Cameron must modernise, not appease the reactionaries

David Cameron needs to remind people who he is – a compassionate and modern conservative.

Share

Over the years, many people have said David Cameron is a man who seems comfortable in his own skin.

The first time I met him it was something else that struck me: here was a man who, despite his privileged upbringing, was comfortable in his own country. This made a pleasant change from many Tory politicians at the time. He was far from the first member of his party to see how outdated the Tories had become. But when the penny dropped, the modernising agenda came naturally. He fused an old-fashioned patrician desire to do good with a social and economic liberalism, overlaid with a refreshing spirit of optimism that has helped him through tough times.

Yet even now, after seven years as Tory leader and 29 months in Downing Street, people seem confused by their Prime Minister. To the left, angered more by his background then his policies (many of which are an amplification of their own), Cameron is a loathsome right-wing extremist. To the right, he is a loathsome left-wing entryist who seized control of their party and did a duplicitous coalition deal.

Downing Street is a lonely place to live. One adviser told me he thinks the country almost ungovernable, such is the hysterical tone of debate. Regardless, this week the Prime Minister needs to demonstrate why he holds the keys to power. He has had two career-defining party conferences already: in 2005, when he captured the leadership, and in 2007, when he saw off Gordon Brown’s election attempt. He needs t complete the hat-trick this year.

Cameron stands at a crossroads after six months in which his government, his party and his reputation have taken a tumble. The worst wounds were self-inflicted – especially the daft decision to cut income tax for the ultra-rich. It is hard to think of a better device to have destroyed any sense of unity during the downturn, inflamed the idea the Tories care only for the rich and given Labour such a sweet open goal.

Ed Miliband took full advantage last week - although unlike last year, his speech will seem less strong as time passes. It is simple to steal your enemies’ vocabulary. I suggested to Mr Cameron he purloin the word ‘progressive’; one speech and one article later, the word was rendered meaningless. It is also simple right now to attack the coalition’s competence. It is far harder to atone for past sins while shaping an alternative, especially for a man who – like Mitt Romney – has an innate disdain for many voters, although in Mr Miliband’s case it is for wealth-creators.

It would be easy for Cameron to turn right. To toot the dog whistle by talking tough on crime, on Europe, on immigration. He would win loud applause, appeasing activists, media critics and the more unruly MPs – some of whom resemble those Bennites who nearly destroyed the Labour Party over their refusal to compromise with the electorate. As one Labour blogger put it last week, are there really Tories out there who think their party is ten points behind because it is too left-wing? Tragically, the answer is yes.

These are the people that pressed the case for the top-rate tax cut so passionately. Now they hail Boris Johnson for the way he stands up for bankers, yet ignore his advocacy of an amnesty for illegal immigrants and support for a living wage. These fringe figures, stuck in the past and frothing with fury, oppose reforms that might boost growth such as building on green belt or loosening visa controls. And scream for bigger spending cuts while fighting attempts to trim budgets in criminal justice and defence.

Cameron’s response to his loss of political capital has been to mollify the right, as with the recent Cabinet reshuffle. But they will never like him. All this has done is unnerve his core supporters, who are becoming increasingly agitated as they stay silently loyal. More importantly, it confused voters, sowing doubts over credibility and resulting in a fall in his personal ratings.

Cameron remains the most prime ministerial figure in British politics and retains his personal popularity. But the chances of an outright Tory victory in 2015 are tiny; it is not enough to rely on the weirdness of Ed Miliband or the revival of the economy. The Prime Minister needs to remind people who he is – a modern and compassionate conservative – and offer a sharp narrative beyond deficit reduction.

The building blocks are there in the moulding of a more affordable and effective welfare state, one that works for the most vulnerable rather than the middle-classes. This can be seen in education, in justice, in planning, in police reform – even to some extent in health. As with New Labour, modernisers have become the real radicals in government, their desire to reshape their parties matched by a determination to renew their nation.

The Tories must face the future, not look to the past.


The Tories must face the future, not look to the past. This means focusing efforts on the young –bereft of jobs and housing – rather than protecting higher-income pensioners. Yes, they vote in droves, but they also have children and grandchildren. This means supporting the squeezed middle and strivers, showing empathy over rising living costs by attacking the cartels and corporate behemoths who distort the free market.

This means ignoring the shrill voices condemning gay marriage and green issues as “metropolitan” concerns; are they not aware nine out of ten Britons live in urban areas? No wonder the Conservatives have failed to convince young and metropolitan voters outside the south-east they are on their side. Besides, these are issues Cameron has stood for since he vowed to “inspire a new generation” seven years ago.

Finally, it means drastic action to woo ethnic minorities. As Lord Ashcroft has shown, not being white is the biggest reason for not voting Tory. Repudiation of Norman Tebbit’s cricket test would be a start, but how about apologising for the party’s support of South Africa apartheid, examining workplace quotas and cracking down on racist police procedures such as stop and search?

Cameron has proved he is not afraid to take on his party’s reactionaries. Now comes a week that will play an important role in shaping both the next election and his own legacy. A natural pragmatist, will he still try to appease the right and end up pleasing no one? Or will he fire up his modernisation project and rediscover his mission – and in so doing salvage his leadership, shore up his Coalition and safeguard his party?

 

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Keep civil partnerships: marriage shouldn't be the only option for any couple seeking legal recognition and rights

Peter Tatchell
 

Britain's youngest mum is lucky to have a father who is supporting her while society condemns

Louise Scodie
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal