David Cameron’s change agenda has entered its most testing period. The opinion polls have not budged as much as his modernising followers had hoped. Andrew Rawnsley described the problem in yesterday’s Observer:
"David Cameron is a pilot who can’t get his undercarriage up. His leadership of the Tory party left the runway with impressive speed, considerable élan and a strong following wind from a friendly media. But now he is struggling to gain any altitude."
David Cameron’s great problem is that he is struggling to substantiate his change message. He talks about his passion for the environment but, with the reports of the policy groups still more than twelve months away, he cannot offer any bold policy changes that substantiate his commitment. There is no great environmentally-friendly tax reform or a big push towards a new, cleaner way of meeting Britain’s energy needs. On social justice there is no equivalent of Mrs Thatcher’s sale of council homes. On international development there is policy silence.
In order to bridge the gap between now and policy announcements we are presented with gesture politics. There’s Mr Cameron’s forthcoming factfinding trip to Norway and there was Saturday’s well-meant but cringe-making ‘be the change’ leaflet. Mr Rawnsley thinks that Mr Cameron is vulnerable to a right-wing storming of the pilot’s cabin. Given the Tory parliamentary party’s Messiah Complex you can never rule out an attempted putsch but Mr Cameron faces no credible threat to his leadership. There are many good reasons for Tory activists to keep faith with the leader who won such an overwhelming mandate only four months ago.
I am disappointed with David Cameron’s failure to consistently combine core Tory beliefs with his new priorities (through the ‘politics of and‘) but listed below are ten reasons why the Tory leader continues to enjoy the confidence of ConservativeHome.com:
Police reform: The police remain one of the Britain’s most unreformed public services. There is a ‘Nixon in China’ element to why the Tories are best placed to shake up the police in the same way that Labour are best placed to undertake welfare reform. David Cameron’s appointment of Nick Herbert MP to the shadow police reform post suggests a seriousness of intent in this policy area.
- Prisons: As noted only yesterday, on prisons Mr Cameron is following the ‘politics of and’. He is combining Michael Howard’s ‘prison works‘ policy – which was so successful in reducing crime in the 1990s – with a compassionate and prudent investment in offender rehabilitation.
- Social justice: Anyone who was in Manchester and witnessed Friday’s panel on social entrepreneurs would have been impressed with Mr Cameron’s personal commitment to this subject. The most encouraging aspect of the commitment is that it is authentically conservative. Under IDS the social justice policy group is not looking to further fatten the dependency-inducing welfare state but to emphasise economic independence, stronger families and a freer, more innovative voluntary sector.
- Support for marriage: As part of ‘getting nasty’ with the Tory Party, Michael Portillo wants David Cameron to drop his pro-marriage commitment but you can’t deliver social justice if you don’t strengthen the family. The family provides more welfare in more holistic ways than the state could ever hope to. ConservativeHomers enjoyed a good discussion of marriage a couple of weeks ago and gravitated towards some practical ways of supporting society’s most important institution of liberty.
- No to ID cards: Saturday’s Manchester speech made it clear that David Cameron is determined to abolish Labour’s "plastic poll tax". Many Conservatives who have no principled objections to ID cards have been converted to opposition by doubts over the cards’ likely cost and efficacy.
- Standing up to big business: Conservatives should be on the side of competitive markets – not a corporate state where big businesses collude with the government to create barriers to entry through regulations. Eurosceptic Conservatives should remember that before the transformational work of Business for Sterling, FTSE-100 companies led the charge towards eurozone membership. Small firms – and big firms with devolved internal structures – are the engine of the economy.
Tax cuts for enterprise: Last week George Osborne noted that business deserved tax relief if Britain plc is to stay competitive in the world economy.
- EPP exit: A swifter exit would have prevented the Clarke-Jackson-Beazleyites digging into the pro-EPP trenches but this leadership contest pledge is a pointer towards Mr Cameron’s Euroscepticism.
- An open primary election for London Mayor: Done properly (not rushed) this open primary election could revitalise interest in the London party and be a model for a party that regularly invites the British people to help shape the Conservative agenda. A medium-term aim of Francis Maude should be to harness the internet revolution and deliver a scale of public participation in the Conservative Party that will make it become the true political arm of the British people.
- National security: This certainly won’t please the more multilateral ConservativeHome readers but in William Hague and Liam Fox, David Cameron has appointed hawks to the vital international portfolios. Liam Fox has rightly said that the military option must be kept open with regard to Iran. William Hague’s faith in a UN solution to the problems of Darfur is worrying but we must hope that this faith will quickly pass with a more sobre analysis of the ties that bind certain Security Council members to Khartoum’s odious regime.