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Back To Earth After The Veto

Last Updated: Friday, January 6th, 2012

Have you taken your decorations down? It’s twelfth night. Christmas is over. It’s wet, windy, cold and we’ve all headed back to work. The joy of the Christmas break becomes the January of credit card bills. I’ll stop there before I depress you further!

My laboured point is that, despite Cameron’s very upbeat new year message, it’s something like twelfth night for the Conservative Party too. Before the veto Cameron’s leadership was in trouble. Not existential trouble but a large proportion of his party was unhappy with the lack of boldness on issues like economic growth and Europe. Every right-wing paper was unhappy. Then Eurosceptics got an early Christmas gift with the veto. Cameron’s opinion poll ratings improved. The Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Express swooned. The party came together.

But perhaps we got carried away.

The big event of 2011 wasn’t the veto (and here I contradict a vote of ConservativeHome readers) but the rebellion of the 81 Tory MPs. That was the act that forced Cameron to be more Eurosceptic than he would have chosen to have been. More than that it was a powerful sign of the deep Euroscepticism of today’s parliamentary Conservative Party. 81 MPs rebelled on the referendum issue but a similar percentage of Tory MPs agreed with them. At alcohol-fuelled parties in the run up to Christmas there was a lot of mutual back-slapping: ‘Without our rebellion he would never have done what he did’. That sort of thing. Tory MPs have concluded that rebelliousness works.

Those same rebels are now getting a little anxious. There will be no reversal of the EU veto but Cameron still seems unable to explain what he has prevented. On the Today programme this morning the PM was very unclear as to whether he’ll even stop the EU17+ Group using EU institutions. Perhaps Nick Clegg won’t let him? He hasn’t done what William Hague advised him to do and give a Eurosceptic speech that sets out his vision of Europe that he would like to pursue once he’s no longer limited by the Coalition. This speech promising jam tomorrow is the only way Cameron can buy time and square the circle of not being able to do much now – in Coalition – but meeting his party’s hunger for something radical at some point.

STEVE HILTON’S ROSY SCENARIO

In the first week of the new year we’ve seen Steve Hilton’s influence very evident. Cameron’s first big act has been today’s review into nursing care of the elderly. NHS. Tick. The most reliable voting group in the electorate. Tick. There was a 2005 let-sunshine-win-the-day feel to the new year message. Britain must “go for it” in 2012, we were told and the Government is excited about using the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee to re-present Britain to the world. Big events are planned for the world’s leading businesses on the margins of the London games. Powerful visiting businessmen will be treated like royalty – whisked between sporting events and VIP introductions to investment opportunities in the UK. The Government is hopeful that inflation will moderate in 2012 and growth will pick up. Developments in the Eurozone may well thwart all of this but it remains, it seems, the Government’s rosy, if not bankable, scenario.

TWO KEY TESTS FOR CAMERON IN 2012

I’ll be judging the PM on two key criteria in 2012.

The first is economic reform. I won’t talk about this now because it’s been the subject of so many of these Letters. But the Government has a deficit reduction strategy but still no supply-side programme of the kind that the Iron Lady would approve of. The school and welfare reforms will be very good for the UK economy in 2015, 2020 and 2025 but they are not emergency reforms. Osborne’s budgets have something of a Gordon Brown feel to them at the moment. They seem good at the time but credit easing and the infrastructure funds have looked less significant as time once we’ve all had time to look at the small print.

The second of my criteria is compassionate conservatism. One of the few but significant successes of the Liberal Democrats is to have persuaded large numbers of people that it’s their involvement in the Coalition that explains why this is not a Thatcherite, baby-eating, children-cleaning-chimneys administration. This Clegg victory could be fatal to the Tories’ chances at the next election of winning over floating voters in urban Britain, in Scotland and among ethnic minorities. In 2012 Cameron needs to take ownership of the compassionate agenda. His speech at last October’s party conference showed he understood the challenge but he needs a strategy, not just a speech.

By Tim Montgomerie

  

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK FROM CONSERVATIVEHOME

PAUL GOODMAN LISTS THE NEW TORY MPs WHO ARE JUSTIFIED IN HOPING FOR PROMOTION: http://conho.me/v6XsEd

 AN OVERVIEW OF CAMERON’S INNER TEAM FROM BRUCE ANDERSON (ALBEIT VERY POSITIVE): http://conho.me/x8cNIK

CAMERON’S FORMER HEAD OF POLICY HAS JOINED POLICY EXCHANGE TO WORK ON EDUCATION: http://conho.me/wmGGhc

WHERE WE ARE WITH PUBLIC OPINION. HANDY REVIEW FROM STEPHAN SHAKESPEARE: http://conho.me/vfWzTN

TORY MEMBERS ARE TOO COMPLACENT ABOUT BORIS JOHNSON BEATING KEN LIVINGSTONE: http://conho.me/v3h7aO

FREE WIFI ACROSS WESTMINSTER AND K&C COUNCILS: “News of an exciting deal between O2 and two neighbouring councils – Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea – to provide free Wi-Fi across the boroughs. Just the sort of project to help get the economy growing. It means that Europe’s largest free Wi-Fi zone will be established in time for the Olympics. Wi-Fi access points will be installed in street furniture, initially to a small number of areas but eventually will entirely cover both boroughs. No cost is being incurred by the Council Taxpayer or central Government. Yet I suspect it will do more for economic regeneration that endless bureaucratic state schemes.” More via http://conho.me/xlYRug

EUROSCEPTICS RESUME DEMANDS OF CAMERON. THIS FROM JOHN BARON MP: “When he returned from the Brussels summit, the Prime Minister knew he had his Party and the country behind him. What both now need in return is a strong sense of direction. The Prime Minister has made it clear what he does not want for Britain, but he must clearly articulate the corollary of what he does want. This will give politicians and officials – on both sides of the Channel – an indication of where Britain wishes to position herself in Europe, and how the British Government intends to get us there. Having a map always makes it easier to plot your way out of a storm.” http://conho.me/wraXwl

THE CENTRE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE OFFERED TWELVE COST-FREE IDEAS TO FIGHT POVERTY: http://conho.me/yiNKRR

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