Andrew Grice: Is current crisis a blip – or worse? The jury's still out...

 

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"On the family, we need two or three eye-catching initiatives that are entirely conventional in terms of their attitude," the Prime Minister said. "I should be personally associated with as much of this as possible."

The PM in question was Tony Blair, in a leaked memo in 2000 when he was worried his Government was losing touch with Middle Britain. Yet it could have been written by David Cameron, who copied the Blair playbook in opposition and still admires the man the Cameroons call "the master".

So this week Tory-supporting papers were briefed that the PM would personally kill off the so-called "conservatory tax", a Lib Dem-inspired move to force householders to spend money on energy-efficient home improvements. The aim: to reassure wavering Conservatives ahead of the local elections and steady the nerves of Tory MPs. Mr Cameron admits he has endured "a tough month" since the Budget, which has unravelled spectacularly. The jury is out on whether this is "a blip", as the PM's advisers hope, or something more fundamental, as some Conservative MPs fear. "If we are seen by the public as incompetent, we will struggle to turn that round," one said yesterday.

No 10's flurry of initiatives is designed to stop the rot. But Cameron advisers are cursing a run of bad luck. A rare "good news day", when it appeared that the radical cleric Abu Qatada might finally be deported, was eclipsed on Wednesday when a Home Office blunder caused a further delay.

Some Tories fear it's not all down to luck. Yesterday Lord Ashcroft, the party's former deputy chairman, called for, "a competent government with a grip on events". Writing on the ConservativeHome website, he said ominously: "The main problem is not so much that people think the Conservative Party is heading in the wrong direction, it is that they are not sure where it is heading. And that includes me."

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