By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron is now enjoying some of the best ratings of his premiership. In the middle of very difficult economic times his support is actually growing.
But here's the key question: Have Cameron's advisers noticed the connection between increased popularity and doing conservative things?
Here are five proofs from his time as Tory leader:
- He promised to cut inheritance tax in 2007 and Brown had to cancel plans for a honeymoon election.
- Labour started to trim the Tory lead at the start of 2010 but when George Osborne promised to stop Alistair Darling's increase in NI (or at least most of it) fortunes turned towards the Conservatives again. The second time tax cuts saved the Tories' electoral bacon.
- Mr Cameron made a speech on immigration before last year's local elections and threw everything into the campaign to defeat AV. In the process he got all centre right newspapers on his side. He stormed to the best council results in thirty years.
- He issued a tough response to last summer's riots and won widespread public approval.
- And, of course, he said no to Europe and his ratings improved.
There's another common factor to these occasions. Mr Cameron only did those things when his back was against the wall. He offered the inheritance tax cut after Brown had boomed in the polls. He talked about immigration when he feared he might lose First-past-the-post. He talked tough on the riots only after Middle England was crying out for order. He only said no to Europe only weeks after his party had rebelled on a historic scale and ministers were openly calling for toughness.
Which leads me to the second question: Is Cameron afraid of doing conservative things; stuck in the period when Blairism dominated British politics and Tories lost election after election? Well it's not 1997 anymore. The Spice Girls are no longer number one. Richard and Judy no longer dominate morning TV. Left-wing policies and attitudes are unaffordable to families who are running out of money at the beginning of the month, not at the end. These are conservative times and the British people are hungry for conservatism.
In saying this I'm not arguing that Cameron should abandon the good changes he has made to the Conservative Party. Voters want a commitment to the NHS. They want protection of local environments. They want a one nation Conservative Party that looks after the less fortunate. They want a clean up of crony capitalism of the kind eloquently advanced by Jesse Norman MP in today's FT (£). But Number 10 must also realise that they want meat and potatoes Conservatism too. They want less Europe in their lives. More control of immigration. A welfare state that looks after pensioners, not the idle. Schools that teach the basics. Police officers that don't stand and watch thugs riot.
In 2012 Cameron can become the dominant figure in British politics if he gets the recipe right. "The politics of and".