Without adequate involvement of the local Association, CCHQ imposed Tony Lit as the party’s Ealing Southall candidate. ConservativeHome received a number of complaints from local Tories at the time about CCHQ’s gamble of embracing someone with little connection to the Conservative Party in the hope that it would end Brown’s honeymoon. We did not realise how slight Mr Lit’s connection with the Conservative Party was until last Sunday when that day’s newspaper’s were filled with pictures of him and stories of his £4,800 corporate gift to Tony Blair. I did not want to jeopardise our chances in the election and chose not to editorialise at the time. In the interests of the party I hoped that CCHQ knew what it was doing. When a number of Labour councillors defected one week earlier the Lit gamble had looked promising. Today the only silver lining of the Ealing result is that LibDem MPs have not got a ready excuse to oust Menzies Campbell.
The Ealing gamble failed. What of the bigger gamble at the heart of Project Cameron?
Again and again many traditional supporters believe that David Cameron has gambled with our party’s values. I think of the quota-based A-list. The stop on more grammar schools. Green taxes. An effective withdrawal of support for nuclear power. The ending of any serious commitment to NHS reform. The downgrading of the transatlantic alliance. The installation of a community cohesion spokesman with highly questionable views. Most Conservatives were willing to swallow these things in the hope of them delivering victory at the next election. With that victory would come the opportunity to introduce the many good things that a Cameron government would bring. A borders police force. Support for marriage. More prisons. A referendum on the EU Treaty. More localism.
One question must now be uppermost in Team Cameron’s thinking:
Are the headline changes associated with Project Cameron encouraging voters to see the party as more moderate and more in tune with the times (Team Cameron’s hope) or are voters seeing the Project as open to embracing any person or idea in the pursuit of electoral advantage?
I have said before that authenticity is now the number one issue for the party. We need to prove that David Cameron is strong, serious and substantial. That he is more than a politician with good PR skills. That he shares the values of ordinary people. That he most certainly isn’t the ‘Sham Cam’ that he was dubbed in last week’s News of the World.