In an article for The Observer the shadow housing minister Michael Gove argues that David Cameron is setting the political agenda. Mr Gove, expected to join the shadow cabinet in the imminent reshuffle, points to (1) leadership on the environment and the family, (2) opposition to top-down control of the public services and (3) preference for better enforcement of existing laws rather than more legislation as some key areas where David Cameron is defining the terms of political debate.
There is, of course, other ways of interpreting the last eighteen months. Many believe that the Tories have become ‘Europeanised’ under David Cameron. The party has, for example, largely accepted eurozone levels of taxation and public spending. Britain recently overtook German levels of tax and public expenditure but the Conservatives are very cautious about halting Gordon Brown’s tax and spending juggernaut. The Tories are committed to reversing the Thatcher-Major governments’ neglect of marriage and the family but Welfare & Pensions spokesman Philip Hammond communicates no appetite for serious welfare reform. Under David Cameron the Conservatives have also shifted away from Anglosphere conservatives and towards a more European view of such issues as how to respond to climate change, how to fight the war on terror and how we should relate to Israel.
Gordon Brown’s first few days in office have also highlighted the danger of downplaying traditional Conservative strengths. The terror wave will give him an opportunity to reinforce the mistaken impression in voters’ minds that he is a safe pair of hands. David Cameron’s lack of prioritisation of security issues has most been exemplified by his failure – in four months – to appoint a successor to Patrick Mercer. In today’s News of the World the new Prime Minister’s plans to crack down on illegal immigration are given prominent coverage on the news pages and are welcomed in a leader. In his NotW column Fraser Nelson writes the following:
"Nationalism and immigration are powerful political weapons. The Tories have left them abandoned, for Gordon Brown to use. A man with an election to win couldn’t ask for a better present."
Michael Gove’s talk of being on the centre ground and of leading the national debate won’t help the Conservatives to reach the northern, striver and traditionalist voters that Conservatives need for victory. Conservatives should be highlighting Gordon Brown’s record of
incompetence on tax credits, pensions and waste as reasons why he
cannot be trusted with Britain’s future. Mr Gove is right to say that there should be no retreat from David Cameron’s emphasis on environmental issues and social justice. There actually needs to be a deeper and more authentic commitment to both. But, as David Cameron promised on Wednesday night, there also needs to be tougher measures against crime, on border control and against further losses of British powers to Brussels.