By Tim Montgomerie
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In last week's Times Danny Finkelstein wrote about Europe (£). Some might say he banged on about it! Today he's addressing (£) welfare and immigration and crime and value for taxpayers' money. Gosh, that list would make Lynton Crosby proud.
Patrick O'Flynn and I tweeted that there was something of a shift in posture.
In response Danny has clarified his position (£) at Comment Central:
"I have never been against being tough on crime, welfare fraud and immigration and the promotion of a good deal for the taxpayer. I have always argued that these are central issues and have put quite a bit of my intellectual energy into all four subjects. Indeed, when William Hague was leader we centred our approach on these areas – I was his head of research. But I noticed something. It wasn't working politically. My conclusion was that people didn't trust the values of the Conservative Party. They thought we were for the well off and wouldn't actually do anything about any of the issues they cared about, because we weren't any good at governing. So I began to argue that the party needed to prove it believed in public services, that it cared about everyone and not just the well off, and that it had a well-developed sense of fairness. And that it should concentrate on issues on improving trust in its values."
Everything Danny writes is true but is it the full truth? One of the central modernising creeds was that we should stop talking about the 'core vote issues'. This meant that in the general election grid there was a day for a school music competition but nothing on immigration (voters' number two issue). We went from overdoing the issue of border control in 2005 to underplaying it in 2010. Since the election the Tory leadership has been pushed into a good position on welfare by IDS but has played fast and loose with our reputation on crime. The widening gap between Britain's top selling newspapers and the party is partly a result. Remember when spending was out of control under Brown and modernisation led us to back his spending plans? Remember the retreat from a referendum pledge? I'll stop there but modernisation didn't simply add to our traditional appeal it took risks with our traditional appeal.
Where I agree with Danny is in his argument that the traditional positions were inadequate on their own. There was a narrowness to the Tory message that was dangerous. It's why I commissioned the drawing on the right for when ConHome was first launched. It's why I helped establish the Centre for Social Justice. Much of modernisation did improve what Danny describes as "trust in our values". The most important changes were made on the NHS and gay rights. But big parts of the modernisation process also took us away from that aim of looking like we "cared about everyone and not just the well off". The climate change agenda for example was designed for Guardian voters – not people struggling with electricity bills. The Big Society message has never appealed to the coping classes. The ambivalence about CCTV isn't shared by people living on crime-ridden estates. Too much of Cameroonian modernisation was about being less right-wing when the problem was the party was too pro-rich (see point one of this).
I don't write this just because I object to a rewriting of the history of modernisation. I object because the people who designed the last general election campaign are still in public denial. Perhaps they are now shifting their position towards a more balanced conservatism but I'm not convinced the rebalancing is as real as it needs to be.
PS VERY good to see Danny blogging again more frequently but it's a great shame it's still behind the paywall. I still think Times blogs should be outside the paywall – so, I say again – "Free The Fink".