Monday, December 11, 2006

Crunch time for Cameron?

I'd keep an eye on Cameron in the coming months.This is make or break time - and it may be coming faster than expected.

His plan has always appeared to be to spend Year 1 re-positioning the Tory Party away from its "nasty" roots by surprising us all with his 'liberal' acts and comments. That his first interview post-elevation as Tory leader was in The Observer has always struck me as a class move. The year since then has been somewhat haphazard - and occasionally disastrous as when ambused by Douglas Alexander who dubbed his comments on youth crime as "hug a hoodie" - but the implicit promise has always been that we should withhold judgement until his policy commissions began to report.

Well, they are beginning to report. The Tax Commission made various suggestions (£21bn in tax and spendings cuts, no suggestion of green taxes) that the leadership recoiled in horror from. Now Iain Duncan-Smith has delivered his views on poverty in Britain and - behind what probably was not a snear at gay families - there are some familiar themes emerging. Family break-down, growing debt, declining social mobility under Labour even as the sums spent on benefits rise inexorably... Good of the Tories to finally catch on to what has been happening to this country that they used to run.

But the challenge for Cameron is where to raise his policy standard. Is it on a liberal position that will increase the number of disaffected Tories turning to UKIP's "commmon sense" and continue the sniping that he has received from the Daily Mail. Or will it be on traditional Tory ground?

The NuTory answer would presumably be the former, but there must be some concern within the senior echelons of the party over the potential disaffection of the rank and file activists. Blair's great triangulation success included a love / hate relationship with the Labour front line: he would alternatively bate them (to satisfy Murdoch / the Daily Mail) and then throw them nuggets like the ban on fox-hunting. Cameron's biggest effort to deliver to the rank and file: pulling the Conservatives out of the EPP Group in the European Parliament ended in tears. Now we hear almost daily reports of unrest in the shires:

And the press are beginning to tire of the 'Cameron is a darling' storyline. Expect more references to Eton; who knows, even some scandal on one of his inner circle? Opinion polls are inconclusive but trending away from a clear Tory victory. Tony always looked like a winner, hence his party stuck with him almost whatever he did. Cameron may never get the luxury of such treatment.

Policy is the right way to judge Cameron - but this moment is fast approaching. I suspect that there will be far less "I don't know"s about him in six months time. If not, he is in trouble.

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