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Cameron Wants Newark To Be His Springboard

Last Updated: Friday, June 6th, 2014

2014’s political calendar is marked by three danger points for David Cameron (that we know of).

The first was the European elections, when some feared that Conservative MPs would panic in the face of a UKIP victory. The second was the Newark by-election, when a defeat in this ultra-safe seat would have marked the start of a summer of discontent on the Tory benches.  The third, of course, is the Scottish independence referendum, when the country may be torn in two.

Each event could potentially derail the wider positive story that the Prime Minister seeks to tell. He doesn’t want to be explaining poor electoral performances or learning to live with a poisonous reputation as the man who lost the Union. He wants to be talking about growth, new jobs, the shrinking deficit and the now-famous “Long Term Economic Plan”.

Fortunately, UKIP’s strong showing in the Euros was long-expected, so most people took it in their stride. The local election vote held up better than feared, too, helping to steady the party’s collective nerves.

As it turned out, last night’s by-election result was much better than Downing Street had hoped. Robert Jenrick survived the harm done to the local Conservative brand by his predecessor, a monumental boots on the ground campaign delivered a majority of over 7,000 and UKIP’s much-vaunted challenge fell short.

It was the best possible way for the Conservatives to end the parliamentary term. Farage’s “earthquake” has softened, and Tory strategists believe they have finally found some messages that work against the purple peril. New projects to recruit and deploy grassroots activists appear to be bearing some fruit.

As a result, Mr Cameron will rest a little easier on his summer holiday beach towel, knowing that his MPs are much less likely to be causing a ruckus back home.

The nation, of course, swiftly forgets by-elections. Aside from the poll’s importance to the people of Newark, it chiefly mattered in terms of the Conservative Party’s internal mood. If the Prime Minister’s public mission is to persuade the nation that the economy is improving, his private mission is to persuade his party that they will see the benefits at the ballot box.

Scotland could still upset his apple cart – or some unexpected calamity could easily do so instead. For that reason, Cameron hopes to convert last night’s success into a wider sense of Tory optimism – the more of the warm feeling that he can harness, the better insulated he will be should anything go wrong further down the track.

P.S. On a separate note, it’s been remarkable to see the growing influence of the ConservativeHome survey of party members this week. The finding that Theresa May has opened a clear lead over Boris Johnson in the running to be the next party leader formed the backdrop to her very public row with Michael Gove. It will be interesting to see next month whether the dispute has affected her standing.

By Mark Wallace



Paul Goodman: May and Gove should snog and make up  One Minister likes to range outside his department. The other doesn’t want anyone meddling in hers. It is a recipe for trouble.  The two have clashed in meetings, on this matter and others: the Education Minister rebuked his colleague after she set out a future leadership prospectus to last year’s ConservativeHome conference.  What seems to have happened on Monday is that Gove made some remarks at a lunch at the Times about past problems.’ Read more:

Mark Wallace: How we won Newark  ‘Ultimately, it was a grassroots effort that the other parties failed to match – made all the more remarkable that it came immediately after most people had spent weeks fighting local and European elections. As well as the failure of the much-tweeted, oft-repeated “Labour Doorstep”, those on the ground report a surprisingly sparse showing of UKIP activists.’ Read more:

Jaber Jabbour: Is it racist to give Europeans open-door immigration rights?  ‘Throughout history, a key reason behind Britain’s success has been our ability to trade and do business with people from all backgrounds, regardless of whether they are European or not.  In the 21st century, it has become more important for us to keep doing so. Shifting to a nationality-independent immigration policy would send the right message to everyone in the world.’ Read more:

Mark Wallace: The Queen’s Speech: What should be in but isn’t? What will be in but shouldn’t be? ‘Testing tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech by the number of Bills is the wrong way to go about it. Instead we should be asking whether the proposals it contains are good ones – and whether it is missing anything that ought to be in there.’ Read more:

Paul Goodman: Party members’ response to last week’s elections is to oppose a UKIP pact more than ever before  ‘In short, the more many party members see of UKIP, the less they like it – let alone want to arrange a pact with it.  Campaigning against it in the European and local elections will have hardened this view.  Some on the centre-right want a pact with UKIP now.  Others seem to be against a deal with any part of that party at any time, and to despise its voters.  Both are wrong.’ Read more:

Brian Monteith: Canny Cameron now owns devolution – leaving Labour far behind   ‘Conservatives proposing that the Scottish Parliament set the income tax bands and rates for all personal tax in Scotland except investments, dividends and savings is a seminal moment in Scottish and UK politics, because the party has been bitterly divided on the issue since the 1980s, when the proposals was first published by Struan Stevenson.’ Read more:

Andrew Gimson: Why the Conservatives and the Alternative für Deutschland should join forces  ‘Learned German professors warned Helmut Kohl that the euro would not work. I used to read their agonised protests in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Kohl ignored the professors, drove through the single currency and has left his successors with the unenviable task of preserving it.  But the professors have not gone away.’ Read more:

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