By Tim Montgomerie
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We still don't quite know for sure what David Cameron will say in his Europe speech but I would now be flabergasted if he doesn't promise the biggest ever attempt to renegotiate Britain's relationship with Brussels and also an In/Out referendum at the end of that process of renegotiation. I fear he won't deliver the third commitment that the ConHome Editors requested last week – legislation in this parliament to underwrite the referendum promise (the 'John Baron commitment') – but David Cameron is set to make a huge attempt to take Britain off the path to ever closer union. When we hear the speech I suspect he will embrace a great deal of the Fresh Start agenda co-ordinated by MPs Andrea Leadsom, Chris Heaton-Harris and George Eustice.
The speech is not going to contain everything Tory MPs or Tory members wanted but it is a huge step forward. It is going to be interesting to see how the party reacts.
- Will the party's Eurosceptics celebrate the huge stride forward or complain that it wasn't quite what they wanted?
- Will we focus on the fact that this Tory PM is more Eurosceptic than any of his predecessors or will we publicly fret that he's not as Eurosceptic as we'd like him to be?
- Will we attack Labour and the Liberal Democrats for denying the people a say on Europe or will some of us focus on the complaint that Cameron is not offering a mandate as well as a post-renegotiation referendum?
I would argue that we also need to see the shift away from David Cameron's early position on Europe (his reluctance to hold any kind of referendum and his desire, in his own words, to stop "banging on" about the subject) in the context of other shifts we have seen from him in recent weeks and months. Five stand out to me:
- Right/Left balance: The appointment of Chris Grayling, Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers to the Cabinet. These appointments will not greatly change the policies of a Government bound by the realities of the Coalition but the appoinments of Grayling and Paterson in particular signalled a nod towards the party's Right and also towards more mainstream policies on crime and the environment.
- The appointment of Lynton Crosby to co-ordinate the party's general election campaign: I don't suspect Lynton Crosby will greatly alter the big message that was set out at the last party conference but what he will bring to the operation is the order, structure and focus that was missing from last time's disorganised Tory campaign. That he has been appointed two-and-a-half years from the scheduled election date is a reassuring sign that the party is already planning for a long campaign. That it understands the importance of early and consistent messaging. Lynton has the time to make the difference.
- Steps towards a strivers' manifesto: Of equal importance to the decision to appoint Mr Crosby was the decision to recruit Neil O'Brien. Neil will be working alongside George Osborne and will play a central role in drafting the party's next manifesto. O'Brien completely buys into the idea that policies need to be reorientated towards the lower-paid, to northern Britain and to all families struggling with the cost of living. It's the agenda of ConHome's StrongAndCompassionate.com. One of conservatism's biggest brains, Neil's is an inspired appointment.
- Grant Shapps' decision to target so many marginal Lib Dem seats. Since Grant Shapps became party chairman we've realised what ConHQ has been missing since Sayeeda Warsi replaced Eric Pickles. Suddenly there's life again at party HQ. There's a Tory Chairman on TV, on Five Live, in the papers, fighting our corner. As well as his early decision to get on with selecting candidates in the 40/40 seats his most encouraging decision (taken with Stephen Gilbert) was not to hold back from targeting Lib Dem marginals.
- Fifth the decision to oppose Leveson. While the press must sign up to the Leveson principles Cameron has stood against some in his own party and most of popular opinion and resisted statutory regulation. At some point the newspapers who've pursued him over the last two years might acknowledge that. They might acknowledge who is the real enemy of their readers' values and interests and start to turn their guns on Ed Miliband.
In writing this piece I'm not saying that we suddenly have a perfect Tory operation or that Cameronism's faults have all been corrected. There's still plenty to discuss and debate. Let's acknowledge, however, the important changes that have been made on Europe, Left/Right balance, campaign focus and manifesto priorities. Let's hope they continue.