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David Cameron’s Happy(ish) New Year

Last Updated: Friday, January 10th, 2014

The weather forecast for next week doesn’t mention snow – though this is no guarantee that it won’t come. I write this less to begin a very British conversation about the weather than to draw attention to a political fact.

Snow means more people going to A & E departments, and more people going to A & E departments would almost certainly trigger an “NHS crisis” – by which I mean the front pages of the papers dominated by stories about closed wards and queuing ambulances.

So, then: no A & E crisis, at least to date – one of the three big potential New Year problems that would have haunted David Cameron’s when he sat down on Christmas Day to watch the Sound of Music (or tried to).

Now let’s turn to the second – the suggested arrival of a mass of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants on January 1.  Few turned up.  This may change.  But, so far, an influx has failed to materialise.

This leaves bankers bonuses – the third problem.  I can offer no good news to the Prime Minister on that score.  But if the snow doesn’t come, and neither do droves of Romanians and Bulgarians, he may not mind too much.

This is because Cameron will be looking beyond the daily troubles of Coalition life – such as this week’s toing-and-froing about public spending and pensioner benefits – to the political calendar of the next six months or so.

This is dominated by the spring’s European elections, in which UKIP is likely to do very well – perhaps topping the poll.  The worse the result is for the Conservatives, the more it will rock the Prime Minister’s boat.

He will want that boat settled well before the conference season, when the long election campaign that has already begun will step up another gear.  His opponents, of course, will want to rock it vigorously.

The hysterically-reported setting-up of illegal Roma camps, say, would help to push UKIP’s poll ratings up further before May.  TV pictures of vulnerable patients on hospitals trolleys would be seized on by Miliband to proclaim that “the Tories don’t care about the NHS”.

That neither has happened yet has allowed Cameron to get off to a better start to the New Year than some commentators have grasped.  Over the last year, Labour’s poll lead has come down as the economy has improved.

If the first two of these potential three problems come to nothing, that lead can be expected to shrink further as living standards rise – and the Conservatives will be set up to do badly at the polls this spring, but not disastrously.

This would allow the Prime Minister to rally his Party in time for its conference, doubtless with a summer Cabinet reshuffle that would leave him “with the team we need to fight the election in place.”

Snow and closures may come yet.  But the steady improvement of the economy and Labour’s weaknesses offer Cameron the prospect of leading the largest Party in the next Parliament.  Their absence to date has made its realisation just a little bit more likely.

By Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Sir Andrew Green: The sorry story of the BBC and immigration   “As the only organisation making the case at that time against rising levels of immigration, Migrationwatch is in a unique position to judge what the BBC were up to…This history, Nick Robinsons’ mea culpa, and the extraordinary trailing of his programme “The Truth about Immigration” on Tuesday evening may have led listeners to imagine that a major corrective effort was on its way. If that was ever the intention, it certainly failed.  The programme started with the ridiculous cliché that “we are a nation of immigrants”.  In 1901, only 1.5 percent of the population were foreign-born. In just ten years from 2001 to 2011 the foreign-born population increased by nearly three million, bringing it to 13 percent.  The programme failed to appreciate that this massive acceleration of immigration is what lies at the heart of public concern.” Read more: http://is.gd/GubXon

Brian Monteith: Before Scotland’s referendum, we need to know Cameron’s plan for the whole UK
“It is imperative that Strathclyde, Davidson and Cameron plot a set of proposals that give finality to constitutional debate for more than a generation. The constant chipping away at institutional structures and their imbued British character is as great a threat to the union as the referendum itself and must be brought to an end – otherwise we shall simply have more demands for change within another parliamentary term, and the expectation of a further referendum in the future.  The SNP has already signalled that if it loses on 18 September it will plan for another vote in 2029. A long way off, certainly – but the intent is there and it should be the design of the unionists to slay the nationalist dragon altogether by not only winning the referendum, but also by putting the issue to bed in the minds of the British people by developing a Scottish Constitutional convention that blossoms into a debate and solution for the whole United Kingdom.” Read more: http://is.gd/svAUg6

Mark Wallace: The pressure is on for a Minimum Wage rise – but is it the right thing to do?   “The combination of pressure to address the cost of living and the entirely justified desire to shake off the stereotypes attached to our party may well win the day in Downing Street. If they do, then I fear we will be making a mirror image of the mistake of the 1990s; having over-reacted with excessive alarmism to the idea of a Minimum Wage at all, the Government may be about to swing the pendulum to the other extreme, harming the prospects of jobseekers and the interests of entrepreneurs in order to prove the Conservatives have changed. There may be ways to strike a compromise, satisfying the concerns of those who want a rise while quelling the fears about the harmful impact it might have. When Labour proposed a Living Wage last year, they offered employers a tax cut if they chose to pay it – presumably driven by their own fears about voters’ stereotypes of their party.” Read more: http://is.gd/liSkfL

Andrew Gimson: In praise of Simon Hoggart, a Leftie who understood Tories   “Unlike some journalists, Hoggart had no wish always to think the worst of the people he wrote about. His judgments were tempered with mercy, but were also informed by a conviction that various people were intolerable. He was harsh to the self-important, but understood fallibility…He was a democrat with high standards. He would talk to anyone, but could not tolerate bogusness. His judgments were sometimes wrong, but were not designed to curry favour. He puts me in mind of a passage from the introduction Alan Watkins wrote in 2004 to a new edition of Brief Lives, a collection of portraits of journalists and politicians a bit older than Hoggart: “The representative figures of the age of Wilson and of Macmillan’s England who are depicted here possessed, with some exceptions, a rationality, an optimism and a capacity for the enjoyment of life which their successors do not always, or even usually, exhibit today.” Read more: http://is.gd/zFQ32R

Roger Scruton: What do Conservatives believe?   “Some time ago I got together with Rodney Leach, Gwythian Prins and a few others to discuss the question what exactly do conservatives believe, and how do their beliefs apply in our present context. After a few attempts at drafting a short statement of principles we put the matter on hold for a while. But then, exasperated by the level of debate within the Conservative Party, and by the empty progressivism constantly forced upon David Cameron by Nick Clegg, I composed a manifesto out of the fragments. Here it is. I present it under my own name since only I take responsibility for it. But I acknowledge the great help and inspiration of Rodney Leach and Gwythian Prins, and also other friends with whom I have discussed these issues. A shorter version of the manifesto has already appeared in The Spectator, but this fuller text represents the position that I and many others hold, and which I believe to be the heart of the conservative worldview for us, here, now. I still cherish the hope that something like this position will animate the decisions of some future Conservative government.” Read more: http://is.gd/vGSGZC

By Paul Goodman

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