Recent polls have suggested that voters sense that David Cameron’s changes to the Conservative Party are more spin than substance. Last week in Manchester the Tory leader promised faster, deeper and wider change in response to the doubters but is there something too ambitious – too incredible – about the pace of the current change project? Jasper Gerard in today’s Sunday Times thinks that there is ‘something of the incredible’ about Project Cameron:
"The Tories realised that if they continued to look as if they were about to set the dobermans on us, we wouldn’t vote for them. But as a former public relations man, Dave should accept change must be credible: M&S could not rebrand itself as D&G."
Dolce & Gabbana is one of the world’s most edgy fashion houses and voters may be suspicious about the Tories’ claim to be the leading champions of the poor and the environment unless and until the new positioning is backed up by very radical new policy positions. This does not mean that, over time, the Tories cannot become Britain’s fairest and greenest party but it will take time to convince voters.
Tory members appear to share the concern that the current extent of change is too much, too quickly. The March ConservativeHome Members’ Panel tested how the party should aim to stop being seen as the party of the rich and privileged. Should it become the party of the very poor in one leap or should it first battle for the striving class championed by Australia’s John Howard? 47% of Tory members would definitely include "The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society" in the next Tory manifesto. That is from David Cameron’s ‘Built To Last’ document. Nearly 30% more – 78% – would definitely include "The people doing least well under Labour are the people who work hard, save for the future and play by the rules".
As David Cameron changes the Conservative party he needs to carefully balance three things:
- The pace of change so that it is credible;
- The need to substantiate change with some serious policy beef;
- And reassurance for the traditional supporters of the Conservative brand who have been faithful because of its emphasis on law and order, national sovereignty and smaller government.