David Cameron was elected three years ago today, winning 67.6% of party members’ votes.
He marks the anniversary by addressing a Conference of the Ulster Unionists. The Tory-UUP deal, overseen by Owen Paterson, is one of the high points of his leadership. Mr Cameron has consistently refused to take risks with the Union and has consistently declined to encourage the anti-Scottish sentiment that is too evident on ConservativeHome threads.
The ConservativeHome poll of polls puts the Tories 7.4% ahead on this anniversary weekend. That’s not quite enough for a working majority but I’ve never been more sure that David Cameron will be Britain’s next Prime Minister. For the reasons set out earlier this week, the economic situation will deservedly end Labour rule.
Labour remain clueless as to how to attack David Cameron. That much was evident last week when I sat on a panel with Hazel Blears. Hazel was absolutely charming but her critique of David Cameron as an Etonian flip-flopper won’t go anywhere. The class war nonsense failed Labour in Crewe and Nantwich and David Cameron’s leadership has actually been characterised by considerable consistency. I think of championing a more diverse slate of parliamentary candidates; opposition to new grammar schools; ending the patient passport and all that it meant; opposition to "unfunded" tax cuts; abandoning sympathy for ID cards and championing civil liberties; not "obsessing" about Europe; and taking green positions on, for example, a third runway for Heathrow and expanding rail travel. Today’s is not the same Conservative Party that Mr Cameron inherited.
Some of the changes have, of course, depressed grassroots Conservatives and David Cameron still struggles to enthuse. I have always been a supporter of Mr Cameron and his social reform agenda – the biggest idea on the centre right today; an idea that owes so much to Iain Ducan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice.
The greatest mistake of the Cameron period was the tactic of economic disarmament; most characterised by the now abandoned decision to match Labour’s spending plans. That shift completes the rebalancing that took place in the summer of 2007.
The greatest remaining weakness is a tendency to be too political. Eight-times-out-of-ten when I ask a frontbencher why x or y policy cannot be enacted I get a political answer; We can’t do that because focus groups tell us that it would unpopular or because we’d upset The Sun. Rarely am I given practical reasons why a policy might be unworkable. I don’t hear enough passion and belief from Team Cameron although this year’s Party Conference speech was a notable exception.
In the time before the election my big hopes are for
- Francis Maude’s Implementation Office; can it do the hard work of turning policy ideas into transformational programmes for government?
- For a strengthening of the government-in-waiting team, including more full-time frontbenchers;
- A serious commitment to reform of the bloated, inefficient state that the Brown-Blair years have spawned;
- The development of a foreign and security policy that is equal to the challenges of our time.