By Tim Montgomerie
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Tory strategists want voters to think of two words when they think of David Cameron: Strong and Fair.
Voters already think Cameron is making the tough decisions. I don't have the exact figures to hand but a recent YouGov survey found that more than FIVE times as many voters think the Conservatives and Cameron are capable of tough decisions than think the same of Labour and Ed Miliband. That's a huge advantage.
Where more work needs to be done is in persuading people that the Conservatives are building a fairer Britain. This, of course, begs the question what we all mean by fairness. In his speech to a gathering of 400 Conservative activists in London earlier, Mr Cameron gave his definition:
"A society where fairness is real… not a free-for-all that lets people do as they wish… but an expectation that all will play their part… where what you get out depends on what you put in."
No surprise then that welfare reform was at the heart of the Conservative leader's speech:
"For years, political parties have played a short-term game. Park people on sickness benefits and take them off the unemployment figures. Push people just above the poverty line – in the pretence that you’re actually changing lives. This approach might make your government look better in the short term but you have betrayed the interests of those you’re supposed to serve. We’re choosing a different path. We're making work pay. Imposing a cap on the amount of benefits any one household can take. We're putting in place real sanctions for those who don’t work. With us, it is simple. Something for something, not something for nothing. No one should be allowed to take this country for a free ride. But you know what I’m most proud of in these welfare reform plans? It’s not the caps and the sanctions – anyone can see they need to happen unless, of course, you’re called Ed Miliband or are a member of the Labour Party. No – what I’m most proud of is the action we are taking to get people back into work."
The Prime Minister went on to claim that in public service reform, spending restraint and economic reform the Coalition isn't taking the easy path…
Tough decisions on the public services: "People tell you that if you want that majority at the next election – and believe me I do… then frankly, go easy. Do the popular thing. Try the small things. Yes, be a steady hand on the tiller but no, don’t rub people up the wrong way and then you’ll win outright next time. I hear it all the time. “Do we really need to tackle the deficit so aggressively?” “Welfare and education reforms, surely they're enough – just leave the NHS alone.” “Can’t we just leave public sector pensions ‘til next time?” This advice, however well meaning, is just wrong. It’s wrong for the country but also, it’s not what I am about – or what I believe you’re about either. I didn’t come into politics, you didn’t join this party, to play it safe."
Tough decisions on public spending: "Salaries account for a fifth of public spending – so we’ve frozen them. Almost one pound in every three is spent on welfare – that is why we have to reform it. Public sector pensions were ballooning – so we’re making them sustainable long-term. These are hard choices. But this will make our country stronger and fairer. Stronger because we can look our creditors in the eye – and say we’re good on our word and good for our money. But fairer too not just because few things are more morally wrong than passing our debts on to our children but because if we don’t take the difficult decisions now, we won’t be really able to help those who really need it further down the line."
Tough decisions on economic reform: "To be strong and fair we’ve got to be tough and bold. We won’t get jobs and wealth spread across our country unless we have the first-class infrastructure linking our great cities and shortening the distance between North and South. That’s why it’s right to go ahead with projects like High Speed Rail. We won’t keep our universities world-class unless we have a way of funding them that really works long-term. That’s why we’re making sure that the people who benefit from that education pay more for the quality of that education. And if we want businesses to expand, if we want to build new plants and factories and indeed if we want new homes built so we don’t have the scandal of people living with their parents way into their thirties because they can’t afford to buy their own home we have got to reform the planning system. All these actions are controversial. All will require tough decisions."
And finally – on the day that Boris Johnson launches his nine re-election pledges – it's worth noting the PM"s words about the Mayor of London:
"He’s frozen council tax. He’s put police back on the streets and on the tube. He’s defended the economic interests of London at every turn – believe me, I know. He’s a brilliant mayor of the best city on earth so let’s make sure that Boris gets another term. And to anyone wondering about the best thing to say on the doorstep, I give you just two words: Ken Livingstone. We cannot have that man back running our capital city again."