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Are these the chinks in Cameron’s armour?

August 25th, 2006

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    The Tory leader’s strengths and weaknesses – Part 2

Following yesterday’s post on Cameron’s strengths today I look at some of the factors that are going to make David Cameron’s task that much harder.

1. The Shadow of Mrs Thatcher. For Cameron this is a double whammy. On one hand there are large sections of the electorate who might warm to the him but would never vote Tory because of continuing hostility caused by the Thatcher years. On the other hand there are those within the Tory fold who find it hard to support a leader who is not in Maggie’s image. To them the argument is simple – in the 80s the Tories enjoyed huge electoral success by following a particular policy agenda so what Cameron should be doing is to follow what she did and the voters will return.

Because unlike Labour, when the “glory days” were in the 1940s, the Thatcherite Tory view is very much in the living memory of Cameron’s critics within his party. It’s for this reason that changing the Tories is a bigger challenge than NuLab had. If Cameron pushes his party too far then there is the danger of public splits.

With NuLab, as well, there was always the belief that “Blair is just doing this to get elected and it will all be different once we are in power”. Cameron does not have that luxury.

2. ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie. The site, run by Iain Duncan Smith’s former aide, has developed into a vehicle for internal opposition to the leadership. Non-Tory visitors are constantly amused by the delight that appears when things go wrong for Cameron. Mongomerie is rapidly taking the role that Arthur Scargill adopted in the early days of NuLab. Thus you could feel for him on Tuesday when that ICM 9% Tory lead had to be reported. If this had been any other party there would have been jubilation- instead Montgomerie’s headline was about the Lib Dem surge. Eh?

3. The lack of media backing. It’s hard to recall a Tory leader who has had so little media support even from what would be seen as natural friends. The Mirror, Guardian and Indy are, of course, solidly against while it’s hard to see the Murdoch press coming on side. Even worse the presence of the joyless but powerful figure of Simon Heffer at the Daily Telegraph has made the party’s “house journal” almost hostile. This could have serious consequences.

4. Cameron’s excess of confidence. That Etonian self-assuredness and self-belief leads him, I believe, to make up policy in real time without fully thinking through the implications. What was the purpose of the Chocolate Orange attack on WH Smith’s or the one against BHS? They got coverage but it all sounded a bit trivial for a party leader.

5. He’s quick to lose his temper. As we saw in the very first leadership debate with David Davis Cameron finds it hard to deal with a hostile response and he appears to get riled easily. He will be provoked again and again and he has to find a way of handling it.

What does all this add up to? I don’t have a conclusion except to state that oppositions don’t usually win elections – Governments lose them. The polls show reasonable Tory progress but Labour still seems hungry for power and the big question is how they will evolve in the post-Blair era. My guess is that Labour without Blair will lose a political edge and if that happens then Cameron’s Conservatives will be well placed provided he has managed Thatcher’s legacy.

Going on holiday. This is my last post until September 10th. I’m off to Nice where my son Robert is marrying Lucille next Friday. It’s Robert who handles the technical aspect of the site and was the person who persuaded me to launch Politicalbetting. He’s been a great inspiration. Lucille did the design.

Book Value (Philip Grant) is now in the hot seat.

Mike Smithson






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