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

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor