The Sunday newspapers offer thoughts on the changed Tory tactics of the last fortnight. For Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer the principal change has been a change of language:
"A year ago, in the speech which became caricatured as Hug a Hoodie, [Cameron] argued for a sophisticated approach which would concentrate as much on the causes of crime as on its effects. He invited his audience to empathise with why young people became troubled. In a arresting phrase, designed to get the headlines that it did, he said: ‘We have to show a lot more love.’… His language this summer has been very different. These have been speeches that Michael Howard could well have delivered. Mr Cameron declared: ‘Common sense suggests that with young people you need to hit them where it hurts.’ From Hug a Hoodie to Hit a Hoodie."
But Mr Rawnsley also believes that the Cameron message is in danger
of becoming muddled. He says that Mr Cameron may not be lurching to
the right but he is lurching "all over the place". He points to the
division between the Redwood and Gummer policy groups on airport
expansions as an example of incoherence.
Another commentator from the traditional left – John Rentoul in The Independent on Sunday
– writes that there is a battle between Steve Hilton and Andy Coulson
regarding the party’s direction. Steve Hilton, Rentoul writes, wanted
to carry on with the NHS and environment messages. Andy Coulson wanted
to outreach to the traditional right-of-centre newspapers with ‘core
vote’ messages. Mr Coulson prevailed, it is suggested, after Hilton’s
Rwanda trip "made Cameron look out of touch".
It is perfectly possible that there have been arguments between
Hilton and Coulson but my hunch is that John Rentoul is exaggerating
them. Steve Hilton has always planned that crime and family would be
two of the party’s four key themes at the next General Election. They
would, he hoped, assure traditional supporters that the Cameron-led
party was still very much a Conservative project. There would, at the
same time, be no retreat from Steve Hilton’s other major planned
themes: the environment and the NHS.
My understanding is that the leader’s team are very united on three
of Hilton’s four themes: crime, the family and the NHS. Crime and the
NHS are likely to be the two flagship campaign themes should there be
an autumn election with action to support the family wrapped into the
crime theme as a way of countering social breakdown. The tension
centres on the environment. David Cameron has moved quickly to
distance himself from Gummer-Goldsmith’s opposition to airport
expansion but some Tory advisers are very worried that the leadership’s
embrace of green taxation will be very unpopular. There is also some
worry that the issue of the environment reinforces Cameron’s
negatives. Research seen by the party suggests that voters do not
think that David Cameron is genuine about green issues.
I do not see any fundamental problem with Tory tactics. A
government cannot just focus on a few issues and neither can a serious
political party. It would be ridiculous if the Conservative Party
under David Cameron didn’t talk about immigration and tax – just as it
was ridiculous that Michael Howard and William Hague talked too little
about the NHS and education in their election campaigns. A political
party has to highlight certain themes but it needs to have addressed
all big issues. What we probably need is a serious speech or (ideally)
a series of briefings of journalists that explain that the Conservative
Party is now following the ‘And theory of Conservatism’. I would nominate Michael Gove for that task.