Within David Cameron’s interview for this morning’s Daily Telegraph there are welcome hints of more emphasis on the teaching of British history, greater independence for schools and support for marriage. Activists will also like the Conservative leader’s clear renunciation of Polly Toynbee’s politics:
"We are not saying adopt Polly Toynbee’s policy. She is a statist, she is a Gordon Brownist."
But David Cameron’s overall message to the Tory grassroots is that he’s determined to press ahead with his modernisation agenda. These words are indicative:
"I am very clear about the direction in which we are going. The Conservative Party needs to get into the centre ground on the issues on which people talking about. It is no good having a manifesto devoted to immigration and Europe if people are interested in health and education."
Does Mr Cameron really believe that voters are not interested in immigration? Few Conservatives object to the party talking about schools and hospitals. Nearly every Conservative activist I know has reported that recent NHS Action Days have been hugely successful. The grassroots will be delighted at a greater emphasis on the teaching of British history. If Mr Cameron had spent his first year on these bread and butter issues activists would not be as restless as they are becoming. Instead the emphasis on the environment has been almost messianic but has offered no answers to key questions about the failure of the Kyoto approach or the marginal role that Britain can play in arresting global warming.
The problem with the first year of Project Cameron has been a consistent lack of balance:
- Centre-right Tories who supported David Cameron in the leadership contest knew that there was going to be modernisation but they understood that it would not be at the expense of traditional fare. They were told, for example, that in the first few weeks of the Cameron leadership there would be a modernising drive for more women candidates but there would also be exit from the EPP. The first has been delivered – the second has not.
- The search for a representative pool of candidates has itself been flawed – even superficial. There has been a search for women and ethnic minority candidates but no deeper search for candidates from the north or from outside the law, politics and the City. Nothing has been done to address the huge costs of becoming a Conservative candidate.
- The Tories may be progressing healthily in the south but in northern England there is little good news. ‘Waitrose voter’ has been wooed assiduously but the Tories are offering little hope to the ‘Morrisons voter’ who is overburdened by Labour’s taxes and failed by inadequate policing.
- The party is also becalmed in Scotland and Wales where there are crucial Parliamentary/ Assembly elections next May.
There is still time to put all of this right but the Tory leadership will be making a serious mistake if it thinks the grumblings of the grassroots should be ignored. 65% of grassroots members told ConservativeHome in September that the party’s poll lead was too modest given the troubles of the Government. They – rooted in real communities – appear to better understand that only a broader and more authentic Conservatism will deliver the victory that Mr Cameron’s personal skills are so well-suited to deliver.