Tim Montgomerie: Don't mistake grumbles for rebellion... the Tories now love their leader

Protests from unions will only endear Cameron to Tory members who see him as 'their man' in the battle for the economy
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The Independent Online

It's easy to find signs of unhappiness among Tory activists. They are frustrated, for example, that David Cameron didn't win the general election outright. A massive 88 per cent think he should have beaten Gordon Brown by a large-enough margin to win a majority of his own.

The majority of members are unhappy at compromises with the Liberal Democrats on Europe, the Human Rights Act, Trident and taxation. It would be wrong, however, to miss the wood for the trees. Despite the specific disappointments, Tory members are very supportive of their government's overall mission and, in particular, its focus on reducing the deficit.

Although 60 per cent of Tory members agreed with the proposition that "Cameron is giving the Liberal Democrats too many concessions", three-quarters said that they would be content if the Coalition fixes Britain's economy. "Anything else," they agreed, would be "a bonus".

For most Conservatives this is a time of national emergency. Interest payments on the national debt are equivalent to spending on schools. If the deficit isn't eliminated the higher tax burden and higher interest rates will make it almost impossible for British businesses to compete in the world.

The latest ConservativeHome survey of Tory members also finds that 90 per cent are satisfied with Cameron's performance. Just 8 per cent are dissatisfied. This is the first time that the Tory leader has been the most popular member of his team since he succeeded Michael Howard five years ago. In more than 50 surveys of grass-roots opinion, William Hague had always been more popular.

Belatedly, Tory members have taken to the man they first embraced in 2005. On the road to Downing Street his programme of changing the Conservative Party often confused them. His opposition to new grammar schools. His reluctance to cut taxes. His obsession with climate change. Now, in Downing Street, Cameron looks like a natural Prime Minister to 91 per cent of grass-roots activists. The caution has gone and there is more balance to his programme. He may not possess a handbag but there is something Thatcherite about the first new Conservative government since 1979. He is reforming on every front. Schools. Healthcare. Policing. And, most importantly, welfare.

Cameron enjoys a good base within his party for the tough times that lie ahead. Protests from unions and public sector workers may only endear Cameron to Tory members as they increasingly see him as "their man" in the battle for the British economy. Nonetheless, such is the volatility of public opinion that I expect Labour to be enjoying double-digit leads by early next year. Ed Miliband will kid himself, however, if he confuses a protest vote against the Government for a positive endorsement of him.

Cameron and Nick Clegg must govern as if they don't care about mid-term polls. If they aren't always looking over their shoulder, their fast-travelling Government might achieve more in one term than a poll-obsessed Tony Blair did with three election victories. And with a track record of reform, they might also find that voters are more likely to re-elect them.

Tim Montgomerie is Editor of ConservativeHome.com

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