Leading article: Cameron can't just rely on mood music

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The Independent Online

After an initial surge in support, the party is again flat-lining in the polls, sometimes running neck and neck with Labour on around 35 per cent but never advancing into a big lead. The party has gained a few celebrity endorsements from the likes of Jeanette Winterson; it has also put on a few thousand more members, though not nearly enough to transform its overall profile. No wonder we can hear the sound of knives being sharpened in corners, as party grandees' talk of "concern" with Mr Cameron's performance fills the air. Mr Cameron's great problem is that the public's disillusion with Tony Blair has yet to rub off on the Government as a whole. That may change if, as seems likely, the high-street recession gets worse, and jobs begin to disappear in large numbers. But for the moment the public still sees Labour as a fairly competent team. Ministers have not faced the equivalent of the Tories' Black Wednesday moment in 1992, when public trust in the Government's basic management skills virtually disintegrated overnight.

This makes the mountain all the harder for Mr Cameron to climb. He has not only to persuade the public that the Conservatives are not the nasty party they might think they are. He has to make them positively want to choose the Conservatives over a Labour Government in which many people still grudgingly repose their trust.

What the tepid reaction to the Manchester conference showed is that merely putting on a fresh face is not enough. Nor is simply mouthing the word "change", when no one seems to know precisely what change is in store. Where are the policies on the big issues such as the health service, pensions, tax, schools and crime, which are going to give people a positive incentive to choose Mr Cameron over Mr Blair, or, rather, over Mr Blair's presumed heir, Gordon Brown? They have yet to be seen.

Some say he is right to keep his counsel and not be pushed into making premature commitments. That advice may have been fair enough in the early days of his leadership, but now that Mr Cameron has been in charge of the party for four months, doubts are surfacing as to whether he has anything up his sleeve at all. It is time he stopped trying to soothe us with "mood music" and gave us something more significant to listen to.