’s leader writers are concerned that he might be unable to support the policy group if it recommends a truly right-of-centre anti-poverty agenda. For The Telegraph that means "secure property rights, limited government, action against state monopolies and cronyism and, above all, independent mechanisms for judicial arbitration through which the citizen can realistically seek redress". Alex Singleton of the Global Institute recently used this blog’s Platform to argue for an intellectual revolution in international development. He expressed concern that the Make Poverty History campaign – closely associated with Mr Geldof – was "wedded to outdated trade ideas about protecting infant industries and top-down approaches to aid".
Mr Geldof may help to make Mr Cameron’s first 100 days campaign to pass IDS’ test but his maverick views may create tensions in coming months. It will certainly fuel right-wing concerns that Mr Cameron’s policy groups may include people with too divergent views. That concern will only have been confirmed by a report in today’s FT which notes Zac Goldsmith’s views on big business and nuclear power. Mr Goldsmith sits on the party’s environment task force.
In addition, localists have already expressed concerns at centralising Ken Clarke’s chairmanship of the Democracy Taskforce. Most difficult is the environment policy group. Its chairman John Gummer is a enthusiast for the Kyoto approach to climate change. Mr Gummer’s support for conventional multilateral endeavours has also manifested itself in his devout support of the euro and EU constitution. He does not support the technologically-driven approach favoured by Australia and America (home to the world’s two most successful conservative parties) even though a recent report showed that "ten of 15 European Union signatories will miss the targets without urgent action". And the over-sold Kyoto Treaty wouldn’t even make a difference to the real problem of global warming if it was implemented. This from Michael Fumento on TownHall.com:
"Even supporters concede that if all countries complied the amount of warming prevented by 2100 would be at most 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, except that 0.2 degrees is unmeasurable. Certainly it won’t save a single polar bear."
The PR of Mr Cameron’s policy groups is impeccable but all the hard policy choices lie ahead.