Bruce Anderson criticises David Cameron today for failing to deliver the grittier Conservatism promised at the new year. The failure to deliver that grit means, he writes, the party has lost momentum. When Fleet Street’s leading defender of Project Cameron – Daniel Finkelstein excepted – becomes critical, Team Cameron should take notice.
Mr Anderson’s critique is not as powerful, however, as that from Janet Daley in today’s Telegraph:
"The most significant mistake of the Tories’ campaign to change their image is precisely that it has been so explicit and self-conscious. They have, in as many words, told the nation that they are utterly obsessed with appearances. They have announced, so repeatedly as to be risible that their top political priority – their primary objective for the immediate and medium term – is to change the way they are perceived. Now why do you suppose that the public, subjected to this relentless make-over show, should have got the impression that they are "all style and no substance"? Perhaps because they are simply taking the party at its word. Mr Cameron and his friends tell us endlessly that everything that they are saying is for effect – "change to win", "be the change", "we’ve got to look like modern Britain", blah-blah – and then they wonder why voters think they are shallow. Being "obsessed with image" isn’t an accusation made by Team Cameron’s enemies: it is what they say about themselves."
Ouch. Janet Daley’s powerful critique – not dissimilar from that written by Brown’s spindoctors for Quentin Davies – needs to be answered and fast.
In my own criticisms of Project Cameron over the last eighteen months I
have tended to emphasise the need for greater breadth to the project.
I now think the number one issue is the need for authenticity and have
written about this twice recently (here and here).
David Cameron needs to show that he is not just a PR man but that he is in politics to make a difference. The Cameroons’ constant talk of being on the centre ground – repeated like a mantra over the weekend – only
reinforces the impression that the party is engaged in a repositioning
exercise. At the end of the Blair era people want strength and authenticity. For me there are three areas where David Cameron most strikes me as "real":
- His commitment to the family. Just look at this photo with his youngest child at yesterday’s christening. He has spoken powerfully of his love for his oldest son, Ivan. The Conservative leader has set up a policy group on social justice and Iain Duncan Smith will be reporting imminently. The report will make recommendations that will be able to substantiate David Cameron’s personal commitment to the family.
- His commitment to the NHS. The care provided by the NHS to his son has convinced David Cameron of its value. Few who know David Cameron doubt his commitment to universal healthcare, free at the point of use.
- The third area is the environment but it is less convincing than the other two. It is less convincing because of the chauffeur-following-the-bike incident and David Cameron’s extensive use of domestic flights. David Cameron needs to make a few decisions that make it clear that he is deep green. Otherwise he should abandon the issue and emphasise something he really does believe in – like Europe. He cut his political teeth at the time of the ERM exit and his Euroscepticism is therefore strong. Europe does not need to be presented in old-fashioned terms but he can present a vision of a modern, open Europe that wants to trade with the world and provide free access to its markets to the poorest nations of the world.
The three issues of family, the NHS and the environment should be central to the next stage of Project Cameron but they won’t be enough.
Crime and security also needs to become central and for obvious reasons. David Cameron needs to build a team of people that ensure that the Conservative Party is fully trusted with protecting the public from terrorism and from crime more generally. In addition to David Davis I hope that David Trimble can be persuaded to sit in the shadow cabinet as the party’s homeland security spokesman. Paul Goodman or Michael Gove should be given a role in engineering new relationships between the state and Muslim communities. We also need to play hardball at some point – making it clear than the man who ruined the pensions industry and oversaw the tax credits chaos is too incompetent to keep the British people safe.
Rebuilding the family, renewing the NHS, protecting our environment and keeping the British people safe. Those can be winning Conservative priorities.
Everything that is now done should reinforce the view that the Conservatives are a serious, grown-up party with weighty answers to Britain’s problems.
If you are not a West Wing fan you won’t have a clue why this post is called ‘Let Bartlet Be Bartlet’. Click here for an explanation!