Tim Montgomerie: The centre ground is not broad enough for victory


At the last general election I found Michael Howard's manifesto unhealthily imbalanced. The former Tory leader offered Britain a thin programme and his campaign spent disproportionate time talking about immigration. At the time I repeatedly blogged in the futile hope that Mr Howard might start championing other causes - the very sort of environmental and socially responsible causes that David Cameron has now put at the heart of his modern, compassionate conservatism.

In his perfectly-pitched speech to Tory delegates yesterday, Mr Cameron talked about "a Britain that is more green". He promised "more family-friendly" policies and identified social justice and global poverty as foundation stones of his "brick-by-brick" rebuilding of the Tory house. I welcome these new emphases. They are essential for the Conservative Party to reconnect with the "Waitrose voters" who don't just shop ethically but vote ethically, too.

The trouble with these early stages of Project Cameron is that the whole programme is in danger of becoming almost as unbalanced as Project Howard. While Michael Howard was all about immigration, David Cameron is all environment. I exaggerate my case, of course, but many of David Cameron's advisers - egged on by too many commentators - argue that the Conservative Party has a choice between the new issues and the old. I think that's a false choice.

It is perfectly possible to combine strict immigration controls with a hard-headed, open-hearted commitment to fight global poverty. Lower taxation and social justice aren't incompatible if a tax-cutting agenda focuses on freeing Britain's poorest workers from the net of income tax. Few policies are as environmentally damaging as the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. David Cameron could please Eurosceptics and green voters if he pledged to retake control of Britain's waters.

Tony Blair attempted to occupy the whole political stage. Some Tory strategists only seem interested in the centre ground and they are leaving David Cameron's right flank dangerously exposed. They have slept through the wake-up call provided by the Bromley by-election and its warning that traditional Tory voters can always choose to stay at home.

In the failure to talk about crime, immigration and tax - alongside the gentler, greener messages - Team Cameron is not reaching the "Morrisons voter". Morrisons voters are largely Midlands and northern-based. Their wage packets are the main victims of uncontrolled immigration. They can least afford Gordon Brown's stealthy taxes. They are more vulnerable to crime and less able to opt-out of failing public services.

In America, Australia and Canada lower income families like Morrisons voters have become central members of the coalitions that have underpinned the recent electoral success of those countries' conservative parties. While many voters have moved leftwards as they have become richer, Bush, Howard and Harper have more than replaced them with appeals to cultural and socially conservative "strivers".

Until David Cameron offers a policy platform as broad as the coalition he needs for a majority, the Conservative Party's opinion poll lead will continue to be modest. The Independent/ConservativeHome.com survey of 1,500 grassroots Tory members shows that 65 per cent believe that the party should have a larger opinion poll lead given Labour's difficulties. An overwhelming majority of members are satisfied with David Cameron's leadership, but many are unhappy with his failure to focus on tax, crime, Europe and immigration.

The A-list is also a source of grassroots unhappiness. Just 6 per cent of members believe that the list of "priority candidates" represents the most talented individuals in the Conservative Party. More than half of members dislike its political correctness. They object to the way it has excluded some of the party's most talented and locally-rooted candidates.

The next election could be very close. Time is still on his side but David Cameron must recognise the narrowness of the current strategy. Adopting a policy platform that makes him more and more like other centre-ground politicians may help him with the voters floating between the main parties, but it will not appeal to the voters floating between voting and not voting at all.

The Conservative Party currently has a leader with the X-factor that is so important in today's politics. With a broader agenda I am still confident that David Cameron can be Britain's next prime minister.

The writer is the editor of ConservativeHome.com

React Now

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

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
One calculation suggests that Isis has recruited more British Muslims than the 600 or so who serve in the British Armed Forces  

Jihadi John and his fellow Isis fighters from the UK are flippant, fanatical... and distinctly British

Boyd Tonkin
8,000 white-clawed crayfish are forecast to perish in the River Allen as a result of the plague  

Errors and Omissions: Plagued by an inappropriate use of a metaphor

Guy Keleny
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape