Be bolder on policy, activists tell Cameron

But survey of party shows leader's popularity rating at all-time high

Andrew Grice
Saturday 27 September 2008 00:00
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Conservative Party activists want David Cameron to be bolder on policy and have remarkably low expectations of what a government led by him would achieve, according to a survey carried out for The Independent.

The poll of 1,800 Tory members and supporters by the ConservativeHome website on the eve of the party's conference shows that 64 per cent want to see bold policies to give voters a clear idea of how the Tories would fix Britain. Only 36 per cent support the more cautious approach favoured by Mr Cameron.

There is little expectation among grassroots Tories that a Cameron government would transform Britain. Almost half (46 per cent) believe it would start to unpick the harm done by the Brown-Blair years, while 29 per cent think it would not be a revolutionary government but would make many worthwhile changes to Britain.

Only 15 per cent believe it would be a transformational government like Margaret Thatcher's and 10 per cent predict a disappointing one that would change very little.

Despite such doubts, Tory activists are warming to Mr Cameron. A year ago, when his leadership was being questioned, he had a net satisfaction rating of minus 1 per cent, according to ConservativeHome. In a remarkable turnaround, he now has a rating of plus 83 per cent, his highest ever.

However, the Tory leader is not the only darling of the grassroots. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is even more popular: he has a net satisfaction rating of plus 86 per cent.

Caroline Spelman, the Tory chairman, is the least popular member of the Shadow Cabinet in the eyes of party activists. She is being investigated by the Commons anti-sleaze watchdog over claims she paid her family's nanny from public funds. Ms Spelman is the only top Tory with a negative rating.

Eric Pickles, the man tipped to replace her as party chairman, is the fourth most popular senior figure after Mr Johnson, Mr Cameron and William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, and comes ahead of George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor.

Tim Montgomerie, the editor of ConservativeHome, said: "The Conservative Party's grassroots are more satisfied with David Cameron's leadership than at any other time in his leadership but their expectations of a government led by him are limited.

"There's still plenty of time for the Tory leadership to develop radical ideas but the grassroots are probably correct to sense that the party's policies aren't yet equal to the scale of Britain's challenges."

The survey found that 63 per cent of grassroots Tories favour a large reduction in taxation to stimulate the economy, with 22 per cent opposed. But it suggests the clamour for a promise of tax cuts may be fading. Asked how any savings from lower spending should be allocated, Tories said 56 per cent should go on reducing borrowing and 44 per cent on lower taxes. Three in 10 (31 per cent) believe the next government will have to raise taxes but 49 per cent disagree.

Although a majority (53 per cent) of those polled believe Britain's economic problems are related to a "culture of greed" in financial institutions, the Conservatives are wary of imposing much tougher regulation. Some 1,827 members of ConservativeHome's panel of Tory members and supporters responded to its latest survey, which was conducted between 23 and 25 September.

*Labour has closed the gap with the Tories from 15 points to nine, according to an ICM poll for The Guardian. The poll puts the Conservatives down three points on 41 per cent, Labour up three on 32 per cent, while the Liberal Democrats were on 18 per cent.

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