Norman Tebbit: Cameron must escape never-never land

We should assume the PM is not a Lib Dem at heart, but we need to know what sort of Conservative he really wants to be

Share

No Prime Minister can start from scratch with a clean sheet of paper and it is David Cameron's misfortune to be, as he described himself, "the heir to Blair". As if that were not bad enough, his Chancellor is the heir to Brown, with a toxic inheritance of debt.

On top of that, Mr Cameron has an inheritance of uncontrolled, unlimited, uncounted immigration, inflated central and local government pay rolls, failed banking regulation, and a limp surrender to Brussels on everything except, thanks to Mr Brown, entry to the eurozone.

Unfortunately he is also heir to his own misconceived election strategy which last year left him without a majority. That led to his decision to enter a coalition with the Liberal Democrats rather than form a minority Conservative administration and defy the Lib/Lab opposition to bring him down and precipitate another election.

That may well be all water under the bridge, but it circumscribes Mr Cameron's present options. Everything has to be negotiated with a party whose roots are in the Europhile wing of the Labour Party rather than Jo Grimond's Liberals. Happily for Mr Cameron, every day that Nick Clegg and the coalitionist Lib Dems remain in the coalition, the more dangerous it becomes for them to walk out and force an election. Whatever the outcome of such an election for the two main parties, it would be disastrous for Mr Clegg and his party unless they had done a deal with Labour, which seems unlikely. Indeed, Mr Clegg may need a deal of some sort with either Mr Cameron or Ed Miliband to be re-elected himself in 2015.

So far, Mr Clegg has skilfully pulled the coalition leftwards into the never-never land of Europhile, green, politically correct, business- bashing, nice windmills and no wicked plastic bags that is inhabited by his activists. With his ally Ken Clarke in the Ministry of Justice, he has had no need to struggle for his agenda there, and his cynical double-cross of Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley, first supporting then opposing NHS reform, has won him some dividends too.

In return, he has accepted the Chancellor's deficit (not debt) reduction strategy, the Duncan Smith plan to heal the open wounds inflicted by welfarism on society, and Michael Gove's efforts to reintroduce education and learning into state schools.

The trouble for the coalition is that there will be a lot of pain before the gains of those policies become apparent. Nor is it likely that doctors, nurses and patients, let alone NHS bureaucrats, will be in the streets singing the praises of the Lansley reforms before polling day 2015. None the less, Mr Cameron has some good cards in his hand. As the window for the Lib Dems to escape safely from the coalition closes, he will become more free to govern as a Conservative and to seek a majority in 2015, while blaming his partners for his failure to do so before now. That is, of course, if he wants to.

It seems only fair to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt and to assume that he is a Conservative rather than a Lib Dem at heart. Unhappily, however, it seems that he, and most of the bright young things who advise him, have fallen for that old canard that elections are won on the middle ground. That was not where Margaret Thatcher won, least of all where she won her third successive election in 1987, on a record and policies that the modernisers regard as toxic.

They fail to understand that any move to the centre moves the centre itself away from one's own ground and towards one's opponent. The art of political positioning is to seek out and possess the common ground on which your own and your opponent's supporters stand. As Ed Miliband in his speech conceded, Mrs Thatcher's council house sales, tax cuts and union reforms were right – that is, they appealed to many Labour voters, but not Labour activists. They were on the centre ground. Indeed, Ed Miliband tiptoed on to the home ground of "right-wing extremists" with his words about immigration and welfare scroungers because that is where his lost voters are encamped.

The strategy for Mr Cameron should then be clear. He should be open with both his party and the country, making plain what he would have liked to have done had his loveless partnership with the Lib Dems allowed him to do so. He should say that left to himself he would not have let a penny of British taxpayers money go to delaying and worsening the inevitable disaster in the eurozone, nor would he have agreed to further EU intrusion into our employment laws. He should add that he would have repealed the Human Rights Act long ago and if the European Court of Human Rights persists in interfering with our right to decide who may enter and stay in our country, or whether British criminals in British prisons should have the right to vote, he would press his coalition partners to agree to leave the Convention on Human Rights too. All that, the Prime Minister should explain, is part of the cost of coalition and remind the conference (and of course Lib Dem activists) that Mr Clegg and the Lib Dem coalitionists have also had to concede much that was dear to them, not least, on university fees.

All conference speeches and all appeals to the country need to be forward-looking, but have their feet on the ground. It was the 1986 party conference theme The Next Steps Forward that propelled the party into a lead in the polls which was held until polling day 1987. The Prime Minister's speech this week should set out the programme for a majority Conservative government. We, Tory activists and the electorate alike, want to know what sort of Conservative Mr Cameron really wants to be.

He has Ukip to the right and Lib-Lab on his left. He needs to set his feet on that common ground which appeals all the way from Ukip to Labour voters and build on it a conservative agenda, or he may never secure a majority at all.

Lord Tebbit is a former chairman of the Conservative Party

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire, Britain’s largest Immigration Removal Centre  

Thanks to Channel 4 we now see just how appallingly Yarl’s Wood detention centre shames Britain

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
 

If I were Prime Minister: I’d ensure ministers took mental health in the armed forces as seriously as they take physical wounds

James Jones
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003