Matthew d’Ancona, Editor of The Spectator, has just sent an email to me about what Tories can learn from Tony Blair. Read it on The Spectator’s new Coffee House blog. Here’s my reply…
"Thanks Matt and for suggesting this exchange. But what’s this reference to “anarcho-syndicalism”? Have you been to the Oliver Letwin school of political communication?
I agree with nearly all of what you write – particularly the fact that Conservatives cannot rely upon unhappiness with Labour to guarantee victory. At the moment the Tories aren’t really enthusing people enough. Watching BBC Parliament’s Bank Holiday rerun of the 1997 General Election (yes, aren’t I sad?) reminded me how the nation really bought into the promise of New Labour. The electorate may be more cynical today because of the Blair decade of spin’n’squander but David Cameron needs to find a fifth gear at some point and communicate more passion. At the moment he communicates reasonableness but I don’t think that that’ll be enough. A very tough agenda on crime will probably be a vote maximiser at the next election. We should copy some of Labour’s passion on crime but by promising to build, for example, on what Giuliani did in New York, and actually convince people that we have the ideas to deliver.
You’re right, too, about reassuring on macroeconomic stability but voters also want more than that. I worry that you and the Tory leadership underestimate public anger at Labour’s waste and are too eager to switch focus away from economic issues. I’ve spent most of my political life encouraging a greater Conservative focus on social issues and welcome the greener, gentler Conservatism. But we may be reaching crunchier economic times because of competition from the east and because Gordon’s Brown microeconomic mismanagement will soon start to bite. Just as the Thatcher economic reforms only started to really work after five and more years, Gordon Brown’s taxes and regulations are only just beginning to hurt. This is precisely the wrong time for Conservatives to be giving the impression that economics is somehow less important.
The most important lesson from Blair for me is the need for Project Cameron to be more ambitious. Blair at his best was greedy to occupy every inch of the political stage. Conservatives weren’t allowed to get any advantage on any salient issue. Project Cameron must look more like a government-in-waiting and less like the champion for a few single issues.
Over to you…
Tim’s reply to Matt’s reply:
"Hug-a-hoodie was a disaster as a political expression (although it was invented by a Labour-supporting journalist) but it actually captured something very important. For once I’m with the mods, Matt! Many criminals start off as unloved boys who turn to gangs for the kind of affirmation and identity that they should get at home. Blair was right that society needs to be tough on the causes of crime as well as crime itself. Our challenge – as is often the case – is to live up to the Blair rhetoric in ways that he never did. I’m actually very proud of David Cameron’s message on crime. There’s still the ‘lock ‘em up’ threat for persistent and serious offenders but there’s a wise and compassionate commitment to help people off the conveyor belt before that point of serious criminality. My hope is that over the remainder of the parliament he will find that fifth gear on crime and make it a central issue at the next election.
Good to read your affirmation of the importance of lower taxation. I hope you’re right that Team Cameron really wants to lower the tax burden. I don’t feel they are communicating real intent yet. And, yes, reassurance that ‘the party of Black Wednesday’ can be trusted again is really important but why did we have that nonsense that lower taxation and economic stability are somehow opposed? We shouldn’t be doing our opponents’ intellectual work for them.
What is Cameron’s mission? I’d say it must be to look like (and be) the Prime Minister in waiting. One of the key ingredients of that must be to reassure voters that he will keep this nation safe in a time of war. Blair understands that we are at war but he has prosecuted the war with insufficient competence. I don’t always get the impression that David Cameron understands the scale of the threat we face from Islamic fascism and that we have to be on the offensive to counter it. He certainly didn’t mention security issues as one of his priorities in a recent interview.
Happy to wrap this discussion up tomorrow…"
Matthew d’Ancona’s third and final email can be read here. Tim will post his final email later.