Leading article: Mr Cameron starts to repair the damage

The Tory leader did well, but public confidence will not return overnight

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron's swift response yesterday to the damning revelations of abuses of the expenses system by a number of his MPs was a demonstration of the Tory leader's political surefootedness. By announcing that members of the Shadow Cabinet will pay back claims which look excessive (and that if Tory backbenchers fail to do the same they will be expelled from the party) Mr Cameron showed that his concern is for action, rather than words.

The Conservative leader also spoke passionately of why it is vital for the Tories, as a party that has been so critical of Labour's wasteful public spending, to set a moral lead on this matter. Mr Cameron knows that, for the country at large, the abuse of expenses is not only about the sums involved, but feeds into broader concerns over the trustworthiness of the entire political class.

But impressive though Mr Cameron's performance was, shoring up public confidence in the probity of the Conservative Party will be a tough and incremental job. None of the mainstream parties has emerged well from the expenses scandal. But the revelations pose a special problem for the Conservatives because of the party's recent image problems. The news that Tory MPs have claimed taxpayers' money to pay for the upkeep of moats, tennis courts and chandeliers is a serious public relations upset for Mr Cameron, threatening to undermine all his work in brand decontamination.

Such details serve to reinforce an old stereotype of the plutocratic Conservative grandee, hopelessly out of touch with the majority of British people, while in possession of a grotesque sense of self-entitlement. They could also undermine the central Conservative argument that, if elected, the party will restore rectitude to the public finances. What chance of that, people might ask, when some Tory MPs regard £1,000 gardening bills for their private estates as an appropriate use of taxpayers' cash?

Of course, for the public to blame Mr Cameron personally for the hypocrisy and greed of some of his backbench MPs would be grossly unfair. Mr Cameron did not choose the Conservative parliamentary party; he inherited it when he won the leadership. And those MPs who have abused the system most egregiously are not part – and were never likely to be part – of his frontbench team. Additionally, Mr Cameron has made commendable efforts to modernise the Conservative Party in recent years, ditching the old vote-losing Tory obsessions over Europe, tax cuts and immigration. And his frontbench's focus on improving Britain's public services, rather than devising ways for the wealthy to bypass them, is welcome too.

In recent years, Mr Cameron has dragged his party back from the unelectable fringes to the centre ground of politics. It would be a travesty if the "lord of the manor" lifestyle of some of his more irrelevant backbench MPs were to distract public attention from that achievement.

The Conservative leader made a fine start yesterday in repairing the damage, underlining his political astuteness. But sceptics will inevitably wonder whether he would have announced quite such resolute reforms of the system if these damning details had not come to light in the way they did. Mr Cameron would probably accept that, for all the progress made in recent years, the job of decontaminating the Conservative brand is still not quite complete.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal  

What is 4Chan? And why does it threaten women like Emma Watson?

Memphis Barker
Chuka Umunna was elected MP for Streatham in 2010  

Could flirty Chuka Umunna be worth a punt for Labour’s top job?

Matthew Norman
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits