Leading article: David Cameron needs to reclaim the centre ground

Conservative messages have grown increasingly contradictory

Share
Related Topics

Conservatives will be hoping for one gift above all others this Christmas: a sweeping victory in next year's general election. So is David Cameron, who earlier this month passed his fourth anniversary as the party's leader, poised to deliver for them? The results of our poll today show that doubts remain.

A majority of the public feels that a Conservative government would represent the interests of the well-off, rather than ordinary people. And for all of the present Government's unpopularity, 49 per cent of the population still reject the idea that the Tories represent an appealing alternative. These results add to the impression that, although the public are weary of Labour, they have not yet embraced the Conservatives.

Of course, the Tories' difficulties should not be exaggerated. The frequently made comparison with the run-up to the 1997 general election, when Tony Blair's Labour enjoyed sustained double-digit poll leads, is misleading. That election was a rare instance of popular enthusiasm, not only for a change of government but also the incoming party. Power has changed hands without such a popular mood and there is no reason why it should not do so again next year. The general dissatisfaction with all politicians that springs from the expenses scandal is also a factor. It would be hard to imagine any established political party enjoying 1997-style popularity in the present climate of hostility towards MPs.

But there is, nevertheless, a sense that something is missing from Mr Cameron's leadership. Though he has achieved a formidable feat in transforming his party's position in the polls since becoming leader, in the past year an impression of drift and contradiction has crept in. Mr Cameron's team showed a lack of grip during last autumn's banking collapse. And the Tories' economic policy since then has been one dimensional, focusing exclusively (until relatively recently) on the size of the deficit. There has been headline chasing on social issues too in recent months. The promises of the shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, this weekend to revisit the law on home-owners who assault burglars was an example of the sort of hasty bid for popularity that has become increasingly common from the Tories of late. Mr Cameron's slick team has also looked strangely clumsy at times. The retreat from an unsustainable policy of holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty has antagonised the anti-European Tory grassroots. Expectations were poorly managed.



Image problems



Ironically for a party led by a former public relations executive, the Conservatives have begun to suffer from image problems too. Perceptions of privilege and entitlement swirl around Mr Cameron's team. Labour's recent attempts to reignite the "class war" could be easily dismissed as outdated nonsense, were it not for the fact that one of the Tories' most well-known policies is to scrap inheritance tax for all estates worth less than £1m a year (a move which would benefit some of the wealthiest individuals in the country at a time of economic austerity). The headlines that have surrounded the tax affairs of two prominent Conservatives, Michael Ashcroft and Zac Goldsmith, have also fed the perception that the Tories are a trade union for the rich.

What made Mr Cameron initially seem radically different from his predecessors William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard was his decision to stop talking about those old Tory obsessions of crime, Europe, immigration and tax cuts. Instead, he set reform of the public services at the heart of his agenda.

Mr Cameron's purpose was to improve state schools and hospitals, rather than help the well-off escape to the private sector. Mr Cameron spoke about issues that the Tories have traditionally ignored such as poverty and the environment. In other words, Mr Cameron made a play for the centre ground, where British elections are traditionally won and lost.

That early dynamism is still there. It can be seen in the plans of the shadow Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to free up the schools system. It is in Mr Cameron's proposals to allow the voluntary sector to play a radically expanded role in the provision of public services and yesterday's announcement on hospices. But that reforming message is being obscured by conflicting signals and regressive policies.

This is about more than getting the mood music right; it is about coherence of direction. Over the coming months, there will be siren voices telling Mr Cameron that the job of decontaminating the party's image is done and that the time has come to counter the threat of fringe parties. He would be mad to listen to them. The best present Mr Cameron could give his party this Christmas would be to drag the Conservatives back to the reformist centre.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The law is too hard on sexting teenagers

Memphis Barker
 

Obama must speak out – Americans are worried no one is listening to them

David Usborne
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game