Drowning in ‘clear, blue, water’
Two interesting and insightful pieces today, from my former colleague Phillip Blond and from Platform 10 founder Fiona Melville, each calling on Cameron to steady his course and continue to campaign as what he is – a progressive conservative.
The temptation, as they both observe, is to revert to a core-vote strategy that relies on instinctive Tories turning out; that temptation must be resisted. Of course, at first glance it seems commonsensical that a core-vote strategy will fail (just ask John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard) but whilst it may be flawed it is, at least, comforting. When you preach to the choir you get loud exaltations of approval and agreement, when you reach out you get slated and have your ideological purity questioned. But Cameron isn’t in politics to be hugged to the bosom of familiar friends, he’s in politics to win and you don’t do that without bringing outsiders into your fold.
The most damaging current political narrative for the Tories is, as Fiona points out, one that is partly of their own creation. The very sensible calls for cuts to start soon, so that we can begin repairing the damage of the recession, are all too easily misrepresented as an unseemly zeal for hacking back the state. It is unfair to think of Conservatives enjoying the prospect of austerity but it is a picture that is all too easily painted. This fine example of ‘clear, blue water’ between the parties is being used to drown the chances of a Conservative government. George Osborne is undoubtedly right that the deficit needs to be tackled quickly and forthrightly but his honesty does him no favours with a nervous electorate. Cameron’s instincts – as we saw in his efforts to downplay the ‘swingeing’ nature of potential cuts - may be less direct than his Shadow Chancellor’s but they’re also less scary.
The answer, it would seem, is to follow the advice of both Phillip and Fiona – out with the pessimism and back in with a bit of sunshine. You never know, it might end up evaporating some of that clear, blue water in time for the election.