Bernard Ingham: When the going gets tough, the Tory toffs need to get going

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LET this be a warning to all who write themselves or others off prematurely.

Thirty years ago, Margaret Thatcher won her second election with the largest majority – 144 – since 1945. Two years earlier, she was “the most unpopular Prime Minister since polls began”. At one stage, the Liberals and SDP, formed by fugitives from Labour, together claimed more than 50 per cent in the polls.

A week is a long time in politics, as Harold Wilson once said, a trifle hopefully.

All this is painfully relevant today as David Cameron asks the Queen to read a speech from the throne setting out the programme for the penultimate 12 months of this Parliament. What on earth should he ask her to say?

Well, let’s take stock of his position. He has a lot of critics who think he runs a toffs’ out-of-touch government with altogether too many Old Etonians in the inner circle. The fact is that nobody – apart from the Lib/Lab class war brigade – would give a damn how blue-blooded his cronies were if they were delivering prosperity.

Unfortunately, his Government has presided over the second 
half of a six-year recession. It may well be that things are beginning to look up a bit but he cannot count on it with the eurozone liable to require an operation to lance its festering euro poison. The good times are unlikely to 
roll soon.

If there was a message from last week’s local elections from the minority who bothered to vote it was: “A pox on all your houses” – with the possible exception of Ukip, the current vehicle for protest. But would you trust Ukip to run the country in 2015 when, with two years to go, it does not have a single MP?

Labour is frankly wallowing. The tide has gone out for socialism and it hasn’t a clue what next to flow with, always assuming it would be trusted with anything after Gordon Brown’s expensively damaging tenure.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are finding that government and political opportunism – being all things to all men – are as incompatible as oil and water.

In spite of all the clamour, it is perfectly possible to make a case for a “steady-as-she-goes” Queen’s Speech. The overall priority remains to bring down the horrendous budget deficit and promote growth. The electorate also shows signs of recognising that the Government is at least trying to do the right thing in education, NHS, welfare and – now that Chris Grayling is Justice Secretary – criminal justice.

It may have seemed terribly messy at times – and the Government does need to tighten up its act – but Cameron cannot be accused of running a lazy administration or ignoring manifest problems. Only time will tell how effective he has been in solving them.

But there’s the rub. The ship 
of state is even harder to turn round than a super-tanker. Governments generally need about two terms to prove their worth or lack of it. By any standards, Cameron deserves a second term – and one in which he can demonstrate his calibre as a party leader rather than as a coalition fire brigade with one or two arsonists on board.

As things stand, not many people would put much money on his being given this second chance. That means that today he has to treat Ukip as a threat. But in many ways, if you are to be threatened, it is the kind of threat to welcome. Why? Because it proves that Right-wing policies are popular.

Tories are not defecting to 
Ukip because they have discovered a new faith. Far from 
it. Instead, they are telling Cameron to give ’em more of the old values that Ukip has embraced. They are not getting enough of the right Tory tonics they expect from a Conservative-led government.

Cameron is on notice to start seriously shaping a new relationship with Europe. Seeking a referendum on the issue before 2015 would persuade us he means business and usefully bring out a Lib-Lab veto.

With public services – not to mention the green belt – under strain, he simply cannot ignore the threat of more mass immigration. It has to be controlled. Nor with borrowing running at £120bn a year can he forget about the welfare bill and tax avoidance.

He must also stop wrecking the countryside where his bedrock supporters live with wind farms and get himself a viable energy policy. The current one is an expensively sick – and failing – shambles that needlessly hurts consumers.