Reflecting on yesterday’s results a leader in today’s FT concludes that "Voting Conservative is becoming again a respectable choice."  It welcomes "the ditching of alarmist messages on crime and immigration in favour of
soothing words on the environment and help for the disadvantaged".   "Allies" of Mr Cameron told The Times
that yesterday’s 40% share “totally vindicated” Project Cameron and
should "silence critics on the Right" who had criticised a
"lightweight" campaign.  The Independent
– always green when it suits the newspaper – rushed to interpret David
Cameron’s electoral progress as victory for his emphasis on environmental issues.  That Norwegian glacier
photo opportunity
was "fully justified," it has decided.

Are these the right conclusions to be drawn from Thursday’s results?

Other observers think this was about the government losing popularity, rather than David Cameron winning it.  The Sun has declared David Cameron "the real winner on Thursday… But," it continues, "there is no doubt that he was swept along by a tide of anti-Labour votes".  Britain’s best-selling newspaper warns Mr Cameron not to rest on his laurels: "He has been silent too long on the big issues — tax, public spending, crime and illegal immigration."  A leader in The Telegraph argues that "only in a handful of councils – notably Hammersmith, where some very impressive young Tories stood on the basis of radical tax cuts – can the result definitively be said to have been pro-Cameron rather than anti-Blair."

The reference to Hammersmith’s tax-cutting message is important.
Hammersmith Tories – inspired by the hugely able Greg Hands MP –
certainly did highlight the party’s ‘vote blue, go green‘ message but they also campaigned for a lower council tax.  Hammersmith Tories embraced the ‘politics of and‘.
The spectacular Ealing result owed much to the long and determined
campaign that the borough’s Conservatives fought against the very
unpopular West London Tram scheme.  During the local elections campaign
CCHQ had, of course, advocated more use of trams.  (My personal congratulations to Jason Stacey, the new Tory leader of Ealing council, who masterminded the victory).

Charles Moore,
in today’s Telegraph, is surely right to give David Cameron much of the
credit for way he oversaw a "relaxed, friendly and local" campaign.  As
the FT argues, his great achievement is to have given middle class
England the ‘permission’ to vote Tory again.  But would Conservatives
have climbed over 40% without the measured and reasonable ways in which
David Cameron used the last twelve days of the campaign to attack
Labour’s criminal failures?  Would all of the 39 net gains against the LibDems have been possible without the Kennedy-Oaten-Hughes troubles of January?

Francis Maude has carefully said that there is no room for
complacency after Thursday.  He knows that five months after Tony Blair
became Labour’s leader he was winning 46% of local votes.
ConservativeHome expects the leadership to stick to its path towards a
‘greener, gentler Conservatism’.  Before the summer there will be ‘high
voltage’ initiatives to reinforce the idea that the party is
pro-environment and pro-poor.  ConservativeHome welcomes those
emphases.  ConservativeHome also hopes that we’ll hear more from the
Tory leadership about the issues that worry the striving classes of urban and northern Britain.  Matthew Parris, who was an early supporter
of David Cameron for the Tory leadership, encourages the Conservative
leader to reach out to "those strivers" by focusing more on tax and
immigration and public service failure:

"It is the floating voters he could not sell cuddly, soft-focus Toryism
to, not the loyalists. It’s the North of England, it’s working rural
England, it’s the industrial cities, it’s the white-van voters and the
lower middle-class, it’s the millions who have drifted away that
“compassionate” Conservatism must take care not to forget. Though
“floating” may suggest a middle position, most floating voters are not
distinguished by their moderation.  The party has lost millions of
them. They are unlikely to vote Conservative because they want to pay
higher taxes. Most of them are not racists (though some are) but they
are abidingly anxious about a sense of loss of control of our borders.
They feel a half-formed fear that there is a near-infinity of potential
immigrants waiting to get here. They live closer to social problems
than do those in Notting Hill. They do not believe the State does
things efficiently and they doubt it ever could.  They do not want a
“moderated” Tory message: they want a sharper one.  To reach out to
many of those who have drifted away from the Conservative Party,
Cameron Conservatism will in time need a harder, not a softer edge. If
the new Tory leader wants a motto for the next phase of his fight for
Downing Street, it should be not “Look nice” but “Look North”."

Very good advice.

58 comments for: The Tories must learn the right lessons from Thursday

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