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Conservativehomeeditorial_9This hasn’t been a good week for the Cameron project.  Although Thursday’s by-election was a disappointment the more worrying thing was PMQs on Wednesday.  Tony Blair’s attack on David Cameron as lacking political identity worked because it appeared true enough to a lot of people.  Since he became leader David Cameron has ditched many traditional Tory policies on…

…Grammar schools…
…Tax cuts…
…Tuition fees…
…Patients passport…

…Asylum…

Another policy was ditched again this week when George Osborne appeared to abandon the Tory commitment to prioritise protection of the greenbelt.  Justifications can be offered for each individual policy change but taken as a whole the changes have made Cameron’s Conservatives vulnerable to the accusation that they are more politically ambitious than they are principled.

This wouldn’t have happened if we had pursued "the politics of and" – blending core policies with new policies.  Our aim should have been to have appeared (and been) faithful to our core beliefs on immigration, Europe and crime (which are all very popular, after all) – but also ambitious to conquer new political territory.  I don’t argue that we should have kept all old policies within this formulation.  I’m particularly glad that we’ve dumped the cap on asylum seekers, for example, but too many voters are getting the impression that the Conservative Party is becoming a bit Blairite.  This is happening at a time when voters probably want more authenticity from their politicians.

Some of David Cameron’s changes to the Conservative Party have appeared much more authentic than others.  His embrace of a more compassionate conservatism has been particularly impressive, for example.  It’s been impressive because it has been consistent with authentic conservatism.  His recent speech to the CSJ was itself a model of the ‘and’ theory.  There was the very familar conservative emphasis on succeeding at school, stable family life, hard work and freedom from addiction.  But there was also the commitment to build the nation of the second chance where no-one is ever written off but where voluntary, faith-based and other government-empowered groups help people to get back on to their feet.

In today’s Telegraph Charles Moore welcomed David Cameron’s compassionate conservatism.  In it he finds authentic passion and authentic method:

"This is that it is central to the belief system of the conservative-minded person (especially if he is a Christian) to want to relieve poverty wherever he can. Such a person has a powerful sense of the obligation of each human being to another, especially of the strong to the weak. Unlike someone on the Left, he will not think that obligation discharged by government alone."

David Cameron should press on with his commitment to change the Conservative Party but a little more rootedness in conservative methods and a little less downgrading of popular core policies would be welcome.

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