In a piece for today’s Telegraph Iain Martin urges David Cameron to be bolder. In The Spectator’s Politics column Fraser Nelson touches on similar themes – believing that Labour is exhausted and now is the time for the Tories to seize hold of the economic agenda.
‘How bold should the Tories be?’ is the big question now being asked at the very top of the Cameron project.
Leading the cautionaries – or tortoises – is David Cameron himself. The cautionaries believe that Brown is finished. They believe that Northern Rock, in particular, is fast eroding the Prime Minister’s reputation for economic competence. They do not want to risk the Tories’ strong position in the opinion polls – with the latest ConservativeHome poll of polls giving the party an 8.4% average lead.
The hares – wishing the party to be bold – are hoping to be led by George Osborne. The importance of George Osborne to the Cameron project is difficult to understate. Last summer he took much of the initiative in rebalancing the Conservative project away from the uber-modernisers. He recruited Andy Coulson and won the argument for the inheritance tax cut. At the end of last year he noted the drift in the Boris campaign and took the decisions that have now produced a team around the Mayoral hopeful that might deliver victory in the most important contest this side of the next General Election. Osborne is now said to be "on manoeuvres" again – listening carefully to those who think the Tories need to move up a gear.
The bold camp note that the Tories need a seismic shift in order for the party to form a parliamentary majority but that opinion polls point to a defeat for Labour rather than a much larger shift. They say that the Tories need to give electors some big reasons to vote for them rather than the LibDems. They worry that support for the Conservatives is widening much faster than it is deepening. They worry that the party still lacks a defining theme or two that will energise the people who don’t float between the parties but who float between voting and not voting at all.
The cautionaries worry that the ‘time-to-be-bold’ camp are being impatient. They want to delay any big decision on strategy until after May’s election results. The depth of Brown’s problems and the extent to which Clegg will have revived the LibDem vote will then be clear. They also fear that the Tories may define themselves premmaturely. They remember the rush to talk of a ‘recession made in Downing Street’ during the Hague years. They worry that a too downbeat assessment of the British economy may be at odds with the ‘sunshine image’ that David Cameron has largely championed.
ConservativeHome believes that it’s time to be bold. Last November we argued that Britain is in decline again – that Britain doesn’t need a change of management but a real change of direction. We’ve argued that that should start with a promise to slow the growth in public spending. Only yesterday David Cameron emphasised his cautionary credentials by saying that he may well extend the commitment to match Labour’s plans (which continue the biggest peacetime increase in the size of the British state). This is such a contrast with France that has just announced a five year freeze on public spending. All of the hard work of the 1980s and 1990s by the Thatcher and Major governments is being undone. Britain as the enterprise capital of Europe is no more. Boldness on economic policy could not be more urgent. If George Osborne really wants to lead the bold camp he should start with his own brief.