Bernard Ingham: Cameron’s last chance to unite party for the fight

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DAVID Cameron is as maddening a politician as some of his party are stupid. Sometimes they are connected. He partly explains the defection to Ukip of those naïve MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, if not the departed sexhibitionist Minister, Brooks Newmark.

Nobody in British politics can touch Cameron on the world stage. He brings a ruddy, commanding presence with a gift for capturing the moment. His heart seems to be mostly in the right place, if not as far to the political right as many Tories would wish.

This is part of the frustration he generates. If coalition has been cruel to Nick Clegg, it has not been kind to Cameron. He may be a past master at holding a loose government together but we do not know what, if any, conviction moves him

He is all too easily moved to comment on anything and everything with an endless parade of sound bites that serves the media but not necessarily his own interests.

His troops don’t need this chatter. What they want is depth.

Yet, if anyone deserves to win the next election, Cameron does – if only for keeping George Osborne as Chancellor for the duration and, I hope, beyond. They have probably done as much as coalition would allow in five years, eliminating a third of Gordon Brown’s crippling £150bn budget deficit.

To their credit they were not daunted by this enormity. Instead, they embarked on a broad reform of the NHS, welfare and education – indeed the public services – that is unfinished business.

Given the lack of cash because of the need for deep cuts in spending (more of which have to come), they have made a promising start. Abroad they also seem to have learned to be cautious after Tony Blair’s 2003 folly in Iraq.

This brings me to HM Loyal Opposition. Labour does not deserve to return to office next year.

Their recent conference was a disservice to politics, even if they are in a terrible hole after Blair/Brown (and Ed Balls’) economics.

It is not just that Ed Miliband incredibly forgot to mention the budget deficit; they have apparently nothing relevant to say about immigration, welfare or education.

As for the NHS, Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham was just plain irresponsible with his conference vision of an NHS of unlimited resources.

To cap it all, Miliband has contrived out of party convenience or advantage to get himself on the wrong side of public opinion on Europe and the consequences for the English of the Scots’ rejection of independence.

It is an astounding performance only eight months before a general election. Yet it is entirely possible that Miliband will be the next Prime Minister because of Labour’s built-in electoral advantage of five to six per cent that Clegg has peevishly preserved.

That is all the more likely if Ukip takes more votes from the Tories than Labour and disillusioned Lib Dem supporters turn left in the polling booth. The British body politic could have two tails wagging it.

This brings me back to the maddening Cameron. At the Conservative conference today, he needs to seize control of British politics, setting out the compelling reasons why the Tories, without the encumbrance of coalition, should be allowed to complete the nation’s recovery.

He can reasonably argue that no other party is going balance the nation’s books over the next five years with a combination of cuts and maintained growth. Their heart isn’t in it. They prefer to spend money they haven’t got. The never, never kids.

This also goes for Europe. Unlike the Tories – and, yes, Cameron – neither Labour nor the Lib Dems want to change Britain’s relationship with Europe and would leave the UK open to more uncontrolled immigration.

The unions know which side their bread is buttered: they will get far more out of a politically correct, essentially socialist Europe than Westminster. Labour, in the grip of union money, is beginning to look no more than a front for a vested interest.

In all these circumstances, sensible Tories this week should first ask themselves what the national interest requires. The carpers might then question whether they are serving it.

They should then come together under Cameron determinedly to sell their credentials for continued governance. I may feel able to give them only seven out of 10. But they have not been a government short of courage, effort or ideas. They now need something to shoot for in the 2020s – a strong, thriving, responsible and fair Britain better able to govern itself than now.