Leading article: Mr Cameron's task is still only just beginning

Share

The Conservatives have opened their conference in Bournemouth in better shape than looked possible a year ago. By some considerable margin, David Cameron is proving a more successful leader compared with his recent predecessors. The Tories have been ahead in the polls for several months now, a significant achievement for a new leader of a party that had been trailing Labour for more than a decade.

There is still, of course, scepticism. Mr Cameron is seen as being a leader of considerable style, but the jury remains out on the issue of substance. The argument is that we know something of his values, but little of how he would translate these into action. Thus, his critics urge the leadership to unveil a more detailed policy programme this week.

But such impatience ignores the rhythms of the electoral cycle. The next election is probably two-and-a-half years away. There is no need to announce detailed policies now. If he were to do so the same critics would be attacking Mr Cameron for having nothing new to say in a year's time. At this relatively early stage in a parliament an opposition party must set out its broader values. The detailed policies can wait.

In terms of those broader values, the shift of emphasis in the Tory party has been largely positive. Mr Cameron's insistence in an upbeat speech yesterday and in interviews that tax cuts were not a priority, is eminently sensible. The recent speech on foreign policy in which he warned against slavish loyalty to the US was also politically astute and a reminder that British foreign policy can be subtler than an echo of President Bush.

In both cases, though, the apparent re-balancing of Conservative principles gives Mr Cameron the space to support tax cuts in the future and the war against Iraq now. This is a more justified cause for scepticism. As Mrs Thatcher's former spin doctor Tim Bell has noted, Mr Cameron gives the impression of change whereas it is arguable that little of substance has changed at all. Even when Mr Cameron highlights values rather than policies there are contradictions that suggest he is not clear how far he wants to change. He puts a welcome emphasis on the environment and yet his euroscepticism would prevent him making substantial progress on green issues that require international co-operation.

The more important questions revolve around the party that Mr Cameron is nudging towards the centre ground. The survey of party members in today's Independent suggests that many want a more overtly right wing set of policies. In recent weeks, leading figures in his party have called for big tax cuts. On Europe, even some of those who are pragmatic eurosceptics oppose Mr Cameron's pledge to pull out of the centre-right parliamentary group in Brussels, the EPP. The fissures are clearly visible still.

This remains Mr Cameron's biggest challenge: how to reconcile a right-wing party with a more centrist leadership and nation. If mild tensions between the leader and party are surfacing now, how much greater will they be when the party debates the outcome of the policy review next year? If a party cannot unite over broad principles it is not going to be able to do so when it ventures on to the more thorny terrain of policy making.

None of these challenges and tensions should be surprising. A party cannot change in the space of a year; it took Labour nearly two decades, after all. Mr Cameron is proving to be an imaginatively innovative leader who, as he pointed out in his speech yesterday, has already wrong-footed more experienced opponents. He has achieved a huge amount in his first year in charge. But he still has a daunting political mountain to climb.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: heatwave update; duck tape and market socialism

John Rentoul
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
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