The Sketch: Are the Conservatives trying to bore us into liking them?

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The Independent Online

Their great endeavour is to persuade the electorate that they are interested in the poor - and not as a cheap source of food. It's a long, repetitive process of nothing in particular, but a series of benign assertions like: "I've been underneath the arches and oh, there are people there living like you wouldn't believe."

Poverty is morally wrong, they will tell us. I hope they make a more convincing job of building the case than they did with the moral case for low taxation. They've come a long way in the last 18 months, I suppose, but dear oh dear, they hardly seem to have started.

Look: Oliver put a rhetorical question to us: "Should the state take on the responsibility of trying to do something about people living in poverty, or should we just say 'Sorry! Bye bye!' " He made a flurried gesture and said: "I just don't think we can say that!" He made it sound like a radical, innovative, outside-the-box, walk-the-walk idea that would bring a whole new energy to the debate.

"If we can persuade people THAT we want this rather than HOW we get it, we will have succeeded," he said.

But voters will not be bored into believing Tories are benign. A strategy based on "Trust me, I won't hurt you" only works if people already believe you won't hurt them. And these seductive assertions have the same pulling power of: "Come here, little boy. I've got some sweeties in my pocket. Do you dare to take them out?"

No, David Cameron has to make a brilliant speech crafted to produce a Daily Mail front page: THATCHER WAS WRONG - TORY LEADER'S BETRAYAL! The speech can explain that Mrs T did what was necessary in desperate times but: a) Tories recognise that these following negative consequences flowed (itemised in detail); and b) Tories would never do it like that again.

That's the Clause IV event. It will be painful. It has to be painful. Pieties about poverty cost nothing. But if it isn't hurting, it isn't working (old Tory proposition).

Mr Letwin said one thing that made me laugh: "In 18 months we'll be in a much better position." That's optimism in its purest form. The day they release their policy may be the very day Gordon Brown calls the election.