When one examines David Cameron’s performance it is clear that seldom has there been such a concerted effort by a politician to go vote chasing by telling people what he thinks they want to hear. But rarely has such an effort been accompanied by such a dogged refusal to listen to people and understand what they really want and what they really think. It is a combination of unappetising qualities that gets treated with contempt by voters – and it is now being translated into falling polling numbers for the Conservatives.
That is not to say a Conservative win will not occur, but it is being made harder as people focus on the next government and doubts about Cameron amplify. The Conservative Party is saddled with a leader who does not carry the people with him. The Cameron project has been so focused on ‘decontaminating’ the party it has ignored what matters to the people its candidates are standing to represent in Parliament. Cameron is still firmly rooted in 2005 and still possessed by a zeal to change the party.
He was completely convinced that what the Conservatives stood for was the problem, so he set about dismantling the core principles of conservatism and focused his efforts of aligning policies closer to those of the party’s opponents. He is still following that strategy today. However the problem was never the policies, it was the people.
Too many Conservative MPs had an unreasonable and selfish sense of entitlement. They did not prioritise the needs and desires of the people they were supposed to represent and they did not understand the social shifts that were taking place in the country. Although these Tories stood on a platform of appropriate and popular policies it was their personalities, combined with an electoral willingness to give Labour more time to deliver what they had promised, that saw them lose the last General Election. This explains why a majority of people supported Conservatives policies presented to them by pollsters, but many rejected them as soon as they were told they were Conservative policies.
Whether by accident, organic change or design, the people within the Conservative Party have changed. They are more socially aware and conscious of the things that matter to people. This was already happening before 2005 and has continued since. Consider the work of Iain Duncan-Smith and a multitude of selfless candidates who are working tirelessly in their constituencies to make a real difference to residents. This was the progress and change needed by the Conservative Party. You know it has happened because voters were prepared to listen to what the Conservatives had to say again. Regardless, this is the kind of comment being uttered in the upper echelons of the Tory hierarchy:
“We are up against a useless prime minister who everyone loathes, including his own cabinet,” one senior figure said. “And yet he is back in serious contention. That really takes some doing.”
Yes it does. And the reason for it is simple. David Cameron’s transformation of the Conservative Party has seen him discard policies that made it a viable alternative to Labour. The Conservative Party under Cameron has ceased to be conservative. As voters have arrived at the conclusion that Labour has failed them and gone in search of an alternative, they have realised that Cameron is not offering one. They now see that Cameron has turned the Conservative Party into Labour-lite in an attempt to win votes and therefore all that’s on offer is more of the same, just with different faces.
One veteran Tory is blunt. “The leadership appear to be concerned that it is slipping away. They have to look confident with bold ideas for the future and our existing policies. But there do not appear to be any grand sweeping ideas for the future. They’re too nervous to propose them.
“We also don’t seem to have the confidence to talk about our existing policies. We never talk about our inheritance tax policy [to raise the threshold to £1m]. If that is our policy we should be ramming it down people’s throats. If we do not do that Labour will ram it down our throats on their terms.”
People will pore over the policies and ask, where is the change, where is the major difference? There is no grand sweeping idea because the ideological differences between the parties have been eroded. Adversarial politics has given way to consensus politics, which does not provide for alternatives. Where there are differences they are on relatively trivial issues, such as the one highlighted, Inheritance Tax. The political battleground has moved from major ideological differences to nuance, and from competence to a beauty contest. Where exactly does this address what people want and what people think?
Cameron is showing he has little to offer that is different. He has hollowed out the party and now has no worthwhile message for a country in a mood for significant and lasting change. That’s why the polling numbers are on the wane. The frustration among grassroots Conservatives is palpable, but the election is too close for them to criticise their leader. The party is conservative but suffers from a leadership that isn’t. If you want evidence of the disconnect, witness it here:
But the Cameron circle insist they have a clear strategy focused relentlessly on change. “The key message is, do people want five more years of Gordon Brown as their leader or do they want a new leader who is energetic?” one source asked.
Energetic, but to what purpose? What about talking to the issues that matter to people, rather than the relentless pursuit of power for its own sake?