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The Prime Minister’s Lack Of Policy Direction Is Unsettling His Party

Last Updated: Friday, November 29th, 2013

What is David Cameron’s strategy?

It’s somewhat troubling that this is a valid question to ask. A Prime Minister’s strategy ought to be instinctively clear to any observer.

It doesn’t need to be a sheet of paper for all to see, nor does it need to be explained on Newsnight. It ought to be instinctively identifiable from his actions.

People knew that Margaret Thatcher was out to make Britain great again. People knew that Tony Blair was about a new age of reform. Or at least they knew that’s what they would say about themselves.

Cameron, on the other hand, cannot be summed up in a single sentence.

Perhaps he once could, before the financial crisis when the focus was on detoxifying the Conservative Party. But events pulled the rug from beneath his pledge to match Labour’s spending plans, forced him to focus on economic matters rather than the social issues on which he had laid so much groundwork, and are now demolishing his “Vote Blue, Go Green” commitment to environmental issues.

He has been unfortunate in the scale and timing of those events, but time waits for no politician. If circumstances change in a way that makes your previous position untenable or less relevant, the wise thing to do is to adapt.

But instead of pivoting to a new focus, many Conservatives are now concerned that the Prime Minister is still swinging in various directions.

Several events in the last fortnight have fuelled that concern.

What rhyme or reason is there to denouncing Miliband’s energy freeze as a “con”, while the Government reportedly asks energy firms to voluntarily implement it?

Where is the consistency between criticising the fixing of energy prices and embracing the fixing of payday loans? It’s a deeply confused message which says the former is Marxist folly but the latter is consistent with free market principles.

Why would anyone suddenly decide to go ahead with plain cigarette packaging, months after refusing to do so in the face of allegations that the Government’s view is skewed by Lynton Crosby’s commercial interests? Returning to an issue most people have forgotten suggests a strange set of priorities.

The strategic problem is not whether these individual policy decisions are correct, it is that there is no coherent thread of identity running through them.

In a battle over who voters see as having their best interests at heart, what are they expected to conclude from such a record? Without a clear, coherent pitch to the electorate, Cameron will be in trouble.

This worries Conservative activists and MPs for obvious reasons. But it also frustrates them.

One cause of the problematic relationship between the leadership and the Parliamentary Party is the embarrassment caused to MPs who loyally defend a policy, only to see it abandoned a few days later.

Such events chip away at confidence in the leadership, and reduce the pool of MPs who are willing to stick their necks out to support the party line in public, all of which erodes the effectiveness of the Conservative campaigning machine.

The same happens on a local level – I know of a number of Conservative council groups who have rebuffed attempts by their Labour opponents to push through motions in favour of capping payday loan prices, for example. Will they take such flak in future to support the party’s position when the leadership might simply change its mind again?

The most common complaint about Cameron’s strategy used to be that it wasn’t conservative enough. Now some are starting to fear that the problem is much worse: perhaps he doesn’t have one.

By Mark Wallace

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Andrew Gimson: A quarter of the Tories’ new women MPs could stand down in 2015 “Even the most extreme conscientiousness often goes unnoticed or at least unthanked by the public. Many MPs feel themselves assailed by a continuous barrage of insults: they are abused by people who are convinced that to be an MP is to be a lazy and corrupt parasite, devoid of any sense of public service and motivated only by greed for money and power. Women MPs get a particular kind of unpleasantness directed at them via social media.” http://is.gd/vrfGtk

Sir Andrew Green: Europe hovers above the immigration debate “In the short term, the motivation and training of young British workers combined with enforcement of the minimum wage and fair practices in recruiting should help.  Even so, there is little doubting that, in the forthcoming elections, immigration and our continued membership of the EU will become ever more inextricably linked.” http://is.gd/dbiEfN

Mark Wallace: Grammar schools offer Boris another Goldilocks moment “The speech covered a range of issues, from housing and transport to preserving the union, but it paid particular attention to selective education. It was a clever choice. Mrs Thatcher was a grammar school girl (though she closed plenty of them in her time, as Boris conceded), so it was on-topic, and the Coalition is rather vulnerable on the issue.” http://is.gd/nWIKkb

Charlotte Leslie MP: As false victims tread their Dance of Denial, don’t let it distract you from the real ones “She was 92. She’d had a good innings. She was impossibly frail; her six-stone frame was armchair- bound and by her own heart-rending proclamations, was not enjoying living.  But it’s still a shock when someone who has been seminal to your life ceases to exist.  She died last week. What this woman taught me was so valuable; not only about the Irish Catholicism of her generation, but what real vulnerability means.” http://is.gd/fmNJpa

Paul Goodman: Three reasons for the Conservatives to be careful with their Co-op campaigning “For many Tories, it is emotionally gratifying to see Downing Street and CCHQ hitting back after years of personal campaigning against our leaders. But the Conservatives have reasons to be careful over the Co-op – three of them, in fact.  The first is that a lot of people’s fingerprints can be found on the institution’s troubles – Labour’s, the Methodist Church’s, Bradford Council’s, the City Regulator’s charities…and, yes, the Treasury’s.” http://is.gd/PcBYkN

Peter Tatchell: Putting up with a degree of annoyance is the price we pay for liberty “The Government wants to replace Anti Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) with the innocuous-sounding Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs). Their aim is laudable: to protect the public. Sadly, a side effect of these IPNAs will be to have a chilling effect on people’s ability to campaign and cause a fuss about issues that they hold dear.” http://is.gd/vynf5H

Mark Wallace: The march of time has outpaced the Tory modernizers “2001 was the crucial psychological moment for those of a modernising bent. Look at where the key figures of modernisation were at that time: as candidates, CCHQ advisers, pollsters, they were in the election trenches being endlessly shelled and machine-gunned. Small wonder that it has made such a deep impression on them.” http://is.gd/KjLsbE

 

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