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

Share

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

DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

£4800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: A full time...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

SENCO

£21000 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: SENCO - Benfleet - J...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you looking to work in Edu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tory whips have warned the Prime Minister that he could face a Tory revolt over the European arrest warrant  

A bizarre front for the Tories’ campaign against Europe

Nigel Morris
 

Daily catch-up: EU news, and other reasons to be cheerful

John Rentoul
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker