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

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible