13 May 2009

Cameron, his party and the voters

Cameron has righty received a very favourable press following his announcement on MPs’ expenses.  Even Michael White was impressed.  Some achievement from the master cynic.

Moreover, Steve Richards has a crucial piece in the Indy on the Tories image.  He asks whether Cameron has or will be able to modernise his party.  He picks up on the Telegraph headline ‘Paying Bills of Tory Grandees’:

The Tory grandees are still there and, while Cameron has been proclaiming a new-look party, they have been claiming for the upkeep of their moats, their paddocks and their swimming pools. There is nothing modern in the upkeep of a moat.

He goes on to say that it took Labour 14 years to modernise, whist Cameron has had a fraction of that time.

He continues:

An opposition leader is partly an artist. He or she cannot be judged on the implementation of policy as they have no power. Instead, the task is to weave a narrative about leadership and the party. Blair announced that Labour was "new" within days of securing the leadership in 1994, and yet a lot of the policies that formed the manifesto in 1997 were agreed before he took over. Cameron has managed to weave a spell even though his MPs were claiming for moats.

He compares Cameron favourably to Blair:

Alert to the dangers of the spell being broken, Cameron moved with speed and dexterity yesterday. Increasingly, he reminds me of Blair in opposition, and I do not mean that as an insult. Blair was a brilliant Leader of the Opposition. By 4pm yesterday, Cameron had shifted the focus to his response in the same way that Blair would have done, with an apology that went further than the one delivered by Gordon Brown, and measures that included Shadow Cabinet members paying back the cash for some of the dodgy claims.

It was a highly effective performance, recognising which boxes needed to be ticked and ticking them. Not surprisingly, it was announced shortly afterwards that Labour whips were in similar discussions with their MPs. No one can accuse Brown and Labour of setting the agenda effectively on this one.

Then he asks the key question:

Does Cameron's damage-limitation exercise mean his modernisation project is back on track?  That will partly depend on whether his measures announced yesterday with a flourish stand up to detailed scrutiny over the next few weeks.

This is the key point:

While Blair would have done exactly what Cameron did yesterday, we should not forget that when he won the election he [Blair] did not know what to do about the "modernisation" of welfare or indeed in quite a few policy areas.

Richards concludes with this:

Cameron did what needed to be done yesterday. If the measures were rushed, he had no choice but to be speedy. The much bigger tests of whether he has modernised his party are still to come.

Indeed so.  What will have worried Cameron about the headline in the Telegraph is whether his party ‘sealing the deal’ with the voters has received a set back.  How the polls react following the expenses shambles will be one indicator.  Equally important for Cameron is that he must keep setting the political agenda, whist modernising his party.

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