Peter Riddell writes the following in his Times column this morning:
"The main recent event that could influence Tory prospects in the long term is George Osborne’s decision to accept Labour’s spending plans for the next three years, in the hope of countering claims about “cuts”. That — along with yesterday’s interesting report from the public services group — will determine what the Tories can say about the size and role of the State. This matters: Mr Ancram does not."
I think Peter is largely right. Michael Ancram’s intervention would matter if it contributed to any public belief that the Tories are returning to the patterns of disunity that have plagued us ever since the parliamentary party ousted Margaret Thatcher. Yesterday was reassuring because no senior Tory came to the support of Mr Ancram and he chose to not to give any interviews. My guess is that others may have sprung to his defence if the opinion polls hadn’t have improved recently. In today’s Daily Mail Ben Brogan writes: "Mr Cameron knows that loyalty in the ‘modern’ Tory party is measured in the polls, and if Labour’s lead begins to grow again, Mr Ancram’s outburst won’t be the last."
Given that the Ancram affair was limited to a 24 hour story Peter Riddell is also right to say that the public services announcements were the most important events of the last two days in terms of our party’s long-term prospects. There are some good ideas in the Dorrell-Perry report but it’s largely an exercise in reassurance. It sends a message to public sector workers and the wider public that the Tories don’t want to make big changes to the nation’s schools and hospitals. George Osborne’s message on Monday was largely the same – the Shadow Chancellor attempted to tell the nation that the Tories were prepared to match the European levels of spending that the Brown-Blair years have delivered. It was reassuring – not inspiring – and designed to kill any Labour attempt to paint the Tories as a threat to Johnny’s schooling or granny’s medical care.
Neither of those announcements produced the most excitement on this blog, however. For you the two posts that got the most comments (see graphic on right) were Michael Ancram’s intervention of yesterday and Monday’s announcement that John Bercow and Patrick Mercer were joining Gordon Brown’s big tent. It is true that the number of comments doesn’t necessarily reflect an issue’s importance – just whether or not its controversial.
At the end of this meandering post I’m left with this thought: The Conservative Party’s attempts to reassure may be important but it’s also vital that we give people still stronger reasons to change the government.