Tory mission: only connect
ONE of the most common criticisms made of David Cameron is that he concentrates far too much on presentation at the expense of policy, on public relations rather than points of principle.
There is, however, no shortage of policy coming from the Conservative side of the coalition Government. Indeed, the education and welfare reforms, the tougher border controls that have helped to reduce immigration, the promise of an in/out referendum on EU membership, not to mention the commitment to cutting the public-sector deficit, are not only radical and far-reaching, they are also policies that should naturally appeal to traditional Tories.
Yet Mr Cameron, for all his supposed PR skills, has failed dismally to sell many of his best ideas either to the public or to his own backbenchers and constituency associations. Instead of loyalty and support, there is incomprehension and constant criticism, ludicrous talk of leadership challenges and a steady haemorrhage of support to the UK Independence Party.
The Prime Minister’s response yesterday was to declare that there would be no change in direction, that he would keep the Conservatives on the “common ground” of politics and on the side of “hard-working, decent people”.
This is all very well, but it will count for little if Mr Cameron continues to treat his backbench critics with disdain and ignore his party’s grassroots, the constituency organisations that have been allowed to wither and decay in contrast to their Liberal Democrat counterparts, as the Eastleigh by-election result demonstrated.
The Prime Minister’s Tory critics understand – or, at least, they should understand – that he is constrained in much of his policy-making by the practicalities of coalition government, by constantly having to negotiate with, and placate, his Lib Dem partners.
They must surely also grasp that any talk of a leadership challenge is absurd, that replacing Mr Cameron would bring about the end of the coalition and herald a General Election which, in all probability, would result in a Labour-led government whose tax-and-spend instincts would return the country to the brink of economic ruin.
But if Mr Cameron is to placate those within his own party tempted to turn against him – and to engage the wider public – he has to do better at that which he supposedly excels, namely communication.
He has to explain why the policies he is pursuing will make a difference and also show why he has championed causes for which there was little public clamour, such as same-sex marriage and the steady increase in overseas aid at a time when other public services are being cut.
He is still the best man for the job, but if he is to keep that job beyond 2015, he must do much better at connecting with those ordinary voters whose concerns he insists he understands.