Former Special Adviser to Margaret Thatcher, John is now Editor-in-Chief of the international affairs magazine, The National Interest, Editor-at-Large of the magazine the National Review, and a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.
The first step is to face reality. Gordon Brown will probably win the next election and, if he does not, the likely reason is that he will have been defeated by events in the real world. But be of good cheer. “Project Cameron” has been only a modest contributory factor to this discouraging prospect.
Its first phase—“I’m a Celebrity, Get Me out of Opposition”—never really took. It won few converts and gave a general impression of frivolity and cynicism which Brown has shrewdly exploited. Its second phase—here are the in-depth conservative policies at long last—has hit an obvious obstacle: any serious conservative policies are likely to clash with the fashionable postures of phase one, generating both ideological confusion and media embarrassment. See the coverage of the Redwood-Wolfson report.
Some journalists, justifying their own predictions, camouflage these failures with the line: “But Cameron has made the Conservatives electable again.” Really? A party that was only four points behind Labour in the 2005 election was always electable. Polls today show that the Tories, after a short bounce largely attributable to Blair’s unpopularity, are back to that level. So “Project Cameron” has not really improved matters but, on the other hand, the crisis of Toryism was never as deep as the more masochistic modernisers believed. A Tory revival is perfectly possible, though not guaranteed, if the party keeps its head and acts sensibly.
And there is a third reason for comfort: the actions needed for a long-term revival are pretty much the same as those required to profit from a Labour downturn before or during the next election. Let me suggest a few to the party leadership:
First, don’t strategise in public. It gives the impression, mentioned above, of insincerity and cynicism and subtly devalues any political or moral commitment you make. Policies should be justified on the grounds that they are good for the country, not that they are useful devices for getting elected.