Michael Brown: Vindication for new leader's assault on Tory traditions

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The results have yielded evidence of serious progress after only five months of Mr Cameron's leadership. The unexpected gain of councils such as Ealing and Harrow, as well as the expected capture of Hammersmith and Fulham, Bexley and Croydon, means the Tory leader can legitimately claim to have exceeded both his party's and the pundits' expectations.

Several of the London boroughs actually yielded spectacular advances and there was clear evidence that Labour voters were making straight switches to the Tories.

The gains elsewhere in the South, notably in Crawley and Hastings, as well as Coventry in the West Midlands, all point to further excellent progress. The Tories' national share of the vote was 40 per cent and enabled the party's campaign headquarters to claim fairly to have met the top end of expectations.

Mr Cameron's Notting Hill brand of compassionate Conservatism clearly goes down well in the South and he will feel under absolutely no pressure from backbenchers to express occasional private reservations about his emphasis on green issues.

So there will be a firm determination to continue with the agenda set out by the new leader when he was first elected last December. There will therefore be no attempt from any quarter inside the Tory party to challenge the strategy.

Even if the results had not been as good as they were, Mr Cameron would have still continued with the strategy. In some respects, one or two of his most enthusiastic supporters would have actually relished public criticism of his strategy so they create an internal party row to enable Mr Cameron to be seen to be "taking on" the dinosaurs.

But election victories are far sweeter than some convoluted case for stirring up internal strife just to show the rest of us how "modern" the new Tory leader is compared to the dyed-in-the-wool, blue-rinse, hang-'em, flog-'em brigade of yesteryear.

Of course, winning some boroughs, such as Bexley, Hammersmith and Fulham and Croydon merely mirrors the parliamentary gains already made in these areas at last year's general election, when Michael Howard was party leader. In a sense, these advances have already been banked.

The Tories were wisely being careful not to exaggerate the council gains, and Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude deserve credit for the responsible way they portrayed the results. Both were making it clear the wins were necessary staging posts on a still-long road to recovery and victory.

Neither is under any illusion about the mountain that still has to be climbed and both recognise the party still has to demonstrate its new appeal to the North and large cities outside London. Much was made by Labour and the Liberal Democrats of the Tory failure to gain even a single seat in Manchester after so much investment in specific wards. But, given that Mr Cameron's first task in these cities is to rebuild and repair a party infrastructure that has been in a poor state of repair for more than 20 years, it is not realistic to expect immediate gains at this stage.

The drama surrounding Mr Blair's reshuffle is a compliment to the Tory leader's success. The reshuffle may have temporarily dominated the headlines, obscuring Tory gains and Labour loses, but the force could still be with Mr Cameron, rather than with the Prime Minister.

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