Leading article: Mr Cameron starts to repair the damage

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

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

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Broker

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Vehicle Broker is req...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Data Capture / Telesales

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Front Of House Team Member

£16500 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific