Bruce Anderson: David Cameron is doing well - but why not better?

An Opposition with a plausible leader ought to be 15 points ahead, not five

Share

In purely political terms, being a Tory leader of the Opposition is the hardest job at Westminster. Tories hate being in opposition and often forget to display their gratitude to those who try to lead them out of it. It has always been thus. Any Tory who fondly believes that Mrs Thatcher's career as Opposition leader was an inexorable march to an inevitable triumph merely reveals his youthful ignorance. It was not like that. It was a bumpy journey, with failures as well as successes - and the Lady herself never took her ultimate victory for granted.

Neither, needless to say, does David Cameron. But his first few months have seen one change in his party's fortunes which is even more significant than the rise in the opinion polls. There were moments when it was just about possible to think that William Hague could win an election. But they were brief ones. Early on in Michael Howard's leadership, Tony Blair was so worried that he wobbled in the direction of handing over to Gordon Brown. That was also a brief interlude.

In Mr Cameron's case, there is a difference. From the moment that he was elected, almost everyone at Westminster took him seriously as a potential Prime Minister - including Tony Blair. Gordon Brown would insist that this does not apply to him, but if it is as easy as he claims to dismiss David Cameron, why so angry and upset? Poor Gordon; to paraphrase an Irish parliamentarian, his cup of troubles is running over and it is not yet full.

The Tories' position in the opinion polls is at a 13-year high. In the unlikely, though not impossible, event of a poll showing the party back in second place, there would be shock/horror headlines. This is a measure of Mr Cameron's achievement.

That said, the recent polls measure an insufficient achievement. The Government is disintegrating. Everything it touches turns to ridicule. There is hardly a minister who could claim to enjoy the public's confidence. As for Mr Blair, he appears to have lost interest in Britain's domestic problems. He used to be an exponent of triangular politics: finding third way solutions which drew on the best of right and left. He has now invented a new triangulation: London as a midway point between Washington and Barbados.

A PM who is no longer in contact with reality; a set of ministers who cannot cope with it. In normal circumstances, an Opposition with a plausible leader - as Mr Cameron is - ought to be 15 points ahead, not five.

There are two explanations for this under-performance. The first, offered by some of Mr Cameron's closest advisers, is that the Tory party has still not purged its contempt. The Tory brand was so brilliantly discredited by Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell et al in the run-up to 1997 that many voters are still not prepared to support the party's application to rejoin the human race. In response, the Tories must modernise and modernise again.

For his first few months, David Cameron took that advice. He was determined to demonstrate that his party showed middle Britain's concerns, anxieties and values. Even those who do not agree with the obsessive modernisers ought to concede that this was a necessary and successful first phase. But it is now time to move beyond it.

Although the ultra-modernisers such as Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin may not realise it, they are expressing a lack of confidence in David Cameron's leadership. They do not seem to understand the extent to which his personality has already changed the public's perception of his party. Ad nauseam, the modernisers will repeat a point thrown up by the opinion polls.

Ask the voters if they agree with a popular-sounding policy, and a sizeable majority will say "yes". Tell them that it is a Tory policy, and there will be a significant defection. But I am willing to wager that the same would not be true if the policy were identified, not as a Tory one, but as David Cameron's. Tory Central Office ought to have more faith in its leader's powers of salesmanship.

In turn, Mr Cameron ought to have more faith in his ability to make harder-edged points without being accused of returning to the Stone Age. A large number of voters now believe that the country is in a mess and that the Government is to blame. They do not just want warm fuzzies from the Opposition. They want to hear their own anger articulated.

David Cameron has his roots in the country. He has only lived in west London for a few years; Notting Hill has played a very small part in his political formation. But that will not prevent his opponents claiming that he only speaks for Notting Hill - until he decides to lend his voice to some of the strong political emotions which are increasingly dominant among the electorate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C++ Software Developer / Image Processing / 3D Visualisation

£45,000 to £55,000: IT Connections Ltd: C++ Software Developer / Image Process...

Java / J2EE Developer / Agile / Linux

£30,000 to £40,000: IT Connections Ltd: Java / J2EE Developer / Agile / Linux ...

Software Development Manager / Java / J2EE

£45,000 to £55,000: IT Connections Ltd: Software Development Manager / Java / ...

Digital Content Manager,Leicester

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Charter Selection: Leading Nationwide and important...

Day In a Page

lowers, candles and other tributes in front of the Netherlands Embassy in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17  

To punish Putin for the MH17 disaster we must boycott Russia 2018

Jack Gilbert
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor