We always knew that the Brown honeymoon would be difficult. It is, however, without panicking, a good time to take stock.
Some plus points. Brown is obviously about as new as those old-fashioned re-tread tyres that looked so smashing for about five minutes before falling apart.
David Cameron clearly would provide change. He’s as bright, attractive and articulate a leader as you’re likely to find.
Also, don’t panic. Stay calm. Let the wave pass over you, is good advice in politics. I suspect that the giant fist can clunk hard at first, and then the old heavyweight will start to lose some steam.
But equally we can’t be complacent.How can you be when two years into a parliament and ten years into opposition we’re back behind, however temporarily, in the opinion polls? The more worrying thing is the grossly unfair electoral system, which means we have to run a mile and a quarter in a one-mile race to win.
We can use this period to learn from our mistakes. First Conservatives must give up self-loathing and self-flagellation. We are not the nasty party. And if some people think we are, it’s not because we’re right-wing, but because sometimes we’ve been nasty to each other.
Second, we must stop self-obsessing and worrying too much what people think of us. No doubt they’ve always thought we were toffs, or out of touch, or on the make. But they also used to think we were competent. All that changed on Black Wednesday. But Black Wednesday was fourteen years ago. For God’s, sake move on! Most of the electorate has, but we still agonise about what someone failed to do in our Conservative family fourteen years ago. Families do that sort of thing. No one else cares. So throw all the tedious Central Office presentations which tell us how much we’re despised in the dustbin. Be confident.
Don’t worry too much about polls and focus groups. They just relay an instant popular perception gleaned from the newspapers, which, like high streets, now all seem much the same.
You’ll never win a match if filled with self-doubt, so let’s clear it from our mind.
I was delighted to see David Cameron recently annunciating the ‘And’ theory of politics. I’ve been recommending it for some months now. I hasten to add I didn’t invent it. It means you can talk about global warming, Third World poverty – softer issues – and talk about more traditional Tory themes.
Social responsibility is clearly one. I think of it as individual responsibility. But we need a theme.
This is what I suggest. A simple mantra: ‘We believe in prosperity based on low taxation and de-regulation. We believe in security based on strong defence and immigration control. We believe in stability based on marriage and social and individual responsibility. We believe in freedom based on consumer choice in education, health and pensions.
You will say ‘How hackneyed! We’ve heard it all before.’ But that is Conservatism. The Conservatism of all successful Conservative governments anywhere in the world over the last fifty years.
So we do need to talk more about immigration, low taxes and Europe, both to enthuse our activists and because whilst Old Labour policies were bad for the country, old Conservative ones, such as lower taxation, are the reality in the world’s most successful dynamic economies.So – be confident and stand up for what you believe in. Ultimately the country will respect us for it. Otherwise they will wonder where we stand, what we believe in. The public have to know what you believe in, otherwise you’ll never win.One final point. Someone put the valid question to me recently ‘Is David Cameron a traditional Conservative?’ Of course he is. Cultural and social attitudes often determine our personalities more than policies. Look at his attitude to hunting, for instance, or the monarchy, two things most Labour MPs – apart from Quentin Davies – despise, secretly or not so secretly. Cameron is strongly in favour. He’s to the right of me on both Trident and Iraq. I voted against the war. He voted for. I would go for a cheap cruise missile option for our nuclear renewal. He favours the £20bn Trident option.He’s obviously a Eurosceptic, opposed to the single currency and agreeing to a referendum on the EU Constitution posing as a treaty. His background and social milieu is all High Tory and traditional, as is his own family life. Where does he choose to send his daughter? To a faith-based school.
And he has warmly endorsed the findings of Iain Duncan Smith’s policy group in favour of marriage.
No, David Cameron isn’t a Tony Blair, clambering to the top of the Labour Party whilst despising its ethos. Our David in his heart of hearts is a High Tory. He just needs to show it more, as well as showing that he cares about the environment and the poor. But then weren’t Lord Shaftesbury and Wilberforce High Tories?
Liberalism doesn’t win elections. If not, why are we still waiting 101 years after the last Liberal victory for a Liberal government? This country is conservative, with a small ‘c’. We can again become the natural party of government.
Edward Leigh MP
This article was first published in the Parliamentary Monitor