As I said on this morning’s Today programme (at 7.13am if you want to listen), there has most certainly been a rebalancing of the Cameron project in recent days. The Conservative leadership has started talking again about all of the core vote issues – crime (particularly), immigration, Europe and (to a lesser extent) tax. The ‘politics of and’ that this website has long recommended – and was opposed by Oliver Letwin in a party conference fringe debate with me last October – is, for now, the organising principle.
But it’s wrong to say that the party is lurching to the right. There will be – and should be – no abandonment of the last eighteen months’ work. David Cameron’s Conservatism is different from what went before and many of the changes need to go deeper still. Here are a few thoughts:
- Talking only about core vote issues like crime and immigration as in 2005 won’t work even though David Cameron is a better salesman than Michael Howard. David Cameron is right to talk about social justice and the NHS as well. Today’s news that the Tories enjoy a 25% lead among GPs is encouraging (although it appears the doctors want still higher pay!). The social justice agenda is vital to win back those middle England voters who left us for the LibDems in 1997 because, although they’d done well out of the Tory years, they didn’t think we had a heart. David Cameron must do something every week to show that his gentler, greener conservatism remains strong.
- Everyone in the Westminster village has noted the new and grittier Tory approach. It doesn’t mean that many voters will have noticed – particularly those still on holiday in the Med. The messages of the last ten days need to be repeated and repeated if the party’s number one immediate objective – stopping an autumn election – is to be realised. We also need to get very specific about what we’ll do about crime and immigration (and the NHS and the environment). Tory activists need clear messages for their campaign literature and doorstep conversations.
- Talking again about crime and immigration doesn’t mean it has to be done in the same way as last time. David Cameron was superb on Newsnight last night. He didn’t talk about immigration in a scary way. He was cool and reasonable. He connected immigration with the pressures on our public services. The emphasis on crime is also different from the past. There’s less ‘lock ’em up’ language and more focus on family breakdown, educational failure and the other forces that set young people on to the conveyor belt to crime. The work by IDS (on inner city breakdown) and Nick Herbert (on police reform) over the last eighteen months means that David Cameron is equipped to respond to public anxiety about social breakdown.