Dave the Chameleon strikes again

by Stephen Tall on May 26, 2006

ConservativeHome informs us that Dave Cameron has, rather touchingly, written to all Tory members asking them to dig deep to help he and his colleagues get rid of Labour.

Nothing wrong with that, of course: all political parties fund-raise. What is interesting is the content of Dave’s letter. After the usual preamble – “We can win the next election, but we need your help” – he sets out the key Labour failures which he as Conservative leader wants to have the power to change. They are, in order:

  1. Europe – “Labour have given new powers to the European Union”;
  2. Regional assemblies – “They have created regional assemblies which no-one wants”;
  3. Taxes – “They have also imposed the highest tax burden in British history”;
  4. Law and order – “shocking revelations about foreign criminals”;
  5. Health service – “the deepening financial crisis in the NHS”.

All of which looks a little, well, old school – a list which could have been written by William Hague, IDS or Michael Howard. Or, of course, by Mr Cameron, back when he wrote the last Tory manifesto. Indeed, only in the sixth paragraph is environmental sustainability awarded so much as a passing mention, despite the Tories woolly ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’ sloganeering at last month’s local elections.

Mr Cameron is riding high at the moment, buoyed by a decent enough showing in the polls, and by Labour’s daily attempts to commit hara-kiri.

But his approach is deeply flawed: he is seeking to forge a big tent, one which can encompass the Tory Party base, as well as those former Tory voters who have switched to New Labour or the Lib Dems.

To the Tory base, he is striking the traditional right-wing notes: Europe, taxes and law and order. To the centre ground, he is preaching emptily emetic feel-good concepts, like ‘green growth’ and ‘general well-being’.

At the moment, Mr Cameron can get away with it. He’s fresh and fluent, bright and breezy – to a media bored with Labour’s dominance, he’s manna from heaven. Which is why currently the Tory leader need only mouth a platitudinous Hallmark greeting, and it’s treated as a mind-blowing philosophical insight which will define the post-Blair political zeitgeist.

But his honeymoon will not last for ever. Mr Cameron should be using this precious time – that very small window of opportunity when he is new enough not to have made (m)any enemies – to challenge his party, not to tickle its tummy.

Mr Blair, for all his post-9/11 faults, was a brilliant opposition leader, who understood quite how much the Labour Party needed transforming. Ditching Clause IV was an act of startling bravery and élan. Putting Adam Rickett on the A-list does not compare.

Political fortunes ebb and flow at remarkable pace. Today, Mr Blair is all washed up, while Mr Cameron is surfing the crest of a wave. Now, therefore, is the time to try swimming against the tide before he ends up swimming with the sharks.