Should the Tories be the party of reassurance or rescue?
"Cameron is a politician who quells, smooths, conflates, reassures."
So writes Michael Wolff within a new profile of David Cameron in Vanity Fair magazine.
I've always liked pieces about our political scene written for foreign journals. They tend to cut through the daily noise and paint a big picture, bird's eye view. The whole piece is worth reading (and not just for the quote that has got Ed Vaizey into trouble, again) but its most noteworthy conclusion is the idea that Cameron has created a detoxified and reassuring conservatism. Not a surprise, perhaps, but Wolff writes:
"Cameron “alchemized a position of more or less glutinous consensus,” says Boris Johnson, whose own relationship with Cameron tiptoes a fine line between admiration for his evident electability and doubtfulness about his intellectual bona fides. It is, as well, a bit chilling. The Cameron position isn’t about just consensus but about something more mystical, allowing everybody to hear what they want. Having systematically removed most of the overt points of contention—immigration, Iraq, Europe—the Cameron Conservatives then replaced them with a series of almost totemic notions of agreement."
In his Times column, Daniel Finklelstein addresses the same theme, reflecting on what Team Cameron set out to achieve:
"These Tories, the message was intended to say, are modern, energetic, determined, tolerant, they listen, they are at ease with today’s Britain. They understand that people are fed up with knockabout politics as usual. They support public services, particularly the NHS, they will protect the low-paid and they understand that, as Mr Cameron put it early on, “we’re all in this together”."
We are about to find out if this creation of a reassuring Toryism will be enough to deliver victory. It was working perfectly while Brand Brown was nosediving. Now that Mandelson, Campbell, Whelan and Alexander are running a half-decent campaign it is no longer clear that a reassuring narrative is enough. Every day PPCs and party members tell me that voters don't know what the Tories stand for (the party is still failing to do basic things like post its six key pledges on the party's homepage).
I agree with Danny Finkelstein that brand is important but I wonder if our brand should have been the radical, rescue party rather than the reassurance party? The tools to be the rescue party are all there. Under David Cameron the party has developed very good (and transformational) policies on banking regulation, immigration, education, social justice and policing, in particular. In recent weeks there have been more hints that the party is flirting with showing more of its radical character. What do voters want at the moment? A party that will avoid risky reforms or a party that will fix things? The party leader that answers that question correctly will be the one that wins. I have to say I'm not sure but my gut would be with rescue rather than reassurance. My gut says the country wants a strong leader rather than a comforting leader.