Editorial: Don't heed the right's siren song, Mr Cameron

Share
Related Topics

The Eastleigh by-election result prompted a slew of predictable reactions. The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, sounded amazed to be celebrating a victory. Nigel Farage insisted the UK Independence Party (Ukip) was about much more than Europe. And with Labour making no headway on its general election showing, Ed Miliband admitted he had more work to do.

David Cameron's response was less predictable – in words at least. With his party's candidate outpolled both by the Liberal Democrats and by Ukip, the Conservative leader was bombarded with exhortations to turn right. To his credit, Mr Cameron rebuffed them. In an article for The Sunday Telegraph – house newspaper of the Tory shires – the Prime Minister chose a more statesmanlike course. "The battle for Britain's future," he said, would not be won "in lurching to the right", nor by what he called "lowest common denominator politics".

He seemed to be saying that he would not be panicked into a right turn just because more by-election voters had plumped for a party further to the right than the Conservatives. In one way, that showed as much pragmatism as wisdom. Although Mr Cameron is Prime Minister and his party is the senior partner in the Coalition, he is still in coalition. He cannot operate as though the Conservatives have an overall majority; that option was expressly excluded by the voters in 2010 and reinforced last week by the result at Eastleigh. Mr Cameron must respect that reality.

How politically wise his calculation will prove depends in part on whether Ukip's surge amounts to more than an ephemeral protest vote and in part on how well Liberal Democrat support holds up. The Conservatives may well have to fight the next general election on both flanks; Mr Cameron cannot afford to sacrifice one or other at this stage.

By accident or design, though, the Prime Minister was not the only Conservative to take to the metaphorical hustings this weekend. Even as voters went to the polls in Eastleigh, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, was claiming credit for a sharp fall in net migration. On Saturday, the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, made headlines, warning that the military could bear no more cuts and that any further economies should fall on welfare.

Then yesterday the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, harrumphed on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show about the need to tighten benefit conditions for new migrants, while the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, suggested that a Conservative government would sever ties with the European Court of Human Rights. Suddenly, many long-standing gripes of the party's right were being given an airing.

What was unclear was whether this was a matter of senior ministers sensing which way the political wind was blowing and readying themselves, perhaps, to take on Mr Cameron, or whether it represented an evolving strategy that would allow the Prime Minister to take the moral high ground, while delegating the street fighting to willing ministers. Either way, the signals came across as mixed. Communication used to be one of Mr Cameron's strongest suits. To carry conviction, though, the deeds have to match the words.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: We Are Not Syriza; and the riddle of an imitation Sphinx in China

John Rentoul
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable